SAN FRANCISCO -- McCovey Cove was packed Monday night with a flotilla of kayaks and assorted rubber rafts painted every color of the rainbow.

Those doing the paddling surely expected to be showered by baseballs during the Home Run Derby at AT&T Park. After all, why else would they have showed up?

Only they waited. And waited. And waited some more.

Not a single splash hit. Just a pair of foul balls reached the water, one from defending champion Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies and the other from the Minnesota Twins' Justin Morneau.

Welcome to the Home Run Derby Lite.

No, the eight sluggers who entered didn't give us a horrible show.

And you can't fault the Los Angeles Angels' Vladimir Guerrero, who launched a 503-foot monster shot in the second round and capped his night by beating the Toronto Blue Jays' Alex Rios in the finals, three blasts to two.

Yes, fans at jam-packed AT&T oohed and aahed every time a ball left the park, as if they were at a fireworks show.

It's just that the show could have been so much sweeter, so much more entertaining if some of the greatest home run hitters in history had agreed to join the party.

Imagine the fireworks if the Giants' Barry Bonds, the Cincinnati Reds' Ken Griffey Jr., the New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez and the Boston Red Sox's Manny Ramirez had taken part.

We would have had four of baseball's top seven active home run hitters.


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Bonds ranks first (751), Griffey third (586), Rodriguez fifth (494) and Ramirez seventh (481).

The reality? Guerrero, 17th on the list, was the top active home run hitter in the contest.

The Derby needed Bonds and Griffey, particularly for their left-handed power. Somebody needed to send some homers into McCovey Cove to make this exhibition of power hitting complete.

That's the signature home run shot at AT&T, the one fans were waiting for.

Of the 54 splash hits by home and visiting players at AT&T, Bonds has hit 33.

Too bad Bonds decided the Derby would be too taxing on his 42-year-old body.

Yeah, this is America. No one can make you take part in the Home Run Derby. Not even if said Derby is held at your home park and your fans stuffed the on-line All-Star ballot box in the closing days at such a rate as to risk carpal tunnel syndrome just to make sure you made the starting lineup.

And Bonds wasn't the only star who begged off, leaving us with a Derby field that included the Colorado Rockies' Matt Holliday and the Detroit Tigers' Magglio Ordonez, a spectacular hitter but hardly a home run king.

Two years ago, Bobby Abreu hit 24 homers in the first round and finished with a record 41 at Comerica Park in Detroit. The eight hitters combined to hit 71 in the first round.

In the first round Monday night, eight sluggers combined to hit just 31 homers.

Guerrero finished with 17 homers, the lowest total by a Derby king since 2001 when Luis Gonzalez hit 16 at Seattle's Safeco Field.

Howard slugged 23 homers last year to win at Pittsburgh's PNC Park. On Monday night, he hit just three in the first round and was eliminated.

If these home-run hitters didn't realize before that AT&T Park is one tough place to hit homers, they do now.

"To me, it's probably the toughest park in the National League for a right-handed hitter," the St. Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols said before the contest. "I don't like to pull the ball too much, and same thing with Matt (Holliday). If you see that 411 gap, it's just a long way."

AT&T is even tougher on lefties, at least those not named Bonds. It's just 309 feet down the right-field line. But the wall angles sharply out to 365 in straight-away right, then juts out to 421 in right center. Then there's that massive brick wall with the metal archways. Clearing that monster isn't easy.

It was really no surprise that all four hitters who advanced to the second round were right-handers: Guerrero, Rios, Pujols and Holliday.

All three lefties -- Prince Fielder, Morneau and Howard -- were eliminated in the first round.

Guerrero started slowly, making three straight outs in the first round. That's when the Boston Red Sox's David Ortiz, a fellow Dominican Republic native, carried a box of bats toward Guerrero and handed him a replacement.

"We had it planned," Guerrero said through an interpreter. "If I wasn't doing well in the beginning, he was going to bring it out to me."

After one more out, Guerrero slammed a 449-foot shot to left. Four of his next six swings produce homers. He hit five homers in the first round, then nine in the second, including his 503-foot bomb and another shot that traveled 474 feet.

"I've always enjoyed hitting in this park from before, when I was still in Montreal and I played in this park, and I've always swung well in this park," Guerrero said.

In the final round, Rios ran out of gas. He hit just two homers. Guerrero made it interesting. After making seven of his allotted 10 outs, he had just two homers. But he ended the suspense with another blast to left-center.

Decent theater. But not nearly as great as it could have been.

Contact Eric Gilmore at egilmore@cctimes.com.