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The Home Run Derby is a boring anachronism. Let’s replace it with something fun.

Jul 14, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

MINNEAPOLIS, MN — A wise man once said something pretty spot-on about the Home Run Derby:

“I’m just irritated by how much attention the thing gets. It’s like a big show, and the game is an afterthought, which is totally ESPN.”

That man was Tony La Russa. Now that he’s baseball royalty and not just another manager he probably won’t say such things publicly, but he’s still right about it.

The Home Run Derby is boring. Occasionally something interesting like Josh Hamilton dominating the first round in 2008 happens, but it’s basically batting practice. Three-hour-long batting practice in which the coolest thing about home runs — the way in which they change the course of a game, often in dramatic fashion — is taken out of the equation. Come to think of it, the second coolest thing about home runs — how it represents a batter getting the best of a pitcher who is trying his damndest to get him out — is taken out of it too. It’s the NBA slam dunk competition without as much athleticism.

Baseball has acknowledged this to some degree this year, reducing the number of “outs” each participant gets in an effort to make it move along more quickly, but it’ll still drag tonight. And not only will it drag, it will be accompanied by either Chris Berman’s “back, back back!” nonsense if you’re watching it on TV or Mike & Mike’s commentary over the loudspeakers if you’re watching it in person.

I wish the Home Run Debry was done away with, but actually, the thing about the Home Run Derby which justifies its elimination the most is not its tediousness, but its anachronistic nature. It’s been around since the mid-80s in various forms, but it really took off as a televised and heavily-promoted event in the mid-to-late 90s. Back when “chicks dig the longball” captured the zeitgeist and offense ruled the day. We now exist in a low-offense era. Yes, there are still a lot of homers, but what really sets a player apart these days is his all-around game. Someone who can hit for average, hit for power, run well and play good defense. If anything, long-ball-only guys are mild weirdos in this day and age. Curiosities.

So, like many have advocated, I advocate for the end of the Home Run Derby and its replacement with something that is not only more interesting, but which better reflects our age. A skills competition is the most obvious example. A decathlon-esque competition. Or fewer skills; pick the Greek prefix which best fits. The point is to find the player with the best all-around skills. Some ideas of what it could consist of:

  • A greatly abbreviated Home Run Derby to get at power;
  • A first-to-third or insider-the-park-homer competition that gets at baserunning. Something that doesn’t just get at raw speed but which also factors in how you cut the corner at the base and how well you slide;
  • A throwing thing where outfielders fire balls toward a target, Tom Emansky-style, from right or left field to home plate. For infielders, something with a relay throw, perhaps;
  • A gap-ball contest. Set up one of those automatic fly ball machines they use in spring training to fire fly balls farther and father from a set position on which the fielder sets up. Whoever can run down balls farther from that position is the winner.
  • Something for catchers. We don’t want to kill them so maybe we don’t do a block-the-ball-in-the-dirt drill, but maybe a thing in which speed and accuracy of firing the ball down to second base is used.

There are tons of other possibilities, of course. For any skill there could be a competition with which to gauge it. Some are better ideas than others — we don’t want players to get hurt in the name of off-day TV programming — but I’m sure there are three or four things we could put together that would be far more novel and far more interesting than the Home Run Derby.

Got any ideas of your own? Share them in the comments, where they can be ignored by Major League Baseball alongside my ideas, which will also be ignored, I fear.

  1. stupidusername - Jul 14, 2014 at 2:51 PM

    Outfielders full out sprinting and probably dive to catch fly balls, outfielders throwing a ball 300 feet? I’m not sure participation would be real high in those contests. Here’s another good one: fastest pitch! The inside-the-park race would be interesting, but again could cause injury pretty easily.

    I don’t dislike the HR derby. It’s a fun display of how far someone can hit a baseball. It’s a bit more than just batting practice. Let’s not act like it’s easy to hit the ball 400 feet. You and I certainly could not do it today. There are too many outs given to each better. It shouldn’t take half an hour for 1 guy to get 10 outs.

    I cannot stand Berman during the derby. I don’t know who can, so how is he sent out there every year?

    • urallstupid - Jul 14, 2014 at 4:27 PM

      rofl replace homerun derby with even more boring stuff, great stuff Craig. Not to mention the chances of injury of people trying to run out the bases will make potential contestants hesitant to even try it.

      Pulling a hamstring for show? No thanks.

  2. tonyricemajorharris - Jul 14, 2014 at 2:59 PM

    I think the Derby is fun- it’s the way tv drags it out for 3 hours. That is disgraceful IMO

    • uuddlrlrbastart - Jul 14, 2014 at 6:39 PM

      This, absolutely this. The only drag is all the excess non-Derby crap ESPN throws in. Baseball interviews are universally terrible to the point they’ve become self-parodies, so naturally ESPN has a sideline reporter ask inane questions of each hitter either before or after they bat. They show players in the cage between rounds. The last few years there’s been a pointless on-field music performance. The Derby itself doesn’t start until 8:15. David Ortiz invariably will get up to bring someone water and a towel. They interview the contest winners for whatever the fan give-away is.

