Monday, July 11, 2011

Top 5 Reasons the All-Star Home Run Derby Needs to Stop

5. It's tainted. Let's get the obvious one out of the way first. The steroid revelations have put a cloud over the home run that the meanest of protests from John McGraw and Ty Cobb against Babe Ruth could ever do.

It has been won 9 times by a player a steroid user either caught (Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, David Ortiz -- in his case AFTER he was revealed to have been caught), confessed (Wally Joyner, Mark McGwire), or seriously suspected (Juan Gonzalez, Sammy Sosa, Luis Gonzalez).

4. The winners often get hurt. From a Yankee perspective, this happened to Jason Giambi after he won it in 2002. It also happened to not-yet-Yankee Bobby Abreu when he won it in 2005.

3. It's a one-dimensional competition. The NHL doesn't get much right in its All-Star Weekend, but it has a skills competition that involves hardest shot, most accurate shot, and fastest skater. Does baseball have a hitting to all fields competition? A fielding skills competition? A running competition? A pitching for speed OR accuracy competition? No.

2. Where are the stars? I understand putting in guys who are having great home-run seasons THIS season, like Jose Bautista and Adrian Gonzalez. But... Robinson Cano? I love the guy, but he's a well-rounded player who's not known for either the number or the distance of his home runs. Prince Fielder is in it, but neither of the Phillies' big boomers, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, is. I understand that Josh Hamilton has a good reason not to participate this time, and that Alex Rodriguez is hurt and Albert Pujols is still working his way back in from injury.

But the biggest name other than those who's in it is... David Ortiz? And he's the American League's Captain in this contest? So MLB is rewarding him for hitting a lot of home runs, for long distance, and in big moments -- which we now know he did by cheating, and getting caught, and lying about it, thus getting exposed as a liar AND a cheater.

If this were my childhood, it would be like Reggie Jackson, Johnny Bench and Mike Schmidt not appearing, while Graig Nettles, who led the AL with 32 in 1976 and finished 2nd to Jim Rice the next year with 37, but had already been caught "corking" his bat with Super Balls, being allowed in. Along with the rather surly Dave Kingman, who at least qualified on length and frequency.

Or, if this were 50 years ago, having Roger Maris, but Mickey Mantle being hurt, Willie Mays not bothering to show up, Hank Aaron not being invited (at that point in his career, he was considered more likely to bat .400 than to hit 500 home runs, let alone 715), and being left with... (consults the list of players on the 1960 TV show titled Home Run Derby)... Bob Cerv, Gus Triandos and Wally Post. Good players, but hardly among the first few names you'd think of. Come to think of it, Post would have been an improvement on some of the 2011 participants.

In essence, the Home Run Derby has become MLB's answer to the NBA All-Star Game's Slam Dunk Contest. Which was played out long before the NBA's best dunkers started dropping out of it.

1. It lends it self to flukes. I can't say it's ever been won by a bad hitter, or a guy who "didn't hit home runs." But of the 25 times it's been held, the average number of career home runs by the winner has been 409. Not 500, and not that much over 400. Taking out Ryan Howard, who at age 31 has 268 and will almost certainly be a threat to reach 500; Prince Fielder, who at 27 has 213 and will also probably make a serious run at 500; the average becomes 424. But this still includes such winners as:

* Justin Morneau, 2008, who has 185 at age 30, which gives him a shot at 400, but not 500.

* Wally Joyner, 1986, who, to be fair, probably looked like a threat for 500 at the time, but ended up with just 204.

* Bobby Abreu, 2005, who, while a very good hitter for average, currently has 277, and at age 37 has to worry about topping 300, let alone 400.

* Eric Davis, 1989, a very good all-around player, but not really renowned as a slugger even then, who finished with 282.

* Ryne Sandberg, 1990, same as Davis -- right down to the exact number, 282.

* Garret Anderson, 2003, another pretty good player, but hardly a Hall-of-Famer like Sandberg, or a guy who might have made it if not for injuries like Davis, who finished with 287.

* Miguel Tejada, 2004, who got caught using steroids, and still has 302, and at 37 is unlikely to add a lot more.

* Luis Gonzalez, 2001, who retired with 354 homers -- 57 of them that season, and his best total other than that was 31. He has publicly denied using steroids, but who's kidding who? He wasn't the only '01 Diamondback to be suspected, and a couple have confessed. The Yankees would like that 2001 title back.

* David Ortiz, 2010, who, in spite of his proven blatant cheating, has just 368 home runs -- less than Red Sox icons Jimmie Foxx, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, even Dwight Evans.

So what is winning the Home Run Derby really worth? Heck, when Morneau won it in 2008, the guy they were really talking about is the one he beat out for the title, Josh Hamilton. He's 30, but has only 104 -- and I'll be shocked if he reaches 400, and he may not even get to 300.

The Home Run Derby is like fireworks on the 4th of July: It's flashy, but it's not what the celebrations are all about, and can come back to burn you. And, unlike said fireworks, really adds noting the the festivities.

As Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, of the Washington Post and ESPN's Pardon the Interruption, would say, the Home Run Derby is in a gots to go situation.

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