MLB: 9 Tips for Watching the Home Run Derby and All-Star Game on TV & Twitter
Major League Baseball officially kicks off the All-Star break on Monday with the State Farm Home Run Derby on ESPN, followed by Tuesday's Midsummer Classic on FOX.
A few years back, after Bud Selig barely weathered the storm of ending the All-Star game in a tie, MLB decided the exhibition contest should matter, thereby instituting a silly rule to give the winning league—American or National—home-field advantage in the World Series.
"This time it counts."
The rule has both helped and hurt the game, putting a little juice (if you pardon the baseball pun) on the outcome of the event while simultaneously putting far too much pressure on the managers to make "baseball" decisions instead of making sure everyone gets into the game and has fun.
Remember the Brad Lidge debacle of 2008, where then-Rockies manager Clint Hurdle had him warm up six times before coming in to lose the game in the 15th inning? Lidge threw 120 pitches and nearly ruined his arm for a month. Is that really better than ending in a tie?
But it counted! Because it counts—that time, this time and for what it's worth, all the times.
Lidge was surely not the only player who has been misused in the All-Star game, be it by overuse or under-use by a manager. That said, the managerial decisions are just a small part of the All-Star weekend. There's the Home Run Derby, the terrible musicians MLB pulls out to play before their events begin, the Twitter vitriol thrown toward Chris Berman on Monday and Joe Buck on Tuesday.
There is a whole lot to follow during the All-Star break. Here are some of the most important tips for watching and tweeting about the MLB All-Star Game.
1. Bookies Think an American Leaguer Will Win the Home Run Derby
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Per the lines at Bovada.lv, Jose Bautista of Toronto is the odds-on favorite to win Monday's Home Run Derby at 13/4. Prince Fielder and Robinson Cano sit behind Bautista at 17/4 with Anaheim's Mark Trumbo at 5/1.
The National Leaguers are given odds of 6/1 for Carlos Beltran and Matt Kemp, 7/1 for Carlos Gonzales and 8/1 for last-minute replacement Andrew McCutchen from Pittsburgh who stepped in for my favorite heading into the week, Giancarlo Stanton.
The odds for longest home run of the night go to Fielder. I will put my money on Trumbo. (Note: that's an idiom. I will not actually put any real money on anything.)
2. The Home Run Derby Takes Way Too Long
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We love to see guys hit a lot of home runs in the first round, but boy does that drag things out when we are down to the finals. There has to be some way to speed up the Derby to get the dang thing done in an hour. Nobody needs to sit around the TV for three hours watching sluggers slog through the final rounds.
Remember the 2008 Derby when Josh Hamilton hit 28 dingers in the first round? He hit four in the second round then just three in the finals and didn't even win.
Sure, last season provided great final round drama when Robinson Cano hit 12 homers to pass Adrian Gonzalez with 11. One might also remember how bogged down last year's event became after a first-round tiebreaker. Why MLB can't just settle ties in the next round is beyond anyone's comprehension.
Why does there have to be a third round anyway? Would it not become more efficient, and therefore more entertaining, to see eight guys narrowed to four with a winner coming from that group of four by totaling up the first two rounds? Give a trophy to that guy and another smaller trophy to the guy with the farthest home run in either round and call it a night.
The NBA Dunk Contest used to be great, but then it got stale when top players found reasons not to participate and the dunks became mediocre. The event needed to be ruined a decade ago before it could come back and be re-invented properly. It still isn't always great, but the dunk contest is better than it was for quite some time. Maybe the Home Run Derby needs to be ruined for a while before it can be saved. Something needs to change.
Oh, speaking of ruining the Derby…
3. Chris Berman Will Ruin the Derby for Millions, Destroy Twitter for All
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The Home Run Derby is both the best and worst events for Chris Berman to sit in the broadcast booth. If Berman is going to call any event on the sports calendar, why not an event where the outcome is completely irrelevant and the entire night is just about kicking back, having fun and celebrating how far a player can crush a baseball.
That said, the announcers really can make or break an event where the outcome is inconsequential. Berman has an uncanny ability to become the star of any event he covers and on a night like the Home Run Derby, the players really should be the stars. Berman's over-the-top exuberance comes off incredibly phony at times, and his predictable calls, nicknames and references are re-treads from Derbies gone by.
If you dare, do a tacit Twitter search for "Chris Berman" during the Derby and you will be amazed at how many people comment on his comments. There will be as many tweets about Berman on Monday as there will about the home runs. ESPN has to love that, as much as the rest of us can't stand it.
Having said that, if you follow me on Twitter you know I will be talking about Berman as much as the hitters too. He's the car that keeps on crashing.
If we are stuck with Berman in the booth, we might as well have a little fun with it…
4. Chris Berman Twitter Play-Along Betting Game
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• Number of times Berman uses the word "back" while a ball is in the air: 240.
Here's the logic on that number. Let's assume early on that Berman has high "back" energy, throwing in at least six "back" calls on the first few home runs. Later in the event, we must assume Berman will slow his pace down like the sluggers often do, pulling back to a four "back" pace per dinger. That would average to somewhere around five "backs" per home run.
If he uses his signature call on just half of the home runs hit on Monday night—he won't pull it out unless he is sure the ball is out and some of the homers are hit while other analysts or guests are talking—that's somewhere in the neighborhood of 48 distinct calls. (The last two years have seen 95 home runs hit.) Multiply the 48 homers by our average of five "backs" per hit, and we get a nice round figure of 240 "backs."
