Nelson Cruz declined an invite to the Home Run Derby

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Mariners slugger Nelson Cruz led the AL with 40 homers last season and ranks fourth in the AL with 19 homers this season, but he was asked to participate in the Home Run Derby and declined.

Cruz told Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times that he’d “love to do it” but “I have to think about my teammates and my team … if I go there it can wear me out for two or three days after.”

Cruz was the Home Run Derby runner-up in 2009, losing to Prince Fielder, and went on to have a strong second half with an .839 OPS, but rightly or wrongly many players perceive the event as having a negative impact on second-half performance.

He’ll likely start the All-Star game at designated hitter after recently overtaking Kendrys Morales of the Royals in the American League voting.

Sandy Koufax to be honored with statue at Dodger Stadium

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Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reports that Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax will be honored with a statue at Dodger Stadium, expected to be unveiled in 2020. Dodger Stadium will be undergoing major renovations, expected to cost around $100 million, after the season. Koufax’s statue will go in a new entertainment plaza beyond center field. The current statue of Jackie Robinson will be moved into the same area.

Koufax, 83, had a relatively brief career, pitching parts of 12 seasons in the majors, but they were incredible. He was a seven-time All-Star who won the National League Cy Young Award three times (1963, ’65-66) and the NL Most Valuable Player Award once (’63). He contributed greatly to the ’63 and ’65 championship teams and authored four no-hitters, including a perfect game in ’65.

Koufax was also influential in other ways. As Shaikin notes, Koufax refused to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series to observe Yom Kippur. It was an act that would attract national attention and turn Koufax into an American Jewish icon.

Ahead of the 1966 season, Koufax and Don Drysdale banded together to negotiate against the Dodgers, who were trying to pit the pitchers against each other. They sat out spring training, deciding to use their newfound free time to sign  on to the movie Warning Shot. Several weeks later, the Dodgers relented, agreeing to pay Koufax $125,000 and Drysdale $110,000, which was then a lot of money for a baseball player. It would be just a few years later that Curt Flood would challenge the reserve clause. Koufax, Drysdale, and Flood helped the MLB Players Association, founded in 1966, gain traction under the leadership of Marvin Miller.