Home Run Derby: Fun, But Flawed

I was Dumb And Stupid.Analyst IJuly 14, 2008

Josh Hamilton’s performance at Yankee Stadium on Monday will transcend the fact that he did not actually win the exhibition. In fact, a large group of baseball fans likely wouldn’t be able to tell you who won the Home Run Derby last night.

And while Justin Morneau will leave New York with the trophy, and Josh Hamilton will leave Yankee Stadium as a household name, there is one thing that Bud Selig and the baseball big wigs can leave the Bronx with this week—the home run derby is very flawed

While it’s an exhibition that counts for nothing, it can be so much better. Bud Selig, are you reading?

By tweaking the Home Run Derby, you can make it even more exciting than the current version. That means more advertising money for the league, as more people tune in.  

I think I have your attention now, Bud. 

Now I am going to need you to stay with me Bud, because the last time you tried to tweak the All-Star festivities, you made an exhibition game far too important for anyone to grasp. If you can pace yourself, and restrain from making the Home Run Derby the determining factor on who plays in the league championship series, I think we can do some good here.  

The first round is fine. Eight players, 10 outs. Dandy. Nothing wrong with that system in place right now. But, in the current system, it is feasible for players to stop hitting home runs when they have enough to advance to the next round.

There is no incentive to continue to hit, as it’s merely detrimental to the player hitting. So my proposal is such:  

The eight batters go through the first round in the same system that is in place currently, but in my second round, only three players can advance, and only two compete. The home run leader from the first round gets a bye to the finals, and the second and third place sluggers battle it out for the right to go head-to-head with the leader.  

If we were to use the 2008 HRD as an example, Justin Morneau and Lance Berkman would face each other in the second round for the right to battle the first-round leader, Josh Hamilton, in the finals.

I feel that a system that uses direct competition as much as possible, without making it a true tournament, makes the derby more exciting.  

The semifinal competition could be a shorter version of the new finals system, which I will explain later, or merely just a 10-out duplicate of the first round. Either way works, because the final round is all that really matters.  

So say that Morneau beats Berkman head-to-head, earning the right to battle Hamilton. There, the slate is wiped clean. (Some people are against clearing the board before the finals, but it really is the only way to inject drama into the derby. Under the current rules, it would be better to have the running total, as it would illicit just as much drama in most situations.)

But once the slate is wiped clean, the two sluggers play a Home Run Derby final game. And, while I am sure that the marketing geniuses could slap a catchy name and sponsor it 12 times, it isn’t the name that counts. It’s the concept.  

In the final round, the contestants, in this case, Hamilton and Morneau, each get nine outs total. The way the final showdown would take place is the first round leader, the player that received the bye, is the home team. So Justin Morneau bats in the top of the frame and is allowed to hit as many home runs as he can achieve with three outs.

Then Hamilton gets to bat in the home half of the bottom of the inning. You play three innings and the player with the most home runs is your champion.  

Which way is more dramatic?

Josh Hamilton coming to the plate with 10 outs and the task of hitting five home runs, or Josh Hamilton coming up the plate in the final inning down by two with two outs? The answer is obvious.   

But alas, styling the derby like a game seems too logical to ever be done by Major League Baseball. 

But, even with that new system in place, your work is not done yet, Bud. To really make the derby more enjoyable, it would be a very good idea to have an online fan vote to elect one player that did not make the All-Star team to hit in the derby.

This year, we could have seen Ryan Howard or Jason Giambi battle it out for the final spot in the Home Run Derby in an online poll going on concurrently with the final-man voting.  

What no one wants the Home Run Derby to become is the NBA Slam Dunk competition, where no names and wash ups try to do things that have been done before and pass them off as original and remarkable. If you could find a group of Dwight Howards, Michael Jordans, Spud Webbs, and Dominique Wilkins, you would have a pretty good dunk contest.

Instead, you have Jamario Moon and Gerald Green stinking up the court, while Howard keeps the entire event afloat. This should be a strong model of what not to do when it comes to an All-Star Game event.  

Now, the idea of having All-Stars only in the HRD is honorable. It keeps the event legitimate and all the players are recognizable to a good baseball fan. And while it might be blasphemous to have a non All-Star member in the derby, merely consider the player a designated slugger All-Star spot.

If you call it that, everyone is an All-Star on the team. I also doubt that anyone would put a player like Jose Vidro on the exclusive ballot to begin with. You also guarantee, with the online voting, that you will have one of the finest and most recognizable sluggers in the game performing in the Derby.  

So Bud Selig, I hope you take some of the ideas of the fans and at least test them out with the players. If you were watching tonight, you would have seen that most of the players are just fans themselves when it comes to the Derby. And while the Derby is a great event, with a bit of tweaking and a smidgen of common sense, it could be an elite event.