• Most "Backs" in one home run call: Seven.
It will have to be a long one, but I think it can be done.
• Number of splashing sounds and/or references to "Splash Mountain" or "Water World" or any other schlocky water reference if a ball goes into the Kaufmann Stadium fountains: 12
Bonus if Fielder hits one into the water and Berman employs a Prince of Tides reference.
• Number of references to other towns the ball may land: 7
If Berman did his research, he'd know that Kaufmann Stadium points to the northeast. With that knowledge, there are a limited number of towns to pick with the reasonable expectation viewers would get the references while not being too far away from the stadium to make the joke worthwhile.
For example, Berman could use St. Louis if a ball is hit to right field, but everyone knows St. Louis is in foul territory. If a ball goes out to left field, however, Des Moines, Iowa is certainly in play.
More than likely, Berman would stick to local towns and municipalities around Kansas City like Independence or Liberty. Bonus points to Berman if a ball hit to left center field draws an Excelsior Spring reference.
• Number of references to moon shots or balls going into orbit: 20
• Number of nicknames given to players: 8 (as in all of them)
5. The All-Star Music Is a Little Country, a Little Rock and Roll, a Lot of Idol
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The hard thing with major televised events is picking the music that most people will like without alienating too much of the audience before the event begins. The key is picking a band that will excite the crowd in the stadium as well, as fans at home always take their cues from the reaction of the live audience.
David Cook of American Idol fame will sing the national anthem before the Home Run Derby while the Zac Brown Band will perform a song on the field before any taters get mashed, thereby grinding the telecast to a halt before it even starts.
That's not to suggest the Zac Brown Band isn't a rollicking good time, but people aren't tuning in for a concert. If ESPN and MLB want to entertain us with music, they should do it in between rounds so the hitters have more time to rest. Better yet, don't do it at all.
During the All-Star Game on Tuesday, Fox will trot out a series of its own graduate students, with recent Idol winner Phillip Phillips performing before the game and Kellie Pickler signing God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch.
Luke Bryan, who was not on American Idol and, seemingly, earned his fame the old fashioned way of writing songs and getting signed by a record label, will sing the national anthem.
That is an awful lot of white dudes performing songs, MLB. And Kellie Pickler.
It could be worse. The NHL hired Nickelback for their award show this year.
6. Joe Buck Will Terrorize All-Star Viewers with Sound, Reasonable Play-by-Play
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Joe Buck will be calling the All-Star Game on Fox and, much like Berman, he will terrorize fans on Twitter the entire night. Buck can be all the things people say about him, but the internet age has turned him into a villain he really does not deserve to be.
Buck was dealt a bad hand by Fox a decade ago, thrust into every situation possible, completely over-exposing him and making us hate seeing his face and stupid haircut whenever we turned on the TV.
That disdain has stayed with people longer than it should have. Buck is a solid announcer. He's smart, he's sharp, he's witty—three things you cannot say about his booth partner Tim McCarver—and he lets the game play out in front of the viewers without making it about himself.
Still, there are people who hate Buck and think that by not being excitable, he is making the game about him. Still, he is a lightning rod on Twitter and will surely catch the brunt of fan displeasure during the game.
7. Erin Andrews Will Make Her Fox Debut to Little Fanfare
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Erin Andrews leaving ESPN for Fox is big media news, but once she is actually on the air for Fox, there's a sure as anything bet that nobody will give a darn. Fox will certainly put Andrews on the air as much as possible during the All-Star game, giving her every opportunity to shine on a national spotlight for her new network.
The odds are good that Andrews will be solid, prepared and professional…and then everyone will forget she is even on the telecast and will go back to hating Buck and McCarver.
Andrews is a good "get" for Fox, but her presence will not move the meter, or online trends after Tuesday's introduction, much at all.
8. Tony La Russa Will Manage the N.L. Like It's Game 8 of the World Series
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Tony La Russa is an All-Star Game scorekeeper's nightmare. Did you know that because of Yadier Molina pulling out of the game, the National League will be allowed to put Buster Posey back into the game if Carlos Ruiz is unable to finish?
What are the odds La Russa tries to step on Ruiz's toe or poke him in the eye or something, just so he can put a catcher back into the game?
As it stands, we shouldn’t be surprised if La Russa tries to throw two or three different pitchers in the same at-bat. If the All-Star game is over before midnight, someone better check La Russa's pulse. There is no way he will let this game end without over-managing everything he can possibly over-manage.
9. The MVP of the All-Star Game Will Be…
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On paper, the American League is the better team, so it stands to reason to pick a player from the A.L. to win the MVP. In close games, unless a starter does something exceptional in the first few innings, usually the MVP will go to the player who has a game-winning hit which is why I'll pick Konerko.
Konerko is having a ridiculous season, batting .329 with 14 homers and 42 runs batted in. His on-base percentage is eighth in the Majors and his OPS is in the top 16 as well. He is one of just two first basemen in the game for the AL, meaning he will play at least four innings and have at least two or three at-bats.
I would pick Mike Trout because of the year he is having (.341/12/40/.959 OPS), but I don't see Rangers manager Ron Washington using Trout or Mark Trumbo in a situation where they can win an MVP.
With six outfielders, he may not have a choice to let one of the Angels shine, but the safer pick off the AL bench is Konerko.