MLB All Star Weekend: 5 Ways to Improve the Home Run Derby
Monday night’s MLB All-Star Home Run Derby was one of the best I’ve ever seen baseball put on.
The infusion of young stars mixed with a few old faces gave the event a fresh look and feel. As much as it hurts this Red Sox fan to say, it made me smile to see Robinson Cano, a Yankee, out-slug Adrian Gonzalez.
Sure, I would have rather seen Gonzalez take the crown, but it was still just as enjoyable to see one of the game’s young superstars have such a genuinely great time smashing homers on the big stage.
The event was also more intriguing because of the new wrinkle that MLB put in place this year.
They had two of the best sluggers in each league serve as team captains. The idea was gimmicky for sure, but isn’t that exactly what the Home Run Derby is?
So I say let’s not stop there, let’s keep the fun gimmicks coming. Here are five new changes to the show that MLB should add next year.
5. Keep the Young Guys Coming
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Seeing the new guys in the Derby this year was one of the best parts of the night.
And it wasn’t just good for the fans, it was good for the game of baseball as well.
Every league needs to showcase it’s up and coming stars because if fans don’t get attached to the next crop of young guns then the game is in trouble.
Baseball doesn’t do as good a job as the other pro sports at showcasing their young talent. There are plenty of reasons for this, mostly because that talent is spread out amongst countless minor league and college teams and rarely, if ever, are on the same field at the same time.
So instead of the “futures” game that the league puts on every year, and every year nobody pays attention to, why not showcase the young talent by having them participate in their own shortened version of the Home Run Derby?
The best long ball hitters in the minors could take their swings on the big stage. They would be able to get their names and faces out there, and baseball fans would have a chance to get to know who they are.
4. Give Me Some Defense!
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Part of what can drag the Home Run Derby down is that we just see the same thing over and over again. After we’ve seen one hulking slugger smash a ball a country mile, it’s just not as exciting the second time.
What we need to do is to add something else to the event, something that will make the moments after the bat hits the ball worth watching. What we need is some defense.
There's nothing more exciting in the game of baseball then watching an outfielder run to the wall and steal a sure fire home run away from the hitter. I want to see this same thing in the Derby.
We could get the best outfielders in baseball at making these jumping wall catches and put them in the outfield. When the ball is within their range they would jump for the catch, giving fans the opportunity to see one of the games most exciting plays.
And we would be able to stay with the AL versus NL theme by having AL guys in the field to rob the NL hitters, and vice versa. This would also add to the intrigue of the which league hits the most total home runs, which you will see later in the list becomes very important.
One last quick note on this, I don’t want to see the kids who shag the fly balls removed from the field, they’re one of the best parts of the whole Derby experience. Just put a line or a fence or something around the warning track to separate them from the pros. The kids still get to shag the fly balls that don’t make it that far.
3. Make It a Team Thing
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Fans like to root for the players on their favorite team. I know, pretty obvious, right? So why hasn’t MLB started to use this to their advantage in the Derby?
It should not be an individual event, it should be a team event.
You would have the three pairs of teammates from each league that have the highest home run total in the first half of the season as the participants.
There are two huge advantages that come from this. The first is that it makes the selection process itself more interesting. If the two best sluggers from your team were in contention for a spot in the Derby as June became July you know you would start really getting into how many homers they were hitting on a nightly basis, as well as how many their competition was.
The other great thing that would come of this is you would be able to seamlessly integrate the rivalries that the game already has. I’m a Sox fan, so I would love the chance to root for my guys to hit more home runs than the representatives from the Yankees. Same thing for Reds fans versus Cardinals fans, or Giants and Dodgers fans, you get the idea.
Rivalries and team loyalty are two of the things that make baseball such a great game, let’s add that to the Home Run Derby from now on.
2. Target Practice
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This idea makes me giddy just thinking about it.
And the best part is its simplicity. You just put targets all around the stadium, and if the team hits them with their home runs they get a bonus. You would have smaller ones worth more points and ones that were farther away or closer to the foul poles worth more points.
This would not only add a terrific element of fun and excitement to the game, it would add an element that every great contest needs, strategy.
Does the player go for the small, risky target down the left field line that’s worth 10 points and risk wasting outs on balls that go foul? Or does he go for the big target in the right field bleachers that’s only worth 2 points?
I can just see it now, teammates earnestly going over strategy, and the excitement over which team's chosen path pays off in the end.
But I’m sure your asking, why does this all matter if winning the thing gets you nothing but bragging rights? Well, you just need to find the right prize.
1. Everyone Needs Motivation
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Baseball purists hate the fact that the winning league in the All Star Game gets home field advantage for that season’s World Series.
But it’s precisely this kind of motivation that gives the players a reason to care about the outcome of the game, and if the players don’t care then the game will never be as good.
Despite what the purists have said, making the game count for something has increased its value to the average fan, and that’s what matters.
So let’s carry this idea into the Home Run Derby as well. Let’s make it count for something.
MLB should build on the AL versus NL concept from Monday night and tally the totals from each league to determine a winner at the end. But instead of the winner getting nothing but a pat on the back and some bragging rights, they should be able to bring something back that counts.
I say we let the league that wins the Derby be able to use their rules the next season during interleague play.
This year there was a lot of controversy over what rules should be used when American League teams played National League teams. A fun and interesting way to solve this problem would be to reward the league that won the Home Run Derby by using their rules.
The game itself, and especially All Star Weekend, are supposed to be above all else be about having fun. So let’s make some changes that will bring the fun and excitement back to the Home Run Derby.