The 2011 Home Run Derby was everything you could have hoped for.
It was won by Robinson Cano in thrilling fashion as he blasted a record 12 home runs in the final round to top Adrian Gonzales. It was one of just many thrilling story lines in what can only be described as a successful night.
Cano finished the night with 32 home runs, beating Adrian Gonzales by 1. David Ortiz and Prince Fielder both made the semi-final round; Prince Fielder by pounding out 5 home runs on his 5 swings of the tie-breaker.
MLB home run leader Jose Bautista managed only 4 home runs, and was eliminated after the first round.
The best part about the derby was just in how fun it was. Mostly, that was a product of just letting the players go out and do their thing.
This year, the lineups were chosen by David Ortiz and Prince Fielder. They selected the players, and they took the competition to heart. Ortiz even pulled out a last minute lineup change to put Adrian Gonzales out first to try to give the NL a large deficit to work with.
He didn’t stop there with the managing, and had a few meetings during the event to further discuss strategy.
On the sidelines, MLB had set up a social networking table, and the players ran wild with that. Even Reggie Jackson was getting into it taking over control of the MLB Twitter feed.
Whether it was due to volume, or by sheer coincidence, Twitter even crashed for several minutes in the middle of the game.
One of the best stories from the game still lies with Robinson Cano.
Robbie had his dad, former big league pitcher Jose Cano, toss him pitches for the derby. While most players choose a current or former coach, it was really cool to see Robinson elect to have his dad toss him pitches for the game.
It was even cooler to see the duo team up to win the event.
Left to their own devices, MLB players are actually very entertaining. They’re professional entertainers as well as athletes, and it’s no surprise that in a relaxed fun environment, they can churn out a fantastic event to watch. With the success on the field, you wouldn’t even be able to argue that the quality dipped along with the fun.
That’s been part of the problem of the last few years of All-Star games. Bud Selig ushered in the era of “the game counts” as a knee-jerk reaction to a botched situation.
For the past few seasons, it hasn’t been about the fun. It’s been about the marketing tie-ins, about the sponsorships, and about Chris Berman blasting bad puns out with every home run. But it hasn’t been the fun.
It’s no surprise. Bud Selig is a business man who made his fortune selling cars and investing in a love of baseball. He is a business man, not an entertainer. While baseball may have been succeeding in the dollars and cents, part of the entertainment value had been what was lacking.
There have been some boring home run derbies slugged out on gimmicks like each player representing their country rather than their league. There have been some of the biggest stars in the game sitting out of the main events. It hasn’t been as much fun.
Players themselves are entertaining. We see it behind the scenes on shows like "This Week In Baseball", we see it in colorful former players turned commentators, and we see it in the crazy antics exhibited by players all over baseball. Baseball should let that run loose, and let the players have a bigger say in the events.
This year took a good step with the two league captains drafting their own teams, but there were still outside influences. I dream of a day when networks won’t force bad commentators like Chris Berman down our throats, but perhaps I’m dreaming.
Let the players run the game, and let the players just go out and have fun.
These are outstanding athletes, and the quality of play will certainly be there. Just let them go out and have fun with it. Give the game back to the players.