Hey! It's the Hardball Talk Home Run Derby contest!


10:38 PM:  Commenter “Joe Tetreault” nailed it.  Look for a guest post from him soon.  (We’ll be emailing you).  Thanks, everybody, for hanging out.

10:30 PM: David Ortiz hit 32 total home runs.  A commenter named “Joe Tetreault” guessed that exactly.  We’ll see if it holds up.  Hanley has 21 homers at the end of the first two rounds.

8:17 PM, MONDAY:  The Derby has started, so the contest is closed.  You guys are great.  Thanks for the participation.  Go Holliday.

7:14 PM, SUNDAY:  Some baseball purists like to rip the Home Run Derby for its corny qualities and its reputation of hurting batters in the second half, but it’s a fun and mostly harmless little spectacle that allows us to celebrate the game’s top sluggers. 

High profile stars like Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols and Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano have bowed out of the contest this year, opting to rest instead, but it’s still a strong field and it should make for an exciting Monday night.  Of course, it couldn’t hurt to make things a little more interesting, and that’s why we’re running a little contest here on HardballTalk.  Here’s how it works:

Guess a winning batter out of the eight participants, then guess how many total home runs that winning batter will tally over the course of the contest, whether it goes three rounds or swing-offs are needed.  For instance, if Pujols was taking part and I thought he was going to win, I’d write “Albert Pujols, 25 HR” in the comments section.  One guess per person, no cheating allowed.  Or else…

The commenter that guesses the winner and the nearest home run total will be allowed to write a post here on HBT on whatever subject he or she sees fit.  In other words, you can do our job for us!  For free!

The field, if you need a refresher, is as follows:

Corey Hart, OF, Brewers – A right-handed hitter, Hart has 21 home runs and a .569 slugging percentage in 306 at-bats this season in Milwaukee.  He hit a career-high 24 homers in 2007 and is obviously well on his way to eclipsing that.

Matt Holliday, OF, Cardinals – Holliday launched his 16th home run of the season on Sunday, which is the highest total he has ever taken into the All-Star break.  A righty, he registered a career-high 36 dingers in 2007 while playing half of his games in Coors Field.

Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins – He almost backed out of the Derby, worried that it might throw off his swing for the second half, but Hanley eventually agreed to provide his superstar presence in an otherwise mediocre field.  The righty has 13 homers this year and hit a career-high 33 in 2008.

Chris Young, OF, Diamonbacks
– The 26-year-old has made quite a few strides at the plate this season and enters the All-Star break with 15 dingers and 61 RBI in 320 at-bats for the disappointing D’Backs.  Young, like the rest of the NL’s representatives, is a right-handed hitter.

David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox
– Big Papi usually plays the role of cheerleader during the Home Run Derby, but decided to participate this year.  He got off to another slow start in April and May, but has roared back strong and will enter Monday’s contest with 18 jacks.  Ortiz is a lefty.

Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers
– A candidate for first-half MVP in the American League, Cabrera has posted a .651 slugging percentage, 22 home runs and 77 RBI in his first 312 at-bats this season.  He bats from the right side of the plate and may be the early favorite.

Vernon Wells, OF, Blue Jays
– Wells often gets dogged for playing poor defense in center field, but he’s launched 19 home runs in 328 at-bats this year for the homer-happy Jays.  The right-handed hitter collected a career-high 33 long-balls back in 2003. 

Nick Swisher, OF, Yankees
– The winner of this year’s “Final Vote” in the American League, Swisher has tallied 15 home runs in 314 at-bats this season for the Yanks.  He can bat from both sides of the plate, but has flashed more power as a lefty this season in the southpaw-friendly new Yankee Stadium.

Angels Stadium typically plays fair with each foul pole checking in at 330 ft., but a more gradual angle in right field could favor left-handers slightly.  All in all, it should be a pretty even fight.

Now it’s your turn.  Tell us who you think will win Monday’s Home Run Derby in Anaheim, California and you can take over this very blog for, like, an hour or something.

Kudos to Fox for not going crazy with the curses

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I turned on last night’s Fox broadcast fully expecting them to spend too much time on history and curses and billy goats and black cats and Steve Bartman and 1908 and 1948 and all of that jive while spending too little time on the game and the players at hand. I will admit now that I was pleasantly surprised that that was not, in fact, the case.

To be clear, the pregame show was a friggin’ train wreck in this department. There the narrative framing was basically wall-to-wall. In the first segment, Fox studio host Kevin Burkhardt used the phrase “reverse the curse” within his first thirty seconds of speaking. Then, before much if any actual game stuff was referred to, Burkhardt mentioned all of the following things in the space of a, maybe, 45 second span:

When the montage ended, Alex Rodriguez said that “every player wants to break that curse.” Then they threw it to the first commercial at 7:38 or so. In the second segment they ran a prerecorded thing about championship droughts, making liberal mention of 108 years for the Cubs and 68 years for the Indians, but then got down to some actual game breakdown.

In the third segment, Burkhardt threw it to the P.A. announcer at Progressive Field for player introductions, once again mentioning 108/68 years as he did so. After that, they ran a montage, set to Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ “The Waiting,” in which centenarians and other older folks talked about how long they’ve been — wait for it — waiting for an Indians or a Cubs championship. Lots of them mentioned billy goats and curses and stuff.

When that was over Fox finally threw it to Joe Buck and John Smoltz up in the booth. Buck added a punctuative “the waiting is the hardest part,” and soon after they ran a Buck-narrated pre-produced montage about what was going on in 1908 and 1948, saying who was president, noting when Model-Ts were invented and all of that, all set to “Time has come today” by the Chambers Brothers. So, yes, that was a lot to take in in the space of a half hour.

But that’s on me, right? Who in the heck needs to watch a pregame show? No one, really. Alex Rodriguez and Pete Rose are proving to be a nice combination for Fox — getting rid of C.J. Nitkowski has cleared the congestion a bit and both A-Rod and Rose are proving to be naturals after a 2015 in which they were somewhat clunky — but a pregame show is pretty superfluous. The actual baseball breakdown those guys provide can be accomplished in less than ten minutes. The rest of it practically begs for those narrative-servicing montages, and frankly, no one needs ’em.

Most notably, though: the curse and weight of history talk basically ended once the game got going. Indeed, Buck and Smoltz were shockingly and refreshingly narrative-free for most if not all of the contest. They talked about Jon Lester and his issues holding runners. Corey Kluber‘s slider. Andrew Miller being Andrew Miller. Kyle Schwarber being there at all. They did a really nice job of handling all of the Xs and Os the way you want your broadcast booth to handle it.

Smoltz in particular was outstanding, showing that Fox’s decision to make him their number one color guy while reassigning Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci to be a fantastic one. A two-man booth is superior to a three-man booth in almost every instance, but the second man in Fox’s booth now mixes his insight and his regular conversation seamlessly. You never feel like Smoltz is talking down to you or speaking from his obviously superior place of baseball authority. His tone is as if he’s letting you in on stuff he thinks and hopes you’ll really appreciate knowing and he never plays the “I USED TO PLAY BASEBALL” card in the obnoxious ways some ex-player commentators do. And he’s right: we do appreciate what he tells us.

Beating up on Fox’s baseball broadcasts has been its own sport for many of us for several years, but there was nothing to really beat them up about last night. Sure, we could do without in-game interviews, but after the pregame show Fox showed remarkable restraint with respect to pushing history and narrative and curses and all of that baloney that has little if anything to do with the 2016 Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. They kept it focused on the baseball game that was going on before us in ways they haