LOS ANGELES — Giancarlo Stanton was never more emotional after a ballgame. Hitting a home run completely out of Dodger Stadium in a Miami Marlins uniform in 2015 was a tremendous thrill. His Tuesday night topped that.
Starting an All-Star Game in his hometown, doing it as a left fielder, hitting a 457-foot homer and then winning MVP honors after a 3-2 American League victory, this night even topped his 59th homer season with the Marlins in 2017.
Because his first All-Star Game representing the Yankees was at Dodger Stadium, it was so personal, so meaningful and so satisfying that it soared to the very top of his long list of amazing baseball achievements.
“Yeah, it’s very special to me,” Stanton said after joining Derek Jeter (2000) and Mariano Rivera (2013) as Yankees’ All-Star MVPs. “I think it’s right up there with anything personally. I have some goals in terms of winning the championship and going all the way, but personally, for the road I’ve gone to get to where I am now, this is a very special.”
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Before Stanton persevered through a lot of rocky roads during his first three seasons with the Yankees, he was a kid from the Los Angeles suburbs whose first name was Mike.
Stanton, 32, grew up about 15 miles from downtown loving the Dodgers. He and his father attended dozens of games at Dodger Stadium, even though LA’s nightmare traffic often turned trips that could be made in 30 minutes into two-hour crawls.
Father and son usually sit in the left-field bleachers, the cheap seats. Stanton liked it out there because he could yell at players to throw him a ball during batting practice. When they got seats high up behind first or third base, he caught a few foul balls.
What Stanton enjoyed most was watching the stars. He admired yesterday’s Dodgers right fielder Raul Mondesi making Clemente-like throws “from the warning track to third base.” He loved watching Mike Piazza hit and Hideo Nomo pitch.
“But it was really the big boppers when they would come into town,” Stanton said. “I tried to make sure I always saw McGwire, Sosa and Bonds. I tried to get a ticket off the street and see what they can do in two at-bats.”
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That’s all Stanton had and all he needed Tuesday night. In his first at-bat, he was run up leading off the second facing tough Marlins righty Sandy Alcantara. His next time up, Stanton hit in the fourth with a runner on first and the NL lead 2-0.
On the mound was Tony Gonsolin, a Dodgers pitcher he’d never faced, a 6-foot-3 righty who has an 11-0 record and 2.02 ERA in 17 starts. Stanton was given no scouting report, so he asked teammates what to expect before walking to the plate.
“We were scrambling,” Stanton said. “There was no tape. ‘What’s he got?’ ‘He’s got these three pitches, go get him.’ I’ve seen him on TV. He’s obviously had a great year. I’ve seen his highlights, but I had to go from memory of that.”
Stanton chased the first pitch, an 87-mph slider that he went for and got all air. The next pitch was a 94-mph fastball at the top of the strike zone that was fouled off. Down in the count 0-2, Stanton was fed a mistake pitch, an 83-mph slider that was over the middle of the plate.
Stanton crushed it to left-center. Off the bat, you knew it was gone. It didn’t go all the way out of the park, but it dropped 457 feet from home plate deep into the seats for a game-tying home run. He predicted he’d hit a homer sitting with Aaron Judge on their New York to LA flight last Sunday night, and it sure felt good being right.
“When the lights are brightest, that’s what you want to do,” Stanton said. “That’s what the fans come to see. That’s what we’ve worked tireless hours for.”
Working tireless hours with a patient but confident mindset is what got Stanton through a lot of tough times during his first early Yankees seasons. Fans got on him his first year when his excellent production, 38 homers and 100 RBI, did not come close to the 59 homers he had the year before with Miami and were accompanied by 211 strikeouts. He was hurt for most of the next two seasons, playing in just 41 of the Yankees’ 222 games, which led to nonstop griping from fans about his $325 million contract running through 2027.
“He was built for New York,” Judge said. “I know he came over from Miami and transitioned from one team to another. Even if it’s going from Cincinnati to Tampa, it’s going to be a big change. When you make that jump from Miami and then jump onto a team that was just one game away from the World Series, that’s a lot of pressure. But he handled it the right way.”
Stanton started winning over Yankees fans during the 2020 postseason when he had a run for the ages, six homers and 13 RBI in seven games. Ever since, Stanton has mostly stayed healthy, he’s put up very good numbers and he’s been at his best in the clutch. He’s still not revered like Judge, but he’s now at least appreciated, respected and well liked.
“When things get tough, you’ve got two roads to go,” Stanton said. “You can go backwards. You can run away, or you can stick it through. I’ve always worked hard. I’ve always tried to get better and improve in any way possible. So it’s just good to be in this situation now.”
Fans voted Stanton into this All-Star Game, which he called a “full circle” event because it was played in Dodger Stadium.
“I played there, I played in left,” said Stanton, a .237 hitter with 24 homers and 61 RBI in 76 games. “I always tried to get a ball thrown to me from whoever’s playing left field when I was a kid. Just to be out there was so fun, so cool.”
Stanton daydreamed about playing for the Dodgers when he was a child and he was still hoping for that when he grew into a 6-foot-6, three-sport star at Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks. He could have played college football at Southern Cal when the Trojans were a national power. Pete Carroll was the head coach and recruited Stanton as a cornerback. Division I basketball schools also tried to get him as a point guard.
And in Stanton’s senior year in 2007, after he hit a bunch of balls deep into the left-field seats during a private workout at Dodger Stadium, mesmerized Dodgers scout George Genovese tried to talk scouting director Logan White to draft the local prep star with the 20th pick of the first round or with their compensation pick, No. 39 overalls.
The Dodgers ignored the pleas. They used their first pick on pitcher Chris Withrow, who would make 92 relief appearances over three seasons as a big leaguer, and the second on lefty James Adkins, who topped out in Triple-A.
Stanton was asked about the Dodgers passing on him during his post-game interview. He nodded and smiled hearing the question. He knows the Dodgers know that they goofed, and it was fun rubbing it in a little in their ballpark.
“I had many conversations with (Genovese),” Stanton said. “He came to watch me hit in the cage and he brought me out to the workouts and he said he was trying to convince them, but it didn’t work out. But I know he was rooting for me and hoping that it did, so I always appreciated that.”
Stanton also was willing to waive the no-trade clause for the Dodgers after the 2017 season when Miami put him on the block. Before he agreed to a Yankees trade, the Dodgers passed again on making an offer.
Stanton still has one more Dodger Stadium dream on his bucket list, one that would be more meaningful than his All-Star Game MVP. He wants to return in October for a Yankees-Dodgers World Series, and it could happen.
The Yankees haven’t been to the World Series since they won it in 2009, but they went into the All-Star break with a best-in-the-majors 64-28 record that had them 13 games up on the second-place Rice in the AL East. The Dodgers, winners of three pennants and a World Series since 2017, will return from the break with an NL-best 60-30 record and a 10-game lead over the Padres in the NL West.
“Do I ever think about it? Absolutely,” Stanton said. “On paper it’s been lined up that way for a few years (heading to the playoffs). Now both sides need to take care of business.”
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Randy Miller may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.