SEATTLE – Luis Robert Jr. entered T-Mobile Park with a career player home to the Mariners.
I’m pretty sure the White Sox center fielder has, like, 51 right now.
Robert outscored the Orioles’ Adley Rutschman 28-27 in the first round of Monday’s All-Star Home Run Derby, then was beaten by the Rays’ Randy Arozarena 35-22 in Round 2. That means Frank Thomas, who won the Derby in 1995 in Arlington, Texas, he remains the only Sox player to be the last slacker standing in this always fun exhibition event.
“It was a very good experience,” Robert said via Sox translator Billy Russo. “It was fun. It was cool. I’m very glad I did it.
Ah well. Derby homers don’t actually count on the backs of baseball cards, though a $1 million prize went to champion Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who – 16 years after his father’s Derby win – topped the Arozarena 25-23 in the final. Robert startled a crowd of 46,952 with a shot from 484 feet, but who will really remember that? There are much bigger fish to fry for Chicago’s most talented baseball player, who considers himself one of the most talented players in the sport.
There is definitely some buzz here about Robert. Guardians All-Star Jose Ramirez called him one of the most unique players in the game and marveled at his “physicality” and ability to “do anything, everything” there is. American League manager Dusty Baker wondered if anyone really knows where Robert’s roof might be.
However, there’s a bigger picture. An All-Star Game debut on Tuesday will be nice, but the big idea is for Robert to make this — with or without the Derby portion — an annual tradition.
“I think if I stay healthy, this will be the first of many All-Star Games,” he said. “But I have to stay healthy. If they’re healthy, I’m pretty sure there will be many more to come.
In a mostly miserable three and a half months for the Sox, Robert’s play was the bright spot. To see what he’s capable of when he’s healthy and a fixture in the lineup is no doubt that he’s everything the Sox hoped he’d be when they wooed him with a $26 million signing bonus in 2017. And sure, any discussion on which member of the current core Sox has the most to offer the team is completely over: it’s Robert by a mile.
Robert’s gifts as an outsider have long been easy to recognize, as has his sheer power. Still only 25, he has 26 homers—tied for third in the majors, behind Angels megastar Shohei Ohtani (32) and the Braves’ Matt Olson (29)—at the All-Star break. A rule of thumb: When you have more long balls than years on the planet this time of season, that’s a great thing.
Even very funny? That part is a little tricky. The Sox have 16 games under .500 and have played just as badly as it sounds. In baseball’s worst division, they’re an unreasonable eight games behind the Guardians 45-45 at halftime. If Robert’s hit helped the Sox win, he’d be delighted. If only.
“It’s very, very difficult,” she said. “When you have a good day or a good week or month, but the team results aren’t there, it’s hard to enjoy it because you’re part of a team. This is not an individual game. In this respect it was difficult because as a team we weren’t able to do well.”
Why? How did the Sox fall so far, so fast, from the playoffs in 2021 to a .500 bust in 2022 to a full face plant in 2023?
“We just haven’t been consistent, and that’s why we’ve struggled,” said Robert. “We have gone through many things, but we have not been consistent. And to be honest, we have to find a way in the second half to try [change that].”
That’s a huge understatement. The front office may have already triggered the switch to sales mode as the August 1 trade deadline approaches. And if not, the Sox won’t have more than a handful of games out of halftime to make up their division deficit before that’s all he wrote for this utterly disappointing rebuild and so-called championship window.
Robert is keeping hope alive, at least in part.
“This is our last chance to get into the postseason,” he said. “Definitely, we have to perform. About the exchanges, what the team has to do, I don’t know; I can’t control it. But there’s definitely still a chance for us to get into the postseason.”
If that happens — if the Sox get their duly cynical fans to even entertain the idea of it happening — Robert will have to be great. Perhaps the worst that could come out of his Derby experience is that the exhaustion he seemed to display in Round 2 led to a second half slump, but why should it? He shouldn’t. Robert is a potential superstar with dynamite in his hands.
For now, though, it would be nice if he could enjoy it a little more.
“Every day, we try to cheer everyone up and motivate each other,” she said, “but it hasn’t been easy. It’s just like that.”