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There used to be a baseball skills competition with the Home Run Derby, and it should exist again.

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So what if it cost a future Hall of Famer a couple months?

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BARRY LARKIN REDS

Barry Larkin ruined everything.

Fans of the 1990 A’s have been able to say this for years. Now it’s our turn. Back in 1989, Major League Baseball held a skills competition that went beyond the Home Run Derby. There were catchers. There were relay throws. There were, of course, dingers. There’s no video — it’s possible that it wasn’t even televised — but we do have archeological evidence that it existed.

Pena scored 21 points by throwing three balls through a target and hitting the target six times. Santiago tossed four through the hole and hit the target six other times. Steinbach and Tettleton were able to throw the ball through the target only once between them.

If we’re being completely honest, this version of the skills competition seems like a little bit of a snooze. I’m all for catchers winging baseballs through a tiny hole at second base, but the rest of the competition featured a relay-throw event and a home run derby that was suspiciously bereft of home runs. Eric Davis hit three home runs and led the derby. Bo Jackson hit one. And never in my life have I wanted baseball’s best relay-throwers to have a relay-throw match in relay-throw thunderdome.

But it existed. And Barry Larkin ruined it.

Baseball did have a skills competition. Larkin was participating in it at the 1989 All-Star Game in Anaheim. He made a throw and his elbow went.

”I heard a pop off in the distance like a gun shot had gone off,” Larkin said. “I was like something is going on here. Then I realized it was my elbow. That wasn’t good.”

Larkin was making a relay throw. The correlation is obvious. Player makes relay throw in relay-throw thunderdome; player gets hurt; relay-throw thunderdome is responsible for the injury. Skills competition is cancelled. Intern responsible for it is let go.

Except, that’s not how elbow injuries work. It’s not ONE BIG THROW that does elbows in. It’s a cumulative injury that builds up with throw after throw after throw. Remember how Jose Canseco’s pitching outing was blamed for his Tommy John surgery? Wasn’t true.

The report from Dr. Jobe took some of the heat off.

He explained that this was a progressive injury, a tear that was becoming greater over time and probably had begun the year before. Jose’s full-fan performance in the bullpen might have enhanced it, and then the throw from the outfield finally blew out the elbow.

The skills competition didn’t help Larkin’s elbow. It was the proverbial straw. But it didn’t cause the injury. If you take the healthiest person in baseball right now, someone with a ligament of steel, they aren’t going to blow up their elbow with one fluky throw. If it wasn’t that hot July evening, it might have been an infield practice that following month. Or maybe in September.

Maybe the week before the 1990 World Series.

Cancelling the skills competition was an overreaction, in other words, and baseball should bring it back.

So what would an improved skills competition look like? Truly, this is the most important question of our modern age. It would definitely include that catcher-accuracy competition, set up like something from FIFA ‘18, with targets set up all around. Behind-the-back pickoff attempts to first, regular throws to second, from-the-knees throws to second, and throws to third, all with tin targets that went CLOOORNG after being hit.

There would also be a bunting competition, just like they’ve had in Korea for years:

And I’m not sure if MLB would need to change a thing. Targets. Bullseyes that are worth more. Pitchers are welcome, as are bat-control specialists. I’m not saying it would be as exciting as the Home Run Derby, but it would be incredibly delightful. At the very least, it would be a nice change of pace.

I would very, very much like to see a Pitchers’ Home Run Derby, even if it took the place of the beefy big boy competition. A control competition, where pitchers are asked to hit bullseye after bullseye with different pitches.

Races. Straight up foot races. One hundred meters, Billy Hamilton vs. Dee Gordon. These players have them in training camp just for gits and shiggles, so don’t pretend like they’re trap doors just waiting to suck healthy players in.

A machine that fires groundballs at 110 mph, deep in the hole, unless it’s up the middle. Two of them set up and pointing in different directions, so the participating infielder doesn’t know which way to lean.

Let’s not forget my very important ideas about the inside-the-park home run derby.

All of it. I want to watch all of it. I want this to be an eight-hour event on a Sunday that Vegas gets with and turns into a delirious day of drinking, gambling, and baseball-related skills. A day of skills that ends with the Home Run Derby, please. Tally up the winners and use that to decide home-field advantage in the All-Star Game, please.

Ahhhh. It’s a beautiful dream. And I’d love to keep blaming poor Barry Larkin for ruining it.

Except it really isn’t his fault. Maybe it was in the early ‘90s, but here’s the real reason why players won’t agree to a skills competition: They enjoy their days off. I’m but a lowly writer, and you can pry the All-Star Break away from my cold, dead hands. I can’t imagine the mental fatigue that comes with the time-to-make-the-donuts grind of baseball, especially when it’s combined with the physical fatigue that comes with competing athletically week after week after week. Dee Gordon doesn’t want to be in Washington D.C. laying down bunts. He wants to be at home, reading a damned book and seeing his family. That goes with just about everyone, including the players who are participating in the Home Run Derby but are not on an All-Star roster.

It’s possible that baseball could cobble together a list of players who are young and/or eager enough to fill out a multi-faceted skill competition experience, but we probably wouldn’t be getting the best players in each genre. It would be an enjoyable time at the ol’ yard, but it wouldn’t necessarily answer the question of “Who is the best at [very specific baseball thing]?”

The real solution is to move the season back to 154 games, make the All-Star Break longer, and pay these players money. Possibly from a GoFundMe that we set up. But until then, the skills competition will remain a beautiful, unattainable dream. And while Barry Larkin didn’t really ruin it, it would have been a lot cooler if his elbow could have held out for another week, just so that we could see the progression of the skills competition.

Dunk tanks. It could have had dunk tanks. I’m not sure how or why, but there could have been something with dunk tanks.

Perhaps, one day, our vision can be realized.