Home Run Derby becomes star of baseball’s Midsummer Classic
— It took 88 years, but the all-star game has been reduced to undercard status. Still more important than Sunday’s Futures Game, a showcase stocked with the Next Big Things, but the Midsummer Classic is hardly an event with the ratings muscle of what we all drooled over Monday night at Marlins Park. Ladies and gentlemen, your new American Pastime: the Home Run Derby. And isn’t that what everyone wants? Like any successful corporation, MLB has managed to distil the less desirable ingredients from its product to create a more easily consumable, more entertaining product. People enjoy being awestruck. The Grand Canyon. Macy’s fireworks on the Fourth of the July. “Transformers 5: The Last Knight” on IMAX. Spectacular views. Massive explosions. Skyscraper-sized robots punching each other. To that end, MLB unveiled Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, or as the Rays’ Chris Archer described them, “two Avatars” on a collision course, winner-take-all. Forget relentless pitching changes, the snail-pace aggravation of video review. Just a bunch of giant guys with wooden clubs, trying to smash TVs in the Clevelander or knock down the flamingos adorning that infernal tropical machinery in centre field. Let’s amend that. Launching moon shots over the flamingos, as well as the swordfish atop that zany sculpture, as Judge did in blasting a 501-footer during his first-round smackdown of the Marlins’ Justin Bour. You want suspense? Bour went on an incredible power surge of his own, depositing baseball after baseball into the right-field upper deck, and his 22-homer barrage threatened to knock off the derby favourite. All Bour accomplished, however, was to give Judge the opportunity to feed his growing legend with the Derby crown. Unlike the pull-happy Bour, Judge sent deep drives to every patch of Marlins Park real estate — and they were almost too high. One ricocheted off the dome’s rafters and was not counted. And because the balls took so much time to land, it looked as if the four-minute clock might expire before Judge’s strength did. But Judge wouldn’t be denied. He tied Bour at the buzzer, then beat him during his 30-second bonus period, smoking a line drive with: 01 on the scoreboard. The all-star game, which no longer decides home-field advantage, can’t match what Judge provided Monday night. After the furious first-round rally, Judge cruised to top Miguel Sano in the final, hitting 11 with 1:53 to spare. “He’s must-watch TV,” Bryce Harper said. “He’s going to hit a home run nine miles. As a player, as a fan, you want to see that.” If everyone loves the long ball so much, let’s just cut out the boring parts. Keep that old-school stuff in the all-star game, preserve the nostalgia with that as the tuneup. The derby has now officially stolen the spotlight. “As a kid, I remember watching the Home Run Derby and the Slam Dunk Contest,” the Indians’ Andrew Miller said. “They were always the best part.” This isn’t just our opinion. The public has spoken. On the resale market, tickets to this year’s Home Run Derby were more expensive than the all-star game, which features 71 players representing all 30 teams — not just the eight sluggers that pound away in four-minute intervals during the derby. That’s the key. MLB and ESPN revived the event last season by streamlining the format, making it tighter and faster-paced to keep audiences engaged for TV. How novel. They actually teamed up to adjust to the changing viewing habits, and improved the sport, if you can call the derby that. It’s appointment TV now. “Since they changed the Home Run Derby, it’s gotten really cool,” Archer said. “It’s fun to watch.” This July, of course, was Judge’s turn to shine, and the derby provided the spotlight. The event was billed as if it were a UFC title match, the six-foot-seven, 282pound Judge vs. the 6-6, 245-pound Stanton. With the possibility of baseball’s own Ali-Frazier showdown, the all-star game was overshadowed. People were looking forward to the derby more. “This year, it feels like the anticipation is bigger,” Stanton said. It was. Gigantic, like Judge, the battle’s conquering hero. And the Home Run Derby not only pledged an epic night, it actually delivered. The all-star game is a pleasant diversion now. The derby is The Show.
New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge swatted a 501-foot homer in the first round of the feature event of the all-star game.
Aaron Judge has redefined the summer break with the showmanship that as a player and as a fan you want to see.