I used to like the Home Run Derby. I think. I’m relatively sure there was a time when I thought it was exciting, fun, and maybe even entertaining. Of course this was around the same time when I thought Captain Planet was the coolest super hero around and hadn’t yet figured out that the teenagers who played the Power Rangers weren’t actually the ones in the suits fighting. But somewhere along the way, the wheels fell off the wagon. And then the wagon drove off a cliff and exploded.
So what’s wrong with it and how should we fix it?
The derby regularly ends up going three hours. I don’t care what your ComDirecFiosWarnerVision guide says. 8-10? Pft. This thing goes AT LEAST two and a half. And how do we fill all that time? Inane sideline interviews. When have you ever seen an illuminating sideline interview? I think the last one was Joe Namath and Suzy Kolber and all that came to light was that Joe likes to drink and prefers redheads. If these minute and a half long “interviews” are pointless during games that, you know, matter, why would we have them during what amounts to a very public batting practice session? I don’t know, but I hope you’re excited to hear all about how excited Matt Kemp is to be there.
It wouldn’t be a major sporting event without ESPN sending his “You’re With Me Leather-ness.” I don’t understand how someone who invariably makes the broadcast a must-mute event, can still be so ubiquitous.
And the nicknames. Was there ever a time when Chris Berman’s nicknames weren’t obnoxious? Some halcyon moment where the idea of the loud-mouthed face of ESPN calling someone “John ‘I am not a’ Kruk” was charming or endearing? Did that ever happen?
ESPN, please do us all a favor and send Berman back, back, back, back… and so on and so forth.
I get that this proposal might be dangerous, and we definitely don’t want another situation where we have to see Brandon Inge or Jason Bay get goose egg on their faces. But the derby thrives on players being mic’d up. Why not play into that by including some charismatic, funny guys. Jason Kipnis and Logan Morrison both had 11 home runs in the first half. Nothing astounding, but enough that they could hold their own in the competition. Plus both guys would be more entertaining to listen to than Matt Kemp. I’m not saying don’t include the “I have nothing to do with the zombie apocalypse” Dodger superstar. I’m just saying having a Kipnis or Morrison there to stir the pot and make fun of the other contestants would be a good idea. (And not for nothing, help market player personality, something the league as been woefully inept at for years.) It’d be worth it just to hear what Adele song Kipnis sings at the plate.
Let’s make things interesting. I want players making bets with one another. Not for money, but for embarrassing stakes. How about, anyone who doesn’t get out of the first round has to go sell hot dogs in the stands. Go back to the head-to-head second round format to help facilitate it even further. Andrew McCutchen vs. Prince Fielder. Loser has to go put on the other team’s mascot costume and do the Cha Cha Slide. This is basic math. Millionaires + Embarrassment = Entertained Fans. Hell, the bets can be user submitted! Think of how much fun it would be to sit around with your friends and come up with embarrassing tasks that they should do. Even sideline reporters would have something to talk about.
I’ll readily admit that this is the most out-there of these proposals, but hear me out. What if rather than a money ball, each time at the plate ended with the batter having to face Justin Verlander for an at-bat. Walk or get a hit? That’s worth one run. Off the wall? Two runs. Home run? 5 runs. Strike out? Lose a run. Suddenly the derby could turn on tense at-bats between the best power hitters in the game and the best pitcher baseball’s seen in years.
Imagine it, guys would be racking up homers trying to get a Verlander-proof league. The Tigers pitcher would circle the event like Jaws. You know he’s coming, and he’s angry, throwing for the superiority of pitchers over hitters. The tension would be off the charts. Tell me you’re not tuning in for that.
And sure, if you want to be “reasonable,” it’s clear that this would never happen. It’s impractical to ask Verlander to throw extra innings, and it undermines the orgy of Home Runs vibe the MLB likes to cultivate, but damn would it be fun to watch.