Some time in the next few days, it will likely be announced that Matt Kemp will participate in the 2011 MLB Home Run Derby. It seems only right that the National League co-leader in home runs will participate in the event. Kemp would be the fifth Dodger to take part in the contest, but to be the best, he has to beat...Hee Seop Choi.
The story of Choi as a Dodger is remarkable in itself, as he was acquired in one of the most polarizing trades in Dodger history, and despite a 107 OPS+ at age 26 he never played in the majors again. But the focus of this post is on Choi's All-Star weekend in 2005. Choi was hitting .236/.318/.458 at the All-Star break, and his 13 home runs were two behind Jeff Kent and J.D. Drew for the team lead. Choi found himself on a plane with Dodger All-Stars Kent and Cesar Izturis, but not because he made the All-Star team.
In 2005, MLB tried to drum up more interest in the moribund homer derby. Rather than the simple solution of "fire Chris Berman," MLB instead decided to switch the format. With the announcement of the new World Baseball Classic, which would begin in 2006, during 2005 All-Star week, the home run derby had eight players representing eight different countries. Choi represented Korea.
Previous Dodger home run derby participants had failed miserably. Mike Piazza took part in his first two years in the big leagues, in 1993 and 1994, but he didn't hit a home run in either contest. Raul Mondesi went in 1995, and he only hit two home runs. Like Piazza and Mondesi, Choi didn't make it past the first round in 2005. But Choi did hit five home runs.
Back in 2008, Kevin Kaduk of Yahoo's Big League Stew called Choi the worst Home Run Derby participant of all-time. That may be true, but with those five home runs, Choi stands alone as the best Dodger ever in the contest. Hopefully Kemp can change that one week from today.