As has been the case in years past, many of baseball’s biggest, mashing-est stars plan to sit out the 2016 Home Run Derby: Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant, Yoenis Céspedes, and David Ortiz have all said they do not want to partake. Their excuses range from concerns about nagging injuries (Céspedes) to “I just don’t want to” (Harper), but the end result remains the same. Fans are left with a procedural mishmash that manages to suck all the fun out of what otherwise should be the most fun thing in baseball.
The problems plaguing the Home Run Derby are not new, and players have long expressed concerns that competing in this event will alter their swing for the season’s second half. (This is very unlikely.) From a general interest perspective, though, the derby’s shortcomings boil down to two points: It’s meaningless, and it’s utterly, totally, maybe-the-critics-are-right-about-baseball levels of boring. The league’s options to improve it, then, are (1) make it matter or (2) make it fun.
In a nation still recovering from the Great War of Selig, we will not dignify the former solution with discussion here.
So how can Major League Baseball make the derby fun? Robbed of the stakes of a nine-inning contest and the ashen faces of pitchers who stand there, mouths agape, knowing exactly how they’ve screwed up, the Home Run Derby just hasn’t proven to be all that interesting. MLB did its best with a rule change last year that attempted to heighten the sense of stress (with timers) and competition (with brackets). But it was still boring! Save for occasional freak performances, like Josh Hamilton going berserk at the old Yankee Stadium, the derby has recently turned into one long snoozefest. That Bryce Harper — he who shall Maketh Baseball Fun Again — has no interest in participating should be telling enough.
To help the league out, here are some suggestions to fix the derby, presented in no particular order:
1. Host the much-ballyhooed Pitcher Home Run Derby.
Madison Bumgarner, Jake Arrieta, Adam Wainwright, and José Fernandez have all said they’d like a shot. And is there anything quite like watching a flamethrower launch a ball into the great beyond? No, there is not. LET MADBUM RAKE!
2. Have Ichiro enter.
For years, rumors have circulated that Ichiro Suzuki can hit for power when he wants to — that he mashes in batting practice, and simply chooses to hit for average during games. Buddy. Pal. Friend. All-time* hit** leader***. This is your chance.
3. Implement targets.
Let’s say you hit the ball into a designated orange zone. You know how, when you’re playing Kings, the king is the best card to draw because you get to make a rule and really mess with everybody? (Word to the wise: The best rule is that any time someone says a name, they have to put their head on the table until somebody else says one. You’re welcome.) Well, hitting a homer into the orange zone means you get to take one of your competitor’s shoes. Pink zone? Credit for an extra dinger. Blue zone? Cover an opponent in honey.
4. Move the fences in.
What? you might ask. You want to make the derby easier? Friends, let’s have Giancarlo Stanton socking balls 250 feet past the wall. Let’s measure home runs not in feet but in lines of shattered windshields in a Little League parking lot.
5. Unleash a swarm of bees?
I’ll also settle for midges.