As I watched parts of this year’s Home Run Derby a couple of nights ago, two thoughts crept into my head. The first was how the whole thing has become such a ridiculous spectacle, and the second was that Royals fans have not had a vested interest in this contest for a span of time that is longer than a Prince Fielder moonshot.
When I was a kid, I loved to watch the NBA’s All-Star game special events. “All-Star Saturday Night” featured Larry Bird’s long distance shooting in the three-point contest, and I always tried to re-create that setup in my driveway. The highlight of the night for me though, was to watch the highest flyers on the planet battle each other in the Slam Dunk contest. Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, and Spud Webb electrified the crowd and impressed millions watching on TV with their dunks. Something I realized many years later is that they did it with class and were void of excessive narcissism.
Now, before you ridicule me for sounding like I’m 100 years old, let me move onto my point.
Today’s Slam-Dunk Contest is one where the league’s best dunkers don’t participate, the rules are complicated and change every year, the event is over-hyped, it’s way too long, the crowd is frantic, and throwing down a good dunk isn’t good enough anymore – you have to jump over a car.
I saw the same thing at the Home Run Derby on Monday night.
To me, the evolution of the Home Run Derby over the years rivals that of the NBA’s Slam Dunk contest. Each year, it seems to get farther away from the heart of the game. It’s somewhat an indictment of the culture, in that it’s all about showmanship, money, and fame. And seriously, it lasts for like, 6 hours.
For fun, I went back and watched a DVD I own of the old 1960 TV Series “Home Run Derby“. While the rules may have seemed complicated and new at the time, they’re amazingly elementary compared to today’s fiasco. Two of the league’s best sluggers (usually Hall of Famers) were matched one-on-one, and played a nine-inning game where anything that was not a HR was an out (including strikes that weren’t swung at – there was an umpire). Each batter got three outs an inning and whoever had more HR at the end of nine innings won $2,000.
Was the old TV show boring? Sure, maybe a little bit. It’s funny to think though – the stands were completely empty, there was no Chris Berman, and there were real adult outfielders playing their positions and wearing uniforms! It’s an enormous pet peeve of mine to watch 500 12-year olds chase every fly ball around the outfield of today’s contest like a swarm of flies. Where do they find these kids?
Then I thought about how this spectacle will bring its covered tent to the K next year. Now that should be interesting. With this showcase happening in Kansas City, what will become the target for these men who can hit a ball higher and farther than anybody? Will Jose Bautista hit a ball off the Hall of Fame in his triumphant return to KC? Will Prince Fielder crush one into the Upper Deck at Legend’s Sports Bar in right field? What about the scoreboard? Is that off-limits? If you watched the other night, then you saw that these guys might be capable of hitting Mr. Rawlings onto construction crippled I-70.
What makes me sad is that this is yet another event where the Royals are yet again under-represented. I scanned my recent memory & couldn’t picture anyone taking center stage for the derby wearing Royal blue. I had to go to the archives to find out that there have only been two in the 26 year history of the modern version of the All-Star game event.
That’s all – two participants, three home runs. That’s a tie for least number of contestants (Rays) and 29th out of 30 for the number of home runs hit – though I don’t think that’s a fair guage when you change the rules every year. Fourteen teams have never had one of their players hoist a trophy at the end of this long night, so Royals fans shouldn’t feel too bad.
Besides, we don’t groom Home Run hitters in Kansas City. We never have. Steve Balboni still holds the season HR record of 36, which was set back in 1985. Nobody has hit more than 30 HR since Jermaine Dye did it back in 2000. Kauffman Stadium is notorious for not being long-ball friendly. The Royals are at their best when they have good pitching and speed on the bases. They have proven in years past that you don’t have to hit home runs to win ball games.
Look at this year’s team. Who would you like to see participate in a Home Run hitting contest? Jeff Francoeur‘s 12 home runs leads the team but is 19 behind the league leader (Bautista). Sure, we have several guys in this lineup who are capable of hitting home runs, but like I said earlier – the Home Run Derby is not just about hitting home runs anymore. I hit my share of home runs back in the day, but nobody ever lined up to watch me hit fly balls that scraped the back of the outfield fence.
In today’s derby, you’ve got to bring your personality, your attitude, your kids apparently, and be able to repeatedly hit 500 foot bombs. So while I don’t expect to see anyone from the Royals lineup in the contest next year, I’m interested to see what some of the other guys are capable of denting at the New K.