Here is a conversation between Charlotte Wilder and Grant Brisbee as they sat at the Home Run Derby and marveled at the dingers. Both of them came to the same realization that this event is truly marvelous at the same time, and rather than write two articles, figured they’d work through their excitement and thoughts together.
Grant Brisbee: HELL YEAH, DINGERS!
Charlotte Wilder: I am beyond excited for the dingers, Grant. I live for dingers. What's better than a home run?! There is no better All-Star event in sports than a night devoted to home runs.
Grant: Before we start, I just want you to know that I have placed my newborn child in the waves of the home run structure as an offering. It lives with the flamingos now, and I'm overjoyed.
Charlotte: Oh, is that what the baby is doing in there? I mentioned that to security. I was like ... this doesn't seem safe.
Grant: It lives with the flamingos now, and I'm overjoyed.
Charlotte: I hear they take good care of their young.
Grant: They're going to consume the baby, but that's not why we're here. We're here because we both had similar ideas about the Home Run Derby, and instead of stepping on each other's toes, we figured this was the best way to share our dinger thoughts. And our thoughts are this: Bless this pointless spectacle of titanic dingers.
Charlotte: Right. I mean, I think there's something really glorious about an event that’s based on paying homage to the simple beauty of a home run. Because a home run is the ultimate release of tension in baseball — it's this pure parabola of winningness. Even if your team is losing, a home run brings such a surge of optimism and such a satisfying rush of joy that it's enough to keep you hoping. And a few hours in the middle of the baseball season and the summer to just revel in these displays of power is worth stepping back and appreciating, I think.
Grant: When the rules changed, my perceptions changed. That was the Todd Frazier year, when he lit up the Great American Ball Park crowd, and the clock added a sense of bus-will-explode urgency to the whole mess. Before that, SB Nation was known for making fun of the derby mercilessly. The Frazier Derby made me reevaluate it all.
Last year's derby with Giancarlo Stanton made me think that it was more important and interesting than the All-Star Game.
The run-up to this year, the hype surrounding Stanton and Aaron Judge, has convinced me. People care about this more than the All-Star Game, which isn't the highest bar to clear, but still.
Charlotte: Yeah, I think adding urgency definitely helped, because otherwise it's just like watching kids hit whiffle balls over the house. There need to be some stakes in order for an event that doesn't matter to feel like there's some point to it, I think. But now that they have, yeah! It's just about crushing baseballs as fast as you can, and faster than the other guy!
I agree, though, that the Stanton-Judge rivalry makes this even more exciting. I mean, if you can even call it a rivalry — it's more that the world has decided these are our two Large Adult Sons and they're going head-to-head. At Stanton's media availability today before the derby he had to field, like, a million questions from reporters asking how he felt about Judge. He was pretty nonchalant about it, and clearly didn't want to talk about — he just kept saying "we have the same body type." Which was pretty funny. Then I asked him if he knew the words to Smash Mouth's “All Star” and it went downhill.
Grant: My thesis for why the Home Run Derby is more important than the All-Star Game has been building for years, and I didn't even realize it.
Two years ago, I wrote about the declining popularity of the All-Star Game, and why it didn't mean anything. Before interleague play, before cable, before you could watch any baseball game you wanted from the middle of a forest, the All-Star Game was all you had. If you wanted to see Willie Mays, you got a Game of the Week every couple months, maybe, or you got the All-Star Game. And that was the only time that people in Boston got to watch Mays -- like, ever -- was to get to the 1961 All-Star Game. We take our omnipresent access for granted.
And what's the problem with the modern game, according to people who aren't interested in baseball? That there isn't enough action. That it's too slow. The derby is basically OPEN WIDE, SUCKERS, HERE ARE DINGERS for those people.
Charlotte: Yeah, that's a great point. For a game that had been so deeply regional in terms of access, the ASG was everything. I think what's interesting is that fandom is still regional, but we're aware of the stars, you know? So it's arguably less interesting to see the only guys you know of from other teams play each other. You see their highlights from games anyway, so it now feels more like one long highlight reel with no consequences than a chance to witness greatness that used to be a treat.
The Home Run Derby is like RedZone for baseball but it only happens once a year and it's loud and exciting and special. That's something I keep thinking about as we sit here in the press box — there's so much energy around us. This place is packed. People are screaming their heads off. Pitbull performed! There was fire! You don't get that with a run-of-the-mill baseball game when there are 160,000 of them each year. Everyone in the stands is just waiting for these guys to crush baseballs and you can feel the excitement building. It's pretty cool. Makes me feel alive.
Grant: Just a few minutes ago, Miguel Sano pummeled baseballs, and one of them hit the windows. Another one hit the home run obelisk. And people — most of them waiting for Stanton to fight Judge to the death — were so danged into it. The ooohs and ahhhhs were organic and pure.
But let me ask you this: Is this a good development? Or are these empty calories. Did we take the filet mignon of baseball and turn it into a White Castle burger?
Charlotte: Whoa. I mean, I personally love White Castle burgers so I'm like, "We should be so lucky." But in terms of the way you meant this metaphor, no. I don't think we did. If we'd turned every game of baseball into a Home Run Derby, then yes, we'd have destroyed baseball as we know it (though maybe it’d be fun?).
But I think this is kind of like ice cream in the summer, you know? It's refreshing, it's fun, it's empty calories, yes, but sometimes that's really all you want. And as long as you don't do it all the time, it's actually probably GOOD for you. I mean, ice cream is never good for you, but we all tell ourselves what we need to hear sometimes (she said, eating her fifth Marlins Park hot dog).
Grant: My stomach feels like I ingested Judge and Stanton and now they're having a ladder match in there. Help.
I guess you're right. In moderation, it's perfectly fine. I guess I'm just a little disenchanted with the guy screaming at me over the PA about every home run.
Charlotte: Yeah, this announcer absolutely sucks. He just called one of the flamingos on the Marlins dinger machine a peacock. Get your goddamn birds straight, man. Also — none of these little kids can field a baseball. If I were their parents I'd be mortified. Cute, shmute. Give me some athletic prowess.
But HOLY HELL I'VE NEVER FELT SO ALIVE, GRANT! Gary Sanchez just killed it! Stanton is out! I am so proud of Judge, my large adult son! Every dinger is a present! Every song is a new jam! I am so jazzed I could go kick down a door!
Grant: [snorts line of powdered dinger]
Charlotte: [injects shattered bat into veins]
Grant: I mean, I'm absolutely crestfallen that Stanton was eliminated in the first round, but it's not like Sanchez isn't a spectacular dinger lad himself. I can't stress enough how much the new format helps. I was skeptical. I used to spend my time thinking of ways to make the Derby better. I think that genre is dead, save for a couple little tweaks here and there.
Like a dunk tank in center field.
And one flaming baseball per round.
OK, maybe the genre isn't dead yet.
Charlotte: THEY'RE PLAYING DR. DRE’S “THE NEXT EPISODE”, GRANT! BANGERS AND DINGERS! LITERALLY NOTHING ELSE MATTERS! THE HOME RUN DERBY WILL SAVE BASEBALL!
Grant: It doesn't need saving, you awful person. It's doing just fine! Look at the Advanced Media money! Look at the attendance compared to any other decade! Like my sport!
But, yeah, I can at least agree with the sentiment. It's certainly not going to hurt it!
Charlotte: Sorry, that was mean. Baseball is thriving. I love baseball. But the derby, man. The derby is living. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go dunk my head in the Marlin’s home run dinger machine.