In a brief interview with USA Today, Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp said that he wouldn't be choosing Nationals center fielder Bryce Harper to participate in the Home Run Derby in July, saying that there are plenty of other players capable of doing well in the Derby, and that he chose his four member team based on stats. Of course, some fans are getting up in arms about this, using the tried and true line of "MLB needs to attract younger viewers, and Bryce Harper can do it!"
My response: who really cares about the Home Run Derby anymore anyway? No one cares about who wins the damn thing, but people do remember performances. Remember Josh Hamilton's assault on Yankee Stadium in 2008? He didn't win. Remember Ken Griffey Jr attacking the warehouse behind Camden Yards in 1993? He didn't win. Remember Mark McGwire hitting moonshots over the Green Monster in 1999? Not only did he not win, but he wasn't even in the finals!
In the 17 Home Run Derbies since the MLB changed the rules to include semifinals and finals, there have been six players who hit the most total homers in the competition, but didn't win. Who's the last Derby winner that you can recall off the top of your head? Until I looked it up, the last winner I could remember off the top of my head was Sammy Sosa in 2000, and that was only because the game was at Turner Field and Chipper Jones was involved.
The Derby has been plagued by a lack of name players being involved in recent years. The 2010 event was particularly disastrous, with Corey Hart, Nick Swisher, Vernon Wells, and Chris Young taking part…how many casual fans have heard of those names? And for the love of god, Brandon Inge was in the 2009 event. BRANDON INGE. HOME RUN DERBY. He's 35, and has two career 20 homer seasons. And this is a guy that was in the Home Run Derby in recent years.
While someone like Harper would draw casual fan interest, here's the thing: he's not a prodigious home run hitter. Harper has eight homers this year (between AAA and the majors), and had 23 in the minors last year (including games in the AFL). Harper is a draw for the game because of his exciting, hard-nose, all-out play (sorry about all of the buzzwords), not because he's a power-hitting monster.
If Major League Baseball wants to make the Home Run Derby an event again, they can't have players like the ones I mentioned who are hitting the 350 foot specials. They need to include guys that are pounding the absolute crap out of the ball and breaking scoreboards. You know the type of players I'm talking about…Adam Dunn, Josh Hamilton, Jose Bautista. THOSE type of players. When people watch the Home Run Derby, they don't want to see lasers that land in the second row. They want to see the majestic boomshots that can bring rain.
At any rate, here's what the teams should be this year for each league if the MLB is going on the basis of MONSTER BOMBS.
American League: Robinson Cano (captain), Adam Dunn, Josh Hamilton, Jose Bautista. Mark Trumbo would be the alternate.
National League: Matt Kemp (captain), Giancarlo Stanton, Dan Uggla, Carlos Beltran. Carlos Gonzalez would be the alternate.
How awesome would it be to see these guys just smashing the hell out of the ball? There would be multiple waterfall shots at Kauffman Stadium, and it would be a hell of a lot more entertaining than to see a player like Harper (as much as I love him) hitting line drives all over the place. Now, don't get me wrong, Harper has hit some bombs this year, but the basis behind including him in the Derby (draw in young fans!) is a flawed one that could blow up in the league's face.
Photo courtesy of Daylife.com