People like to make fun of the Home Run Derby. You are one of those people. I am one of those people. But there might not be a finer guilty pleasure in baseball. Just a bunch of players in backward hats, smiling, holding a kid in one hand and a cell phone camera in the other, watching dingers. So silly. So fascinating.
That doesn't mean it can't be improved, or that there aren't any ways to break up the monotony. To MLB's credit, it's shaking up the format a bit, going to a tournament-style bracket that ends with a guaranteed AL/NL duel. It's still a silly, kinda boring, kinda cool Home Run Derby. If the league is really interested in mixing it up, though, I have suggestions. Here are nine things I'd rather watch than the Home Run Derby in its current format, ranked from least serious to absolutely serious.
9. Dunk tanks
Always and forever. One dunk tank, in center field, possibly with Bud Selig in it. There are two ways to do it: a normal dunk tank with a target about the size of your fist, with some sort of million-dollar prize attached to hitting it, or a dunk tank with a target the size of a small scoreboard.
There might be a company interested in sponsoring this idea, too.
Indeed. Note that Selig doesn't have to be the one in the dunk tank, though that would increase ratings. A-Rod would work, too. Both of them holding hands? We have a year to figure this out.
8. Casual wagers
Judging by the steady torrent of all-caps promotional emails I'm getting from Gillette, this year's Home Run Derby is sponsored by Gillette. You'll hate-watch the final round of the Derby because you want to see who wins. But you would throw a Derby party at your house if the losing player left the field with one eyebrow shaved off.
Different sponsors would get to come up with different humiliating wagers. Gillette takes away an eyebrow, Taco Bell forces the loser to eat one soft taco, et cetera.
7. Hitters hitting with their opposite hand
No switch-hitters allowed. Robinson Cano as a righty. Giancarlo Stanton as a lefty. It would get old after about 10 minutes, but so does the Home Run Derby.
Frank Thomas Interview
Frank Thomas Interview
I'm thinking more Frank Thomas than Frank Robinson, but I'll listen to arguments either way. Bring back the sluggers of yore, and have them remind us that, even in retirement, they're still 30 times the athletes we'll ever be.
Bonus alternate suggestion: Instead of a bunch of kids running around catching fly balls in the Derby, fill the outfield with frisky 80-year-olds. Eminently more watchable.
5. 150-pound middle infielders instead of sluggers
It's at this point that we start shifting into the more serious suggestions, the ones that are almost realistic. Picture Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon, locked in a battle of strength. It would be like watching a base-stealing contest between the Molina brothers, which is exactly the point. You'd watch that, too. We already looked at what it would take for an inside-the-park home run derby. This isn't as cool as that idea, but it's still probably more interesting for baseball nerds than the actual Derby.
Ben Revere in The Ichiro Can Do This Whenever He Wants Memorial Little Fast Guy Derby. Seems like something MLB can do for a few minutes and put it on YouTube, at least.
4. Pitching machines cranked up to ludicrous settings
I would love seeing Aroldis Chapman throwing 103-mph fastballs down the middle for the Derby. The Reds would not. Plus, there's always a chance he accidentally kills someone, which wouldn't fit in with the Derby spirit. However, turn up your speakers and watch this rockin' video:
One of those, but dialed up to 105 mph, pumping fastballs right down the middle. The swings and misses would be great; the extra distance would be even better.
3. Pitchers instead of position players
This is a variation on the No. 5 suggestion, but much better. Giants fans got to see this on Sunday:
Madison Bumgarner has more home runs this year than Joe Mauer, and he's hitting .275/.302/.550 on the season. But Cardinals fans would laugh at the idea that there's a better hitting pitcher than Adam Wainwright. Same with Brewers fans and Yovani Gallardo, or Reds fans with Mike Leake. The only way to sort all this out is to make them hit a bunch of dingers for our amusement.
2. Quality, not quantity
Instead of tallying up the batting-practice dingers, the award should go to the longest dinger. I don't care how many fence-scrapers Brian Dozier hits on Monday, but I care deeply for how many 500-foot homers Giancarlo Stanton hits. I would also like to see Dozier swing as hard as he thinks he has to if he wants to match Stanton.
The best part about this suggestion, other than the long dingers, is that it adds extra drama to the dingers in-flight. Once you know a ball is gone, it ceases being interesting. If you have to wait and see if it's the longest homer of the night, though ...
Eddie Gamboa is doing well this year. Tim Wakefield is doing nothing. Invite one or both to toss nothing but knucklers as close to the middle of the plate as possible. Some of the knucklers would dance; some of them would get hit 500 feet. The entertainment value is in the swinging and missing, really. We get to watch batting practice a lot. We don't get to watch hitters swinging as hard as they possibly can against knuckleballs nearly often enough.
There isn't even a hint of satire in this last suggestion. "The Giancarlo Stanton Home Run Derby Featuring Giancarlo Stanton, Now With Knuckleballs" is something I would watch on pay-per-view.
If you can't decide, you can vote for small, old pitchers trying to hit 105-mph knuckleballs with their opposite hand, hoping to reach a dunk tank 500 feet away so they don't lose an eyebrow. That would make for good television. As is, we're stuck with the regular ol' Home Run Derby. It's fun, it's dumb and it's not going to change. A new commissioner is coming soon, though. We'll always have the dream.
Also, the dunk tank could be filled with millipedes instead of water.