The 82nd Major League Baseball All-Star Game is under 11 days away and, with that, MLB is trying its very best to make the event less appealing. Recently, MLB announced changes to one of All-Star Weeks biggest events, the Home Run Derby. Before we delve into it, lets take a quick trip down memory lane to talk about what the event used to be.
Remember when the hormone-hyped Mark “Big Mac” McGwire and “Slammin'” Sammy Sosa were clubbing shots out of Home Run Derby sites every year? Remember how after you watched the Home Run Derby, you were excited at the possibility of one of those sluggers knocking one into the next area code off of a CY Young Award candidate? The Home Run Derby was once so big, it was bigger than the All-Star Game itself. Unfortunately, the Home Run Derby is loosing some of its luster.
On Thursday, MLB unveiled it’s new format for the derby, the seventh such change to the event since 2000. Under the new outline, each league will now have a “captain” who will participate and choose his other three teammates. This years captains will be the most recent champions from each league, David Ortiz (the 2010 champion) of the Boston Red Sox and Prince Fielder (the 2009 champion) of the Milwaukee Brewers. The event will still crown an individual champion, but each league will be competing against the other for an overall title. What is unclear is why the two leagues are competing against one another and for what purpose? As far as anyone can tell the “AL vs. NL” All-Star Game that happens the night after the Home Run Derby was supposed to serve as a competition between the two leagues already.
Also brought back to the event is the possibility for non-All-Stars to participate, which previously happened in 2005 and 2007. Yes, that’s correct, someone who isn’t an All-Star can participate in the events of All-Star Week. It wasn’t bad enough that so many players back out of the All-Star Game as is, now the ones who commit to the game can’t even be convinced to participate in the slug-fest that is the Home Run Derby.
It’s genuinely upsetting that MLB has to stoop to allowing just anybody into the festivities and its truly undermining to the entire event of All-Star Week. The Home Run Derby has taken its fair share of setbacks in the past, namely the unwillingness of players to participate for fear that it will destroy their swing (see Bobby Abreu’s home-run totals post 2005 Home Run Derby). However, now MLB is allowing the event to be even further dismantled by letting just anybody in. Presently, the field hasn’t been chosen yet and we’ll just have to wait and see what comes of Big Papi and Prince’s selections. Nonetheless, the possibility alone is troubling when you consider the results of the last two non-All-Star players to participate in the Home Run Derby. Hee-Seop Choi, in 2005, put up a not-so-surprising 5 jacks in his lone appearance and Ryan Howard, in 2007, put up an eye-opening 3 dingers in his showing.
Naturally, one could point to the countless no-showings by bona fide All-Stars (like Bret Boone’s complete absence of home-runs in 2003) but ultimately that is all remedied by the sheer fact that its an all-star and not just a ‘swing as hard as you can’ Wily Mo Pena style of player. The title of All-Star carries enough weight that, if offered, it justifies a selection for the Home Run Derby regardless of the outcome. That’s what sets All-Stars apart from other players, and that’s why a mixing of elite and above average players in an event intended only for the best is unacceptable.
The Home Run Derby was once the most exciting aspect of the week but, thanks to incredibly exciting games over the last five years, the All-Star Game itself has regained its momentum. The two events have been partnering to make the week truly fantastic but watering one event down with hard swinging hacks is ultimately going to dilute the event as a whole.