The Home Run Derby Was a Hit – Almost

Two nights ago, Major League Baseball wow’d the people of Cincinnati and baseball fans across the Country with their look new Home Run Derby format – and people loved it. For the most part, everyone agrees that this is the format that needs to be done every year going forward. Brackets make for drama and excitement with every hitter!

Except for me.

It was your basic eight seed bracket format with the one seed going up against the eight seed, two vs seven and so on and so forth. With the new format, there was not a lack of intrigue. There were several “buzzer beating” home runs including Albert Pujols and Hometown Hero Todd Frazier, who actually had three – one in each round. There were also several home runs hit in the “bonus time” including the aforementioned Frazier who hit one to win the Home Run Derby in style after hitting the tying home run as time expired.

It kept you on the edge of your seat waiting to see if one of the sluggers would hit anymore home runs as the clock ticked down. It was like watching your favorite basketball team drain a nothing but net three as the red lights came on. Losing by two home runs with 45 seconds left – can he get two – or three more?! It definitely added a level of intrigue that the past years stagnant Derby’s have lacked. I can’t remember the Derby having this much buzz about it since the 2008 Josh Hamilton historic performance. Much to the pleasure of MLB, the new format seemed to have won over many baseball patrons, including me – at first.

The more and more I thought about it and the longer the Derby went on, the more I realized that, while very entertaining, it still left something to be desired.

MLB has already hijacked the All-Star Game by having home field advantage for the World Series on the line. I don’t need to tell you how stupid that is because everyone already knows. We don’t need MLB screwing up the Home Run Derby too. Last night was a step in the right direction but the Derby is a show. It’s supposed to be entertaining and exciting. The long ball is sexy, it’s what people want to see, it’s what people pay money to see. It’s what draws a certain demographic to the game. People crave 500 ft home runs like Josh Hamilton gave them in 2008.

As the Mariners’ blog Lookout Landing wrote last week, MLB has a marketing issue to the younger generation. They’re losing young fans to the NFL and even the NBA and that is because baseball is absolutely boring to watch on TV if you are not a diehard fan of the game. There is no way around that. That is the number one complaint I have heard from fans about watching the game from any place other than The Ballpark.

They need to do more to get those fans back and eliminating guys like Prince Fielder in the first round despite hitting the second most home runs is not how you keep the younger fans around, especially young fans of the Texas Rangers. Try explaining to a 10-year-old Arlington resident that his favorite player is no longer in the home run derby even though his 13 home runs were tied for the second most in the round. Tell me how that works out.

Before I go on, this has nothing to do with Prince Fielder being a Ranger and this being a Rangers-centric website. It could have been anyone. It could have been an Orioles fan in Baltimore rooting for Manny Machado – who also was eliminated despite hitting 12 home runs in the first round. Fielder tied for the second most home runs (13) in the first round with Dodgers rookie outfielder Joc Pederson. Pederson, who beat Machado, advanced and Fielder and Machado were stuck sitting on the grass watching as helpless spectators.

That’s because Fielder and Machado were put into a brackets with Frazier and Pederson, who just happen to hit 14 and 13 respectively. The issue I have with this is that it potentially robbed the fans of a more dramatic second round and potentially even the final round. So despite Fielder and Machado hitting the second, and third, most HOME RUNS in the HOME RUN DERBY, they’re out.

Come on, man. Tell me again how this makes sense to the fans who paid to see people hit home runs, long 470 ft home runs. (Those four were hit the longest home runs too, we’ll get into that in a minute).

Now, that isn’t the only issue I have. Let’s go to the other side of the spectrum. Pederson and Machado faced off in a battle of the four vs five seed with Machado going first. Machado hit 12 to kick off the middle bracket pairing. Pederson then came up and started putting on a show. By the time you blinked, Pederson already had 13 and didn’t even use all of his allotted four and a half minutes let alone his bonus time. So simply because Pederson had hit more than his opponent in the bracket, which is the point of bracket pairing – I get that, he was done. No more Pederson show.

That is simply robbing the fans of more of the show that Pederson was displaying. Without brackets, who knows how many Pederson hits.

Now, when your company is failing miserably at directing your brand to a younger target audience, why would you take away more of what they like to see the most?

Now, what happens if say, Albert Pujols had hit just five home runs in the first round and advanced to the second round because his opponent, Cubs rookie Kris Bryant only hit four? How do you tell the young fans of Machado and Fielder that Pujols who hit just five advances over their favorite player even though their idol hit more than double the amount that Pujols hit but were sent to the showers anyway? Explain that to your target audience looking for a show.

So let’s say that Pujols gets to the second round and hits just five more and advances to the finals because well, his second round opponent hit just three. Now, Pujols who’s hit less in two rounds combined than Fielder and Machado hit in just the first round, is now in the finals!

So let’s just say that he’s up against Todd Frazier who has clearly been putting on a show and Pujols hits seven in the final round. Frazier, who’s averaging 11 home runs a round, hits eight home runs in he final but still has say a full minute left on the clock. What happens?

Too bad fans, no more home runs for you.

Now I get the fact that MLB altered the rules a tad last night in an attempt to beat the approaching storms but the bracket part of the Derby is what my main focus is. Keep the clock, that is fun and entertaining. Ditch the brackets. Don’t take away home runs in the first round bracket play when you can have those big totals happen in the semi-final and final rounds.

It’s simple, Here’s my proposal:

Have your standard eight entries, (four from each league or however you want to establish the field), keep the 4:30 clock and keep the bonus time. After the first round, you take the top four home run totals and they advance to the semi-final round. Here’s the kicker, their first round totals roll over into the second round.

Here is how last nights semi-final round would have looked under this proposed format:

1) Frazier – 14 (474 ft longest HR)

2) Pederson – 13 (could have been more but was stopped) (487 ft)

3) Fielder – 13 (474 ft)

4) Machado – 12 (469 ft)

Not only did these four hit the most home runs in the first round, they also hit the longest home runs. None of the other four hit home runs farther than these top four guys. Alas, two of them were sent packing earlier than they should have been.

Once in the semi-final, you take the top two totals and they battle it out in the final. Don’t give them a clean slate. Roll their first two round totals into the finals. If Player A is winning 20-15, then Player B leads off. It doesn’t really matter how many B hits in the final round, Player A will get to hit his full 4:30. If he wins by 10, so be it. Give the fans the home run. Give the fans the majestic 480 ft blasts. Give the fans a Josh Hamilton performance, every single year. Don’t take it away from us.

You’ve already made a mockery of the All-Star Game, don’t allow the Home Run Derby to fall into the same hatred parallels as the ASG has.

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Billy Casey
Billy is a baseball fanatic and has been around the game since he was four years old. The first ever game he attended was in September of '89 and Pete Incaviglia denied him an autograph after he had a bad batting practice session. Billy has held a grudge since. Billy is also a baseball coach who is known to dance around the dugout like Ron Washington during big plays in the game.

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