The All-Star break is here, which means that the Home Run Derby is here. The Derby has, for me, had a weird parallel/perpendicular path to the Dunk Contest during NBA All-Star Weekend. One of the Dunk Contest's core problems in the last five or ten years has been the complete lack of star-wattage involved. Dwight Howard competed a few years ago, sure, but this season, a guy named Jeremy Evans competed. No, wait, he won. A guy named Jeremy Evans won the Dunk Contest and I've literally never heard of him in my life. This might not be remarkable to you, because you're not an NBA fan, but I am an NBA fan. I know who players are. I watch the TNT and ESPN games with some frequency. I play fantasy (and tend to play it quite well with my co-manager Migs).
The lowest-profile Derby competitor, by contrast, is Mark Trumbo, and even he has "finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting last year" on his resume. The other seven guys are legit stars, household names as far as baseball goes. The MLB equivalent of the NBA's dunk contest would feature a Derby roster as follows:
For the American League: Jonny Gomes, Trevor Plouffe, Chris Davis, and Cody Ross.
For the National League: Adam LaRoche, Tyler Colvin, Jed Lowrie, and Paul Goldschmidt.
See, there are some legit power-hitters in there, right? Some guys you'd expect to go yard a lot in a Derby? And yet nobody would tune in to watch this! Nobody wants to see Jed Lowrie vs. Cody Ross in the Home Run Derby. No, baseball has it right, despite the Derby coming with those "changed swing mechanics" that parallel the NBA's "going to hurt my knees jumping that hard" excuse that stars use to get out of the Dunk Contest. Baseball has legit, marketable stars in the Derby.
So why have I come to mostly disregard the thing? Three reasons come to mind, the first two of which are ripped directly off from Ian and Riley at the PRODCAST, which you really ought to be listening to:
- It's really long. So long. Oh my god how long it takes. I don't have time for this!
- Chris Berman. backbackbackbackbackbackbackbackback /dies
The sharpest contrast to dunking is this: home runs are at heart routine. All of baseball is, at heart, routine, except for those occasional rare moments of spontaneity on defense that produce remarkable athletic creativity on par with similar displays in other sports. The Dunk Contest is full of guys trying to do something you haven't seen before (though of course one huge complaint is that there isn't anything we haven't seen before), to wow you with a dazzling display of inventiveness combined with sheer skill and force. The Derby? It's full of guys swinging the bat real hard a bunch of times in a row. They're not doing anything different from what they do nearly every single time they come to the plate. They're just doing it with low stakes and a compliant pitcher.
Maybe there's something to be said for the numbness one experiences upon seeing David Ortiz hit his 18th homer of the second round, three hours into the contest, but I'm not going to be the one to say it.
If I had to give a recommendation, I would steal from an old version of Triple Play Baseball for, I believe, the OG PlayStation—longest cumulative home-run distance wins. The best part of the Derby is seeing the ball fly 480 feet off of some enormous slugger's bat, right? So why not let that count more than the 360-foot wall-scraper? ESPN is estimating these distances in real time anyway, so unless there's some persistent bias in these measurements that would undermine the integrity of the contest (cough), the technology to accomplish this rule-change seems to already exist.
And now the daily recap: