Home Run Derby be­comes star of baseball’s Mid­sum­mer Clas­sic

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DAVID LENNON MI­AMI

— 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.

MIKE EHRMANN, GETTY IM­AGES

New York Yan­kees slug­ger Aaron Judge swat­ted a 501-foot homer in the first round of the fea­ture event of the all-star game.

PA­TRICK FAR­RELL, MI­AMI HER­ALD

Aaron Judge has re­de­fined the sum­mer break with the show­man­ship that as a player and as a fan you want to see.

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