The (now) annual Home Run Derby at each All-Star Game is a staged event put on mainly by ESPN to capture baseball’s love affair with the home run. We watch it whether we are interested or not, much like the Super Bowl. It’s run its course and needs to be shelved, ESPN or not.
Fans of Major League Baseball will recall the days leading up to last year’s Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game in Miami when Aaron Judge was the talk of baseball, hitting balls out of sight at speeds no one had ever approached.
ESPN and FOX couldn’t wait to get their slimy hands on Judge, the one-man rating booster sent to jail for three days with no possibility of parole. Fans will also recall how Judge meandered his way through the circus with style and grace. These same fans will also remember the power display Judge put on during the Home Run Derby, winning the event on a last-gasp final swing, saved only from collapsing by teammates rushing to congratulate him.
Fewer fans will also recall the month-and-a-half following the Home Run Derby when Aaron Judge went into a prodigious slump mainly caused (we find out later) by either a first-time shoulder injury or a tweaking of a chronic injury, which required offseason surgery.
But that’s not where I’m going with this, which is that players who participate in the Home Run Derby expose themselves to serious injury, and therefore the event should be canceled and the pressure put on players to join eliminated.
Of that pressure, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post writes about New York Yankees superstar-to-be, Gleyber Torres, honestly answering a question put to him about the Home Run Derby:
“I’m not a home-run hitter,” the Yankees’ dynamic rookie told The Post on Wednesday, before his team continued its series against the Mariners at Yankee Stadium. “I’m a contact hitter.””WCBS Sports, Mike Axisa
Good for Gleber Torres for recognizing that his future belongs to himself and the New York Yankees, not ESPN.
The underlying reason, though, why the Home Run Derby needs to be canned is that it’s become downright annoying. Chris Berman, the aging, and yesteryear ESPN commentator must stay up at night dreaming of different ways he can describe the same thing; a ball hit far into the night by men gifted with talent only a few possess.
Served up on a platter by “pitchers” of their choice, these players go through all kind of contortions to defy physics to make a ball thrown at 60mph not turn into a weak ground ball to shortstop. This, in contrast to the above video in which Aaron Judge, in a game situation against a major league pitcher does the same thing.
One is boring and staged; the other is not. One causes fans to ooh and aah watching a ball hit fifteen feet further than the last one, while the other causes fans to rise to their feet and cheer wildly at the unexpected moment they are witnessing.
The lure of the home run has been part of baseball since Babe Ruth changed the game forever when he outhomered every team in baseball one season, except for Philadelphia. So much so that today, the average team batting average is in the middle .240’s and strikeouts outnumber base hits for the first time in the game.
MLB will need to jump through hoops to get ESPN to give up the Home Run Derby. It’s a moneymaker with commercial ad dollars (I believe) outreaching the All-Star Game itself.
The All-Star game puts a spotlight on the remarkable athletic talent of players today, and that alone should be enough of a lure for baseball fans to revel in. But there’s also the MLB Futures Game which ESPN also telecasts, an event which if given equal hype as the Home Run Derby can generate interest in the stars of tomorrow.
Aaron Judge has already indicated he may skip the Derby in 2018, and he might not be the only one, according to Jon Heyman of FRSBaseball.com. (Source) Yahoo Sports, Chris Cwik
Meanwhile, MLB is stepping up its recruiting campaign soliciting hard for Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, and others to join in the Home Run Derby exercise.
They forget one thing though, and that’s the fact the home run stands alone in baseball, and it does not need any coaxing or manufacturing to make it more visible to fans. The Home Run Derby has seen its day, and occasionally it has been fun. But please, can we move on?
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