Mickey Mantle vs Joe DiMaggio. One on one. No fans. Straight up. That is how it was back in the day. There was no prime time television. There was no Century 21 sponsorship for every home run ball hit. There was no admittance to the ball park. Two guys got in the batter’s box one at a time to hit balls with no kids in the outfield to rob potential home runs.
Back in the old days, the Home Run Derby was recorded. It consisted of two guys hitting in a ballpark; one was hitting and one was talking to the announcer watching the other one hit. It was simple and it was realistic. There were nine innings and each inning both batters got 3 outs. After 3 outs they would switch and the other guy would come up. If you happen to see any of these old match ups on ESPN Classic you should definitely watch one.
Nowadays, there are 8 batters who supposedly have a good chance of hitting home runs. Some guys hit 20 and some guys hit zero. It really is a hit or miss for each batter participating in the home run derby. There are no guarantees despite how many bombs the guy has hit during the season, as some batters just can’t come through in the pressure of hitting in a contest where only home runs count. Fortunately, there are at least 2 of the 8 who happen to get on a hot streak and hit enough long balls to qualify for the finals.
The Home Run Derby was at its peak in the late 90’s and early 2000’s when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were on their home run record tears. Granted, many baseball analysts now put shame to those two, among others for the alleged steroid and PED use, but back then in the derbies, there wasn’t anybody complaining. The only complaint was that not every home run hitter was in the contest. Every year there are players who do not participate who rightfully should and it is a low blow to the fans to add players who barely have hit double digit home runs on the year. Now analysts and some fans want a cleaner game with players who don’t cheat; Again, nobody was complaining back when home runs in a game were almost as constant as double plays.
The derby itself is a great event; I have yet to attend one in person but it is on my bucket list. One of the only times of the year where I would have to sit in my assigned seat, the home run derby has music playing during the players at-bats, has a broadcaster who booms over the stadium PA system, and has players kids shagging fly balls in the outfield. The kids have been an issue for a long time, as many of them have awful hand-eye coordination, which does not bode well with a line drive hit by David Ortiz coming 90 MPH with a slice off the bat. It really is amazing there aren’t more injuries to the kids shagging. It’s bad enough when Major League players are getting hit by balls during batting practice. The Home Run Derby is a great place for players and their families, but it is surprising someone hasn’t been hurt yet.
The format has changed so that captains now select the participants for each league. Who are they going to choose besides guys that are hitting home runs? Captain selection is overrated for events like this. Fans want to see the best players and players with the most home runs. Take the top 8 home run leaders, regardless of league, and ask them to be in the home run derby. Give them a bonus or pay them to be in it if you have to. The spots that are not filled by the top 8 should then be voted on by the fans like the final All-Star roster spot. I’m all for Michael Cuddyer being in the derby, but I consider myself a diehard baseball fan. The average fan does not want to see Michael Cuddyer, nor have they ever heard of him or know what team he plays for.
I haven’t researched the TV ratings for the Home Run Derby, but why not offer guys like Manny Ramirez and Barry Bonds a spot in the derby? Both want to still play in the Majors, and both would draw huge response from fans. Some would watch because they like the players, but even more would watch because they don’t like the players. I am in favor of a young versus old format, with players under 30 squaring off against players over 30, or some other barrier to separate “young” and “old” players. Why not have Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Yusel Puig, and Chris Davis on one “team”, and David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, and Carlos Beltran on another “team”? Granted, most older players do not compete for one reason or another, but they still can hit BP home runs as well as anybody else. I’d even like to see McGwire jump into the contest again. He would probably make it to the finals if not win the whole thing!
Home Run Derby a skills contest?
There was a segment on First Take that interviewed Nelly, the rapper, and asked his thoughts about the Home Run Derby. His response was that MLB discriminates against black athletes by only having a Home Run Derby as opposed to a skills competition like the NBA does. He said showcasing other skills would give black athletes a better chance to shine in the All-Star Game festivities. Here’s the problem: fans don’t care who can run the bases the fastest or field the best ground ball. The only other skill besides hitting home runs that could be pitched to the fans would be arm strength.
Speed is only relevant to where the ball is during a play. Running a 3.9 to first base does not guarantee a hit if the ball is hit to the pitcher or popped up. Making a great play in the field is only a web gem if it results in an out. Great throws from the outfield are almost always shown in highlight clips regardless if the runner was safe or out, because there is the bang bang play. Also, throws from the outfield encompass the entire field, as opposed to only the infield for speed or ground balls.
The discrimination against black athletes is irrelevant. Fans like the home runs. It was proven with the steroid era and it gets proven every year with the top home run guys. Before this year, Chris Davis was virtually unknown outside Texas and Baltimore. This year, he leads the league in home runs and is a constant on SportsCenter highlights. He was rightfully in the Home Run Derby and will be again as long as he continues to hit with power.
Home Run Derbies are fun and great entertainment for the diehard fan and the casual fan. I personally like the old school one-on-one tapes better, but the Derby is a great event that gets every All-Star on the field at one time and provides a great competition of baseball power, which is what fans love the most. Lefties and righties, veterans and young phenoms, American and National league hitters. The only thing that could make it more interesting is if they went to aluminum bats. THAT would be scary. There will always be a Home Run Derby. Why? Chicks dig the long ball.