Despite a few compelling storylines, Home Run Derby has gotten tired

July 16, 2013|Peter Schmuck

Maybe it was the moment when ESPN showed Chris Davis with his hand wrapped in a towel on Monday night.

Maybe it was a little later, when the temptation to switch over to the rose ceremony on "The Bachelorette" was almost too much to resist.

Perhaps I'm just out of touch with the rest of the baseball world (which wouldn't be a major upset), but it didn't take me very long to remember why the annual All-Star Home Run Derby hasn't done it for me in quite some time.

It must still be quite popular if so many fans were willing to pay hundreds of dollars on the aftermarket for tickets to watch some of the biggest sluggers in the game take batting practice at New York's Citi Field, but Monday kind of clinched it for me. Once Davis was no longer in play and Adam Jones had delivered a bunch of Nathan's hot dogs to the ESPN broadcast crew, the only thing I waited around to see was whether Bryce Harper or Yoenis Cespedes was going to break the windshield on one of those Chevy pickup trucks perched conspicuously behind the center field fence.

I guess you just had to be there.

Fans do dig the long ball, which is a big reason why baseball is still cursed with the scourge of illegal performance-enhancing drugs. The home run has been the most exciting play in baseball since Babe Ruth proved that beer was a PED, so it certainly makes sense for Major League Baseball to want to exploit the popularity of the top sluggers in the game to maximize the commercial potential of the All-Star break.

Nobody was complaining in Baltimore when the oddsmakers declared Davis the favorite to win the event, but he bowed out in the second round after a cracked callus left him with a bloody hand and Buck Showalter with a brand new ulcer.

There was still some Mid-Atlantic flavor with Harper in the final round, but Davis was the big bopper everybody around here was rooting for, so it's fair to assume that a lot of kids were sent off to bed before Cespedes became the first Cuban to win the event.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not suggesting they replace the Home Run Derby with a Lingerie League softball game, but there's got to be a way to tighten it up and get viewers more invested in the outcome. I mean, now that the in-your-face steroid guys aren't around to try and hit the ball all the way out of the stadium, how many times do you really want to hear Chris Berman swoon over a 380-foot fly ball?

It's a sad fact that the Home Run Derby had more starpower and appeal when it was populated with a bunch of hitters with forearms like Popeye and we all were in blissful denial about the reason for that.

ESPN does everything it can to squeeze as much intrigue out of the event as possible. Sideline reporters Pedro Gomez and Buster Olney did some solid interviews, and the camera work is always terrific, but making 14 rounds of BP exciting and truly suspenseful is probably too much to ask of anyone.

I was actually surprised that there was some social media backlash over Gomez's bilingual interviews with Cespedes and fellow Cuban star Aroldis Chapman, as those were a couple of the more interesting moments in the broadcast.

Cespedes has emerged as a star in Oakland and was invited to participate in the competition even though he was not named to the American League All-Star team. Both he and Chapman and interesting characters and Gomez — a former baseball writer in the Bay Area — used those interviews to get some insight into what it was like to come from Cuba and end up so quickly among American baseball's greatest stars.

Obviously, Orioles fans were rooting for Davis to win and were dealt the double indignity of him coming up short and also suffering an injury. The early exit of last year's champion (Prince Fielder) and New York representatives Robinson Cano and David Wright also may have sent some viewers off to bed or another steamy episode of "Mistresses."

Major League Baseball still boasts the best of the big-sport professional All-Star games. It's not even close.

The Home Run Derby, however, could use some paint.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at

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