SB Nation

Grant Brisbee | July 13, 2015

A modest proposal for injecting the HR Derby ... with fun!

Do you want to watch the Home Run Derby? You do not. Here is a flow chart to confirm this:

You do not want to watch the Home Run Derby. But you might end up doing it, the same way you eat a brick of uncooked ramen because the crunching and saltiness both please you. As long as we can agree that it isn’t good for you and you’ll hate yourself the whole time.

What’s wrong with the Home Run Derby? For starters, it usually features players who wouldn’t be your first, second, or third choices. There’s a myth/belief that it can screw up swings, so players avoid it, just like they avoid touching foul lines and talking about in-progress no-hitters. It’s not rational, but it’s too late to stop now. The format in the past has been byzantine and confusing, with the players who wow the crowds on dozens of homers in the first round quickly eliminated in the second. The new format has a clock and a bracket, which … I don’t know, maybe?

One of the biggest problems is that it takes something simple — use stick, hit rock far, make crowd cheer — and adds commercial breaks and bureaucracy, commercial sponsors and golden baseballs. Then it’s stretched over three or four hours, during which you consume far more artificial dingers than the FDA recommends, and yet you haven’t seen enough real dingers.

Perhaps the biggest problem, though, is that there aren’t any real stakes. No one cares who won last year, or who won the year before that. The players who win probably don’t care by the time they wake up. There have to be more Home Run Derby trophies in garages than there are trophies displayed properly in the home. And absent some sort of horrid artificial stakes — such as determining home-field advantage for the World Series — there’s no way to make people care.

Until now.

This is a modest proposal for a Home Run Derby that we would care about. It is not something that can be repeated every year, but rather a one-time spectacle. It would make a billion dollars and we would all care. The only thing I would ask for in return for the idea is credit, the satisfaction that the event happened, and maybe half of that billion dollars.

You will see, however, exactly why this is necessary, why we would watch, and why we would care.

The basics

Four players. Two rounds.

Participants

The four biggest stars from the 1990s and 2000s who have been kept out of the Hall of Fame because of associations with performance-enhancing drugs: Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro.

Prize for winning

One (1) immediate induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Yes, these are stakes we can care about. This is a reason that will make the participants train and grind and sweat and scream and cry. And think of what the angry sports men on the angry sports programs could yell angrily about:

  • They would be angry that the event was happening
  • They would be angry that one of the players would get into the Hall of Fame
  • They would be angry that the baseball tradition was dishonored tradition sad day not in my America baseball tradition
  • They would be angry at each other for predicting the wrong person would win
  • They would be angry that this was only happening once because this kind of righteous anger is mighty fine for business

There would be anger in the news cycle. There would be chatter. There would be a 24-hour feedback loop for the first day after the announcement, and then there would be 48 hours of angry, curious discussion for the days leading up to the event. People wouldn’t just be talking about the Home Run Derby. People would be angry about it. People would be talking about it.

People would be talking about baseball.

Drug testing

Ha ha ha ha ha ha. There’s no drug testing, dummy. The participants would have six months to train and get ready, and they could smoke powdered rhinoceros horns if they thought it would make a difference. Allowing the winner into the Hall of Fame wouldn’t be clemency. It wouldn’t just be a get-out-of-jail-free card. It would be a reward, an admission that when the Steroid Era was going on, we enjoyed it. Big galoots were lumberjacking home runs into the ionosphere, and we clapped and cheered, even if we had a sneaking suspicion that human beings weren’t supposed to be that large.

No, this would also be a thank you. It would appeal to our basest dinger urges and desires. Thank you for entertaining us like that. Now do it again, regardless of the physical consequences. Dance for us when we clap, and we’ll see what happens. Dance for us, and you will get your plaque. Dance for us, and perhaps you will be absolved by repeating your sins of the past.

Money

The event would be on pay-per-view for $75. As you will see later, this would be an excellent value when it comes to the dollar-per-minute ratio. The money would be allocated thusly:

  • Barry Bonds, 10%
  • Rafael Palmeiro, 10%
  • Mark McGwire, 10%
  • Sammy Sosa, 10%
  • Pitcher #1, 5%
  • Pitcher #2, 5%
  • Hall of Fame, 12.5%
  • Some whiny charity, 12.5%
  • Promotional and logistical costs, 25%

Gotta rent out a stadium and pay the people who work there, and that stuff adds up. A promotions company would take care of that part, and they would get a quarter of the money. The whiny charity is there so that we can all claim it’s for charity and that people against the idea are against charity.

Convincing the Hall of Fame

Someone should call the Hall of Fame and ask to speak to the “top guy,” and when he picks up, that person should say, “Hey, if we have this unsanctioned Mad Max kind of Steroid Home Run Derby thing and pay you $125 million or so, can the winner get into the Hall of Fame?” and when the Hall of Fame president says, “Sure, sounds great,” make sure to thank him and set a reminder on your phone to email details later to his people.

Round One format

Bonds would be matched up against Palmeiro. McGwire would be matched up against Sosa. This makes sense for logistical reasons — Bonds is a clear #1 seed, and Palmeiro is a clear #4. But it also sets up a guaranteed McGwire/Sosa head-to-head matchup, which is a must in the first round.

But there’s more to this seeding. It’s lefty vs. lefty in the first one, and righty vs. righty in the second one. This is important because of who is pitching to the participants in the first round.

Illustration by Bernard Rollins

Bonds and Palmeiro would face Randy Johnson. McGwire and Sosa would face Pedro Martinez. Both pitchers will receive specific instructions.

The first participant to hit five home runs off you advances to the second round. In the event of a tie, the next participant to homer will win, though the other participant will get one final chance to tie and start the process over.

Throwing the ball down the middle is discouraged. Throwing the ball at the players is highly encouraged. Don’t forget that they got huge and powerful at your expense, tarnishing your career numbers, forcing you to throw harder, shortening your careers, really. Think of what your numbers could have looked like without having to face ‘roided-up goons. Think about what they cost you, personally and professionally.

Think about all of this when they step into the box for that first time. Throw up. Throw in.

Also, you have to pitch until one of them hits five dingers, so maybe cut it out after a while and actually pitch to them.

Also, both pitchers would have access to performance-enhancing drugs for six months. Not the crap the hitters will be taking. No, no. Secret government stuff without side effects. We’re talking real Captain America shit, straight from CIA and NSA experiments. They would essentially reverse the aging process for both pitchers, making them throw about as hard as they did in their primes.

Convincing the CIA and NSA to share the secret drugs

Someone should call the White House and ask to speak to the “top guy,” and when he picks up, that person should say, “Hey, if we have this unsanctioned Mad Max kind of Steroid Home Run Derby thing and we promise to make sure that Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson hit Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire with baseballs, can we have some of your secret drugs to make the pitchers stronger?” and when President Obama says, “Sure, sounds great,” make sure to thank him and set a reminder on your phone to email details later to his people.

Round Two format

Two players would advance to the final round after hitting five homers against either Martinez or Johnson. The rules for the final round would be simple:

  • The participants would hit off a pitching machine
  • Each participant gets five swings, followed immediately by the other participant getting five swings
  • First to 1000 home runs wins
  • Two-minute bathroom breaks are allowed
  • Sleep is not allowed
  • The crowd will be encouraged to chant “SHAME. SHAME. SHAME. SHAME” for the entire round
  • Admission would be free and open, allowing fresh hecklers to fill in and yell throughout the 41-hour process

In hour five, a limping, bedraggled Bonds would want to give up this foolish quest, to sign away the rights to the millions he was promised, to forget about the Hall of Fame. He would declare himself the winner after 278 home runs, begging for mercy.

