Baseball fans clamor for high scores and long balls, yet the Home Run Derby seems to lose more clout every summer. Nearly 7 million people tuned in for last year's Derby, but chances are you have to rack your brain to remember who even won it. What will give you an incentive to watch this time around?
Seven of the eight participants for next Monday's contest are set, with local captains Robinson Cano and David Wright bringing some of the sport's biggest sluggers to Citi Field. But despite the lineup, the drill remains the same: take a few pitches, let Chris Berman ramble about nothing, and occasionally launch a bomb into the grandstands. Here are a few suggestions for making the Derby a little more enticing.
1. Have fielders at the warning track
Perhaps the only thing more exciting than a home run is a robbed home run. Tori Hunter garnered celebrity off his wall-climbing defense alone, and it's hard to find a summer installment of SportsCenter that doesn't include a leaping web gem at the warning track in its top 10.
Imagine if each captain got to bring a covey of outfielders to line the warning track, ready to leap up and take homers off of final scores. Yes, managers would be weary of letting their starters risk injury, and yes, we'd probably only see one or two great catches the entire night, but the idea is still interesting.
2. Let the fans vote
Are you really eager to see Michael Cuddyer? Letting captains select teams was cool in fifth grade pickup games, but All-Star Weekend is all about the fans, and it would be fitting to determine the Derby roster by popular vote.
Monday's Derby would draw flocks of viewers if Yasiel Puig or Mike Trout were on the bill.
3. Include an aluminum bat portion
Imagine the gaudy numbers that would be produced if the Derby sluggers were allowed to use aluminum bats. Seriously, we're talking MLB Slugfest moonshots.
Giving hitters an aluminum bat for the whole contest would eventually destroy the novelty and excitement, but perhaps a brief segment of the final round could swap the wood for some fancy metal. Give someone like Jose Bautista an aluminum bat and watch those balls fly right out of the stadium.
Aside from the Mark Mcgwire Power Bat, nothing made a kid feel like more of a stud at the plate than a shiny Louisville Slugger TPX. Who wouldn't want to see 500-foot bombs?
4. Put an MLB pitcher on the mound
Each player puts a hitting coach, team staffer or close acquaintance behind the net to lob pitches, but imagine the hilarity of using a struggling MLB starter to serve up home runs.
This could be determined by fan vote, whoever has the highest ERA in a minimum amount of starts or whoever's allowed the most homers. As of Tuesday, Kansas City's Jeremy Guthrie has allotted the most dingers with 21. Washington's Dan Haren trails closely with 19.
Maybe we could flip the script and pick the league's best pitcher. It wouldn't make much of a difference, seeing as the hitters will see nothing but lobs, but it's something to think about.
5. Get Gus Johnson to call it
Chris Berman doesn't do the Derby any favors. It's no secret that Gus Johnson is one of the most enthusiastic and popular announcers in all of sports, and adding him to the broadcast would make even the most mundane pop fly into something worth watching.
The dude doesn't need to know anything about baseball. All he needs to do is bring some of his magic from football and college hoops to the Derby.