|Looks fun! But can it be better? (Getty Images)|
As is the case when any major sporting event heads our way, we are duty-bound to speak breezily and at length on the subject of how to improve that very event. And so, with the Home Run Derby in the immediate offing, we'll do just that.
If you enjoy watching famous athletes hit fair balls over fencing, then you're probably already at least marginally entertained by the Derb. But that doesn't mean we can't do better. Here are five easy steps on how we can achieve the Home Run Derby of our wildest dreams ...
Step 1: Shorten the darn thing.
We're never going to get rid of commercial breaks or "sideline" interviews in which players are asked how they feel about the way they feel or drawn-out establishing shots of, say, Robinson Cano enjoying some wholesome, nutritious Powerade, but we can make the entire experience a bit less interminable for the viewer. Do that by losing the second round. All of it. It's a pointless flourish, and it adds on way too much run time. So no more second round. Go straight from the first round to the two-man finals. We've seen them all hit, now let's crown someone's ass.
Step 2: No more Chris Berman.
ESPN's mascot emeritus has his uses, I suppose, if you like NFL highlights, and it's 1987 where you live. But his Derby calls are forced, monotonous and grating. To be fair, it's hard to keep it fresh when you're narrating, oh, 95 home runs (actual 2011 Derby total!) in the span of a single evening, but it's time for a fresh set of pipes. So give the hometown broadcaster the gig, or maybe select an "All-Star" announcer for the festivities. Mr. Vin Scully surely has better uses for his time, but wouldn't something like that be cool?
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Step 3: Give the host team a representative.
It's always nifty to see the host crowd raise the rafters for one of their own. Usually, only the pregame introductions give them their best chance. With a guaranteed spot in the Derb the hometown rooters will get plenty of alone time with their All-Star. Plus, they're all but guaranteed to see a home run ...
Step 4: Let two minor-leaguers join the fray.
This could be something that's voted on by the enfranchised party of your choosing, or this could just be the two home-run leaders in the high minors for a given season. Maybe that turns out to be 20-year-old top prospect, or maybe that turns out to be a "Crash Davis" type who gets his long-awaited chance to shine. Either way, bringing in a pair of farmhands adds a true "Cinderella" element to the story. Choose one minor-leaguer for each league to participate, and if one of those minor-leaguers happens to be a member of the host organization, then consider mandate #3 above to be fulfilled.
Step 5: Award a bonus point or two for the longest home run of the first round.
Since estimated homer distances have become a thing of late, we might as well make them a sanctioned part of the Derb. So in the first round (recall that there is no longer a superfluous second round) the hitter who notches the longest spank of all gets one -- or two, or three, whatever the actuaries say will maximize the drama -- added to his tally. Some years that will have a bearing on who competes in the finals (recall that there is no longer a superfluous second round), and some years it won't. The hitter in question can also be given a bronzed corporate-sponsored tape measure or something.
So that's it. Now look at our new, imagined Home Run Derby. Just look at it!