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The highs and lows (and highs and highs) of the new Home Run Derby format

We were expecting a change. We weren't expecting a dinger revolution.

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

It was hard to imagine, probably because we didn't want to. The Home Run Derby rules changed, but it was impossible to grasp the exact nature of the changes because that would require us to think about the Home Run Derby weeks before it happened, which sounds like one of the modern 12 labors of Hercules.

Uh, let's see, 'think about a Home Run Derby when there isn't one happening.' Oh. Oh, man. No, I'm going to clean this 10,000-acre ConAgra farm first, and then I'll circle back around.

If there's anything worse than Home Run Derbies, it's the bureaucracy of Home Run Derbies. There was a timer, a bracket format, bonus time ... it seemed like revamped rules on a dumb game show. If you allow contestants to get an extra whammy, it's still Press Your Luck. Nothing is going to change that.

Except these rules changed everything. The difference was immediate and lasting. The Home Run Derby was fun.

/orchestra starts to swell

The Home Run Derby is fun.

/orchestra plays stirring version of "Like a Virgin"

I ... well, that's probably too much, but this was completely unexpected. Before the derby, I could have rattled off a dozen problems with it, from length to rules to format to apathy. The real problem, though, is so obvious in retrospect: There was too much standing around and waiting for the perfect pitch. There was no urgency. It felt like a given, something that was inextricably part of the game. Wait for your pitch. Gotta wait for the right one.

And then the timer comes, and the hitter has to HIT EIGHT HOME RUNS or THE BUS EXPLODES. He knows exactly how many homers he needs, and time is running out. In the old format, a hitter could wait until the final out, rattle off nine straight dingers, and still win. The earlier the homers came the better, but it wasn't a necessity. The tick-tock, tick-tock of the new format makes hitters swing first and care about the pitch later. The rhythm and the increased volume of pitches allow for far, far more dingers. The Home Run Derby of the past was an abstraction of baseball, but it kept all of the boring parts. This version is Schedule I baseball, concentrated dingers to the point where you know it can't be good for you, but you don't care.

It's impossible to explain just how lucky Major League Baseball got with the particulars of the 2015 Home Run Derby, too. If Joc Pederson, exhausted from the 100 or swings he took, hit four homers in the final round and Todd Frazier hit five, we would still be talking about the new format and how it's an improvement. There would be a dreamer among us who would see the potential, though. Imagine a scenario -- hey, it could happen -- where the first contestant in the final round hits what seems to be an insurmountable total of dingers, and then the next guy up, a hometown hero or something, looks to be completely out of it after a minute. But then ...

/orchestra starts to swell

The dingers start coming! Fast and furious, and you can feel the crowd buzz. More dingers, more near-misses, groans and cheers, moans and yelps. More dingers, the clock is ticking, come on, come on, comeoncomeooncomeonnnnnnn.

It was the best-case scenario of the Home Run Derby. MLB guessed A-B-C-D, A-B-C-D on the Scantron and broke the curve. That was the perfect way to highlight the strengths of the new format. Concentrated home runs and a sense of urgency. It's terrifying when everyone on Twitter agrees about something new and unusual, but it happened.

Now, the format isn't perfect. There is still serious room for improvement.

During the semifinal round, you're kind of tired of dingers

It's a necessary lull before the lightning round, and I'm not here with a brilliant suggestion to fix it. Fewer contestants? That just means fewer fans who care. Baseball's a regional game now, after all, and it would almost make more sense to do a 30-team tournament than limit the participants to four.

(Please do not do a 30-team tournament.)

Still, there was a point when Josh Donaldson was up, through no fault of his own, when I was dingered out. OK, I get it. Ball go boom. Ball go far. We bang cymbals and cheer. Going into the third hour, it's easy to be fatigued. The magic of Pederson/Frazier isn't going to happen every time.

You can't savor the dingers sailing into that good night

The most majestic home runs, the ones that stay aloft for an hour and freak the FAA out, don't linger in your memory because of the immediate, necessary cut to the next swing. It's a speed tasting of some of the most glorious foods you've ever been presented, but there's nothing you can do about it. Open your gullet and slide that venison in like a Garfield lasagna. Snort that caviar. No time for chewing -- what are you doing, I said no time for chewing.

There's probably a fix for this. Maybe extend the time for each contestant by a minute (to the original five), with an informal suggestion to take your danged time between pitches. Batters would enjoy the touch of extra rest, I'd imagine. But that's just a snap suggestion. There is probably a better way to linger on the best homers.


Wait until my letter to the editor is published. You'll read about how this is the worst thing since those fancy Jumbotrons and the loud music and the catcher's mask. Baseball used to mean something pure and traditional, you know.

The camera angles were abhorrent

Easily the biggest flaw of the entire derby. During the madness of the final round, I was listening to the crowd's reaction instead of watching the flight of the ball. That just can't, can't, can't happen.

This didn't help:

I watch, I don't know, 500 hours of baseball a year. Thousands over the years. And I'm used to two angles for a broadcast -- the center field camera (99 percent) and behind the catcher (1 percent). ESPN had the center field camera zoooooooomed in, which made the pitcher's back take up about half the screen. The zooooom also made it hard to judge the angle of the ball of the bat, which is absolutely crucial when trying to gorge on dingers.

The other angle was even worse. The behind-the-catcher viewpoint is something that can work in super-limited doses, but that was the default of ESPN (for the first half, anyway, which means the network was listening). Even more unforgivable, though, was that the zooooooom directive applied to this angle, too. So the angle off the bat was hard to read, which is unconscionable, and it was jettisoned in favor of ... counting the pores on the hitter's neck? I seriously don't get the cost-benefit analysis, here.

At one point during Frazier's at-bat, the broadcast cut to a blimp shot, following a home run from the plate to the crowd from 2,000 feet up. It was much, much better than either of the two default angles from ESPN, and it was especially damning.

However, we're quibbling about the Home Run Derby at this point. These are minor concerns about a generally excellent, ultimately watchable Home Run Derby.

A generally excellent, ultimately watchable Home Run Derby.

A time-traveling DeLorean that runs on trash.

A desalinization plant that produces clean fuel with its waste.

A soybean that requires limited water and grows in the air, rain or shine.

A generally excellent, ultimately watchable Home Run Derby.

I've lost the use of my Home Run Derby jokes, and eventually they'll atrophy, blacken and fall off. The reward is that this is something to watch, something to look forward to. It's a mighty fair exchange. We're in the future, folks. They said it couldn't be done.

Hooray for the new changes to the Home Run Derby. I wasn't expecting this. No one was.