Just the Beginning for the Home Run Derby
I argued last week that this derby would be the greatest since 2003 based on production prior to the All-Star break, and that claim nearly matches benchmarks that placed the iteration – which I’d like to title “Aaron Judge Versus the World” – as the most watched since 2008 on viewership alone.
What I didn’t expect was MLB’s Home Run Derby to eclipse the All-Star Game this season. I speculated at the end of my pre-derby column (here) that the gap between the two events would shrink, but clearly I was too cautious for my own good.
The game itself provided a mixture of care-free attitudes and moments that I feel like I will never forget, but if you ask me in two weeks to detail the significance of Yadier Molina taking a mid-game picture of Nelson Cruz and umpire Joe West, I’ll likely be at a loss for any profound insight. I may even be more reminiscent of debates regarding what the best descriptor is for Molina and his gilded catchers gear. C3PO? Julius Cesar? A Ferrero Rocher chocolate? The latter resonates with me most.
Nothing was more amusing than the decision to mic players in the outfield. Bryce Harper brought out vintage, NFL-ready Joe Buck after the All-Star asked about Cowboys’ quarterback Dak Prescott on a 1-2 pitch to Corey Dickerson, in the middle of a tie game. Yes, that is surely the only time you’ll see the combination of those phrases in a completely serious account of a game.
While I genuinely appreciate the breadth of additions to a game that now means nothing, it’s unfortunate that “meaning” is precisely the underlying issue. MLB added all these fan-friendly features to the game, and the return was plateaued ratings from the prior year. If anything is inherent about consumer behavior, we know innovation is necessary to prevent distraction from the same broadcasting tricks that try to inject life into the veins of a nine-inning bout, particularly this one. MLB can keep adding features, but at what point does the game morph into three hours of interviews (did somebody say A-Rod?) and antics that lose the core viewers who just want to watch the game (yes, there are still some of us out there). It doesn’t help that USA Today coxed an under-the-radar quote from the game’s MVP Robinson Cano that literally goes, “Now, it don’t mean anything.”
If MLB’s strategy is to reverse-psychology their way around the fact that the game doesn’t have World Series implications, by actually saying that the game doesn’t mean anything, then their logic may be too deep for their own good. I want the All-Star Game to survive in terms of viewership, but if time is a scarce resource, and I can have a higher concentration of entertainment, plus an hour of my time – 2017’s Home Run Derby lasted just over two hours – my decision making process would be inefficient to lean towards the game itself.
We can spend countless words reveling in every juicy tid bit from Monday’s destruction of baseballs; admiring 500+ foot home runs from the most exciting player in baseball; critiquing steps taken to liven what seems to be a decaying asset; in hopes of productivity let’s opt for an action-oriented approach that seems inescapable in every sport. Looking ahead to the future.
I’m not quite sure why it is we all love the unknown. Maybe it becomes more relevant when we finish consuming the trove of energy sports emit, only for them to leave us with fillable time as we salivate for anything and everything that we weren’t already privy to. Or maybe speculation is often the most appealing theme of content production, making us hyper-aware of every prominent storyline that falls above the fold.
Currently unknown, for obvious reasons, is the entire list of participants for the 2018 Home Run Derby. However, what we do know is the host resides in the nation’s capital, and one of the participants will be Bryce Harper.
Some may consider my confidence in that last assertion naïve, yet I’m not falling for the beguiling qualification by the man himself that he will only participate if selected to the 2018 All-Star Game. Justin Bour and his donut-devouring showmanship didn’t find it’s way onto enough ballots, yet the popular snub candidate was able to generate more energy than almost any other contestant for the hometown fans of Miami. I expect Bryce Harper to follow Bour’s hometown-pleasing model, and do the same.
Let’s continue throwing caution to the wind; why not speculate that Mike Trout wants in on the action as well? Why? Aside from my inclination for hot takes, I present two reasons.
- This cryptic interview from 2015, which Trout closed by saying, “I’m eventually going to do it… but you never know.”
- Mike Trout grew up in Melville, NJ, about a 2.5 hour drive south to Nationals Park. The Northeast loves him, and I wouldn’t doubt Washington, D.C. has the same soft spot for one of the greatest players the East Coast has ever produced.
That would leave us with exactly one-half of an all-time great Home Run Derby field, and as we saw on Monday night, four high-caliber names is all we need to drum up more views than the game it precedes.
- Aaron Judge, because his title needs defending.
- Giancarlo Stanton, because he was inexplicably dwarfed by Aaron Judge.
- Bryce Harper, because it’s his home turf.
- Mike Trout, because we all can dream.
If there was ever an event with the potential to set even higher standards for regular season baseball viewership, 2018’s Home Run Derby is positioned better than anything we’ve seen this century.
Photo via the Flickr Creative Commons, thanks to Keith Allison.
Statistics all via Fangraphs.com and BrooksBaseball.net unless otherwise noted.