      When ESPN started airing the home run derby, it was tape-delayed and they edited it so it was just the home runs (and Berman, but I think once a year we can all agree he is not history’s greatest monster). That’s what they need to get back to. Just homers.

  3. perryt200 - Jul 14, 2014 at 3:04 PM

    “The Home Run Derby is a boring anachronism. Let’s replace it with something fun.”

    Talking about a 29 year old even in a game with over 100 years of history. Could just said lets replace baseball with something fun.

    First of all in ’85 tickets were $2. That is two dollars. StubHub has some listed now over $3000. So I don’t really see it going away. Simply makes to much money.

    But, as for the ASG setting home field advantage in the WS; that is silly. Instead of going back to alternating, they should just tally the wins for both leagues at the end of the season and the one with the highest number wins home field.

  4. matgreene19 - Jul 14, 2014 at 3:52 PM

    Craig. Couldn’t agree more. I am no professional, but as a young kid (12 years old) I was lucky enough to play in the Cooperstown Dreams Park tournament. The night before the round robin begins, all the players/teams enter a competition held in front of the crowd of all of the teams present in the tournament. This consists of a homerun derby, with one player designated from each team, but with less outs. It consists of a “outfield target practice” where the outfielder is rolled a ground ball from a certain distance away and the outfielder has to make a crow-hop throw to a target near homeplate. There is also a inside-the-park homer competition to measure how fast you are around the bases. Lastly, which i loved the most, there was a “throw around” competition. This is a little confusing to explain in words, but it is basically like a throw around when the catcher throws down to third(or first) after a strikeout,you get the outfielders involved a little bit as well. There are so many possibilities, but a “skills” competition may or may not work. Even though all of the events i mentioned above (some of which are parallel to your suggestions) are very fun and thoughtful, I dont know if a combination of these events would necessarily draw more viewers or make it more interesting. Therefore, I still believe the homerun derby will draw the most attention out of any of the ideas.

    I say MLB should heavily promote the Futures Game. That was an awesome game yesterday. But who knows whether THAT will draw more attention than the HR derby, because baseball is a game based on percentages, where some of those dudes in the futures game dont necessarily pan out. Its an interesting debate that hopefully will be sorted out per the league or per collective bargaining. Gotta love baseball!

  5. jss1330 - Jul 14, 2014 at 4:42 PM

    bird calls
    square dance calling
    log rolling

  6. mikhelb - Jul 14, 2014 at 5:34 PM

    The alternatives sound cool, it is like one of those showcases I used to attend in local baseball leagues, but I doubt there will be players lined up to make the effort of doing it, specially nowadays when everybody is a walking million dollar sign, teams do not want to risk their millionaire “investments”, catchers wont risk doing drills for nothing, not many runners will go because nowadays speed is not considered a weapon as it was before the 1990’s, even today we judge players by their OPS.

  7. scoman37 - Jul 14, 2014 at 6:05 PM

    Did you even research the derby before you wrote this? The Derby didn’t start in the mid 80’s. It was a weekly tv show in 1960 and it was awesome(http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_Run_Derby_(TV_series). They wrote the winner a check for 2k and they really appreciated the money and wanted to win badly. Do you even like baseball or it’s rich history CC?

  8. tmc602014 - Jul 14, 2014 at 7:41 PM

    How about a stupid public remark competition? We could have Lackey lead off. Matt Harvey could contribute even from the DL. Matt Kemp could wave a two signs, “.263/.327/.453″ and “I just want to play, man”. Dick Monfort belongs here, even without bat nor glove. Bryce in cleanup, Ryan Braun and a cast of thousands saying “I’ve made some mistakes…”. Like the old farces we could throw our peanut shells at the villain of choice. The one under the biggest pile of shells wins the competition and gets an honorary ejection performed by Angel Hernandez, who then throws himself out.

  9. dinofrank60 - Jul 14, 2014 at 10:37 PM

    Automatic improvement: get rid of Berman.

  10. freddsox - Jul 15, 2014 at 12:27 AM

    Hacks complaining about the Home Run derby is as predictable as the sun rising in the east. Don’t watch or better yet don’t write about your complaints. It won’t be in Minneapolis every year.

  11. Fantasy Football Consultant - Jul 15, 2014 at 11:36 AM

    This article and comments fried my brain and I am dumber now for reading. I really gotta stop reading this trendy pc sports site. I keep thinking its sports news, lol.

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