New Derby Format a Home Run
Let it be said. 2015 is the year of the home run. While pitching has been dominating Major League Baseball for the past few seasons July 13th was a day to showcase the long ball. Much like its counterpart in the NBA, baseball’s premier skills showcase has fallen flat for several years running. The event had become long, drawn out, repetitive...boring. As an avid baseball fan I would watch every year and every year it felt more and more like a chore. Hitters would take 2,3,4,5 pitches in a row to catch a breather. Minutes would be lost while a crowd of players would bring drinks to hitter’s mid-round. Chris Berman would run out of pointless puns by the middle of the second round. It was a wash, rinse, repeat type event. As much as I hate to say it, I had no interest in watching this year.
Then I happened to come across an article detailing some new rules. Baseball has been trying to tinker a little here, a little there with the format to try and juice some life into the derby. Well someone at MLB headquarters woke up and decided that a complete revamp was needed. For a sport that has been notoriously slow to change the established order it was somewhat shocking to see how radically and how swiftly the event evolved. Instead of the players with the most homers advancing we went to a single elimination bracket type format. Instead of the 10 outs per round rule we went to a 5 minute time limit. Instead of players being able to take a number of pitches for a break, or having a small party in the middle of a round they were given a single time out.
Players would be given an additional 60 seconds if they went longer than 475 feet, the clock would stop within the last minute after every home run. An entirely new derby was built from the ground up. I was skeptical but I wanted to see how this worked. For the first time in years watching the derby didn’t’ feel like cleaning my room.
Then the rains came. Heavy storms rolled through Cincinnati and threatened to wash out Rob Manfred’s new baby. It seemed fitting as a nail in the proverbial coffin. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The rules were adjusted on the fly to accommodate for a break in the weather. Storms were predicted to start up around 11pm and if you’ve seen any of the previous derbies you knew that there was about as much chance of Babe Ruth participating as there was for the champion to be crowned before 11.
Rounds were cut to 4 minutes, the bonus time was limited to 30 seconds, and the stopping clock within the last minute became a running one. BINGO!! MLB had found the perfect formula. Two drastic changes to a 30 year old format have completely revitalized this dead event. Rounds were quick and crisp. Homerun totals became exciting. As the clock ticked down you could see the pace pick up. IT WAS GREAT. Pitches were coming in fast and furious. Hitters were taking hacks at whatever they could. Gone are the days of seeing 6 straight balls hit the catcher’s mitt because it was not in the perfect spot. The hitters actually had to swing the bat or risk running out of time. Magic was happening before our very eyes.
The performance of the participants certainly helped. Every hitter brought his “A” game. If there were a few rounds where a player hit 3 home runs it wouldn’t’ have had the same excitement. A round ending with 3 minutes to go does holds minimal value, and in future years this will happen, but when it does it will contribute to the #1 reason why this format worked. Time. Frazier hits the last home run in bonus time. He eliminates Joc Pederson and the Cinci crowd goes wild. My heart was racing and I was excited. I then look at time and see approximately 10:15.What? Could this be? The derby was done and over with before the witching hour? This was unbelievable. How was this possible?
This time check was the cherry on top of the great derby cake. I truly hope that Major League Baseball realizes what they have not stumbled on. They laid the framework for this success, but the rain perfected it. Yes, the derby was shorter than it has been in years. Yes, the opportunity for commercial and advertisement dollars was closed some. IT WAS ALL WORTH IT.
The home run derby had no future. It was put on because it had to be put on, not because anyone wanted it to be. I truly thought it only had 5...maybe 10 years left before it would eventually be scrapped all together. This new format changes everything. Much like the players themselves baseball needed to make an adjustment. It did and now its All-Star Festivities are in business. I’m already looking forward to seeing next year’s derby and can’t wait to see what players make up the field. I just hope that the powers that be realize this is the format that works. Don’t bring back the stopped clock. Don’t bring back the 60 second bonus. Simply use this format for the time being and you will have my viewership year in and year out.