The crowd would chant “SHAME. SHAME. SHAME. SHAME” behind him, impervious to his pleas, acting like the bloodthirsty rabble behind Q during Picard’s trial, shaking fists and half-eaten legs of mutton, possibly throwing the bones on the field when they’re done.

“SHAME. SHAME. SHAME. SHAME,” they would cry. And after a rest, Bonds would use his bat as support while he stood up, and then he would hit more dingers. After each home run, the crowd would roar a bloodthirsty, guttural roar and then start chanting again.

“SHAME. SHAME. SHAME. SHAME.”

Mark McGwire, hands blistered, lips cracked from the merciless sun, slowly walking up to take his five swings.

“SHAME. SHAME. SHAME. SHAME.”

Barry Bonds, eyes closed, hoping to find a reserve of strength he didn’t know existed, a secret wellspring of power, now, when he needs it most.

“SHAME. SHAME. SHAME. SHAME.”

Someone would win. Someone would have to.

Round Three format

After the participant reaches 1000 homers, he will collapse on the field, bloody, exhausted, and openly weeping. He will think he’s victorious, that his nightmare is over. That’s when they would play Jose Canseco’s music.

/K-Pop beat and vocals
“It’s Jose Canseeeeeeco Jose, can you see? Can you see Jose? I can see Jose Jose Canseeeeeeco”

Okay, Jose Canseco doesn’t have music yet, but the exact song can be figured out later. Flames would start shooting from behind the center field fence, and from the smoke and mists, Jose Canseco would emerge, bat in hand, dressed in full uniform.

The winner of Round Two, now a twitching mass of pure despair and regret, would matchup with Canseco, head-to-head, under the basic rules of the first round. First to five homers wins, but this time against a pitching machine. If the winner of Round Two needs to be wheeled or carried into the box, that would be allowed. Standing would not be required.

Canseco would win, of course. The entire thing would be a sham, rigged for this purpose. What’s the point of the Home Run Derby? It’s an abstraction of real baseball, a perversion of what the sport is all about. In this, it becomes theater, it becomes something with a meaning and a purpose, something people can enjoy. Something that makes you feel.

Award presentation

With Canseco victorious, Commissioner Manfred would carry a beautiful red rose to home plate and ask the crowd to be quiet for the award presentation. With the raucous crowd now murmuring in anticipation, Manfred would speak.

We would like to announce that Jose Canseco will now be allowed in the Hall of Fame …

The crowd would hiss, boo, and cheer, all at once.

… so long as he returns to Major League Baseball and has about three or four more excellent seasons, because these numbers aren’t quite good enough, as is.

The crowd would go crazy again, jeering Canseco, who would realized that he was used, the butt of a very elaborate joke. Manfred would laaaaaugh and laaaaaaaaugh. Canseco would look around desperately, pleading his case. The winner of Round Two would still be rolling around somewhere, moaning uncomfortably. And the chants of “SHAME. SHAME. SHAME. SHAME” would start up again.

Illustration by Bernard Rollins

A couple days later, they would let Barry Bonds in the Hall of Fame because, c’mon, you jerks, just let Barry Bonds in the Hall of Fame.

This is my modest proposal for the Home Run Derby. I do not see a reason why this cannot happen. This is all plausible, and I think there is a way, a very real way, to make this happen. This is our duty. This is our legacy. We can make a Home Run Derby that people care about.

My question is this: Who’s with me?

Author: Grant Brisbee | Illustrations: Bernard Rollins | Editor: Elena Bergeron | Design: Graham MacAree

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About the Author

Grant Brisbee has been the lead writer for McCovey Chronicles since 2005, when the San Francisco Giants-themed site became the second blog on the SB Nation network. He graduated from San Jose State University, where he was called "the next Kevin Frandsen" by absolutely no one.

Grant is an avid fan of the 49ers, and he also likes the Warriors too, which used to garner more pity before 2010.

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