No, MLB—the Home Run Derby is not the Slam Dunk Contest


Every Monday morning, Section 215’s Akiem Bailum gives an in-depth and unfiltered look at all of the latest sports news in The Monday Morning Realist. You can follow Akiem on Twitter @AkiemBailum.

Jul 14, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; National League home run derby participants from left Todd Frazier , Justin Morneau , Yasiel Puig , Giancarlo Stanton and Troy Tulowitzski are interviewed during media day the day before the 2014 MLB All Star Game at Hyatt Regency. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Realists, this morning has me a bit peeved at Commissioner Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball. This can be the case 26 (or more, or less) of the 52 weeks in a year depending just on what MLB is doing.

Subject—the Home Run Derby. If you have followed me and writings over the years, one would know that the Derby is one of my favorite things in sports.

In my opinion, it is probably my favorite of the skills competitions that surround any of the All-Star Games, with probably only the NBA’s Three-Point Shooting Contest (not the Slam Dunk, by the way) running a close second.

While the dunk contest may be old and outdated (save for the occasional Zach Levine that breathes some temporary life back into the thing) the Derby is something that (in my opinion) will always stay the test of time.

That is, unless, MLB does more stuff to it like what was revealed this past Sunday.

Major League Baseball announced that this year’s Home Run Derby format will be very different from that of previous years. Instead of, you know, going with what has worked, it has made some drastic changes.

The first change that it will make the addition of bracketed rounds. This I can somewhat understand. It trims the field of competitors down from 10 to eight and does add an element of suspense to the competition. This is the only thing they got right.

When whatever meetings were conducted to discuss the Derby format commenced, they should have ended it right there and gone shopping on Times Square. Instead, they upped the dumb factor.

Now the Derby participants will have to be subjected to “timed rounds.” Meaning that they’ll be on a pitch clock of five minutes to get as many home runs as possible before making ten outs.
With a caveat—a very nice caveat. Participants will get extra time based on distance of the home runs, instead of actual homers hit.

As a longtime Derby aficionado, I hate to say it, but Manfred and the boys (and I do mean boys) on Park Avenue have just taken step one in making the Derby no different from the Slam Dunk Contest. And if they want to make the Derby like the dinosaur that is the dunk contest, then they are only closer to killing the Derby altogether.

I mean, I know everyone after about a couple of hours is just waiting for the Derby to end just so they can get to the Celebrity Softball Game (hint—dudes only watch the celebs’ game for Jennie Finch and whatever sexy actresses are wearing short-shorts), but this is ridiculous.

Firstly, what is this obsession now with clocks? Is the Coldplay song under the same name all of a sudden on everyone’s iPads in Major League Baseball?

There has been a lot of talk about pitch clocks in MLB and speeding up the games. The media loves to obsess over three-plus hour baseball games while they will not utter a peep about nearly four-hour college football games.

We seemingly want to shorten all other sports, but make football longer. That in itself is another column for another time.

But, in my opinion, making Home Run Derby participants subject to five-minute timed rounds is a case of the NFL-ization or NBA-ization of Major League Baseball. People say that those sports are subject to time, so baseball should be too in some capacity.

A friend of mine who works at a college student newspaper at Georgia Southern tweeted that he liked the new rules because it may keep 18-34 year olds interested.

If that’s what it takes to keep millennials interested, then we have a problem. Plus, baseball’s problem with 18-34 year olds isn’t the Home Run Derby’s format. It’s the fact that baseball for such a long time has not catered itself to the 18-34 demographic via, you know,…marketing.

The NFL and NBA stay current by marketing to that demographic. Baseball under the previous commissioner Bud Selig did such a poor job at reaching out to the younger crowd that if you asked someone to spell the word “Instagram” they would probably ask to use a sentence five times before actually attempting to spell the word.

On top of that Manfred, is now officially turning the Derby into a logistical nightmare. Players have complained a lot in the past about not participating in the Derby because they claim it messes up their swing for the second half of the season.

Now, with the geniuses at baseball ruining the Derby format to make it more rushed (like the dunk contest) instead of authentic, if players didn’t like the Derby format before they will certainly not like it now. If it messed up swings before, it will certainly do damage to those strokes now.

And the biggest problem is that Manfred and baseball have just allowed for there to be less home runs to be hit in the Derby than more. What’s a Home Run Derby without…you know…home runs?

MLB is overthinking things this time. This is a perfect example of making things more complicated that should be simple. There are things that should be more complicated when they are not simple, but this is not one of them.

Next thing you know, MLB will add another element to the Derby that has become a recent fixture of the dunk contest—hypemen.

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