The baseball world gathered at Target Field in Minneapolis Monday night for the annual home run derby to kick off the MLB All-Star Game festivities. As they’ve done every year since 1985, fans came together to decide once and for all who was the best at batting practice.
And once again, the event was a reminder of why it needs to go.
The 2014 installment of the home run hitting contest was yet another bore fest. A dud. A loud foul ball. Beginning with a rain delay that lasted over an hour, the derby came with little excitement. There weren’t any booming home runs. There weren’t any ravenous displays of power.
Jose Bautista was the lone contestant to hit double-digit home runs in a single round when he cleared the fences ten times in the first round. Yoenis Cespedes — who won his second consecutive title — hit 28 homers overall but never had more than nine in a round.
Giancarlo Stanton, Monday’s main attraction as the consensus best power hitter in baseball, earned a second round bye after hitting six home runs in the first round only to hit none in the third round. Yasiel Puig reached the seven-out maximum without leaving the yard in the opening round.
Cincinnati Reds third baseman Todd Frazier reached the final round on nine home runs and one in the semifinal round. It was more a win by attrition than it was a Cinderella story for the little-known Frazier.
If you missed it, you didn’t miss much. It wasn’t a great exhibition of hitting, but rather a case for another format change the whole night.
The derby — which began in 1985 and was untelevised for the first few years of its existence — caught steam as the deeper the game plunged into the steroid era, the long ball became as sexy a commodity as it ever had been.
Hulking human beings like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Rafael Palmeiro turned an exciting baseball play into a riveting art form. The derby became must-watch television as a result.
But the event has lost its fastball. Power is down across baseball. Natural hitters aren’t in as great of abundance as yesteryear. Worse yet, the synthetic bats are even less prominent. Then there’s the theory that the derby negatively alters one’s swing.
The biggest premise surrounding the current state of the contest is the fact that the game is not as predicated on the long ball. Teams preach pitching, defense and small ball. Coaches preach stringing together hits and producing runs over the three-run homer.
Over an eight-season stretch between 1996 and 2004, the game saw 335 30-home run seasons, topping out at 47 in 2000. There was a three-season stretch between 1999-2001 in which there were at least 40 30-home run guys every season.
In eight full seasons going back to 2005, however, there have been just 228 30-home run seasons. There haven’t been more than 34 players who have hit 30 home runs in a single season over that stretch. In 2013, there were just 14 players who had 30 or more home runs.
The home run has lost its significance, or it’s at the very least fallen to where it was prior to the age of boppers like McGwire, Griffey and Sosa. That’s why the Monday night festivities need reform in order to create an event that shows the best the game has to offer rather than exposes what the game no longer has.
In an age where we see more guys who throw in the high 90s, a fastest pitch competition would be a sight to see. Imagine young burners like Billy Hamilton or Dee Gordon trying to get to first base the fastest or trying to see the two beat out Yadier Molina or Wilson Ramos trying to steal second. Maybe you want to see Cespedes or Michael Brantley attempt the most accurate throw to home plate from center field.
The point being that there is a wide array of skills, strengths and tools that can be better put on display Monday night besides three-plus hours of batting practice. It would showcase the stars the game needs while showing how far the game has come in the steroid era’s aftermath. The home run contest can be incorporated in it — or not.
Regardless, changes need to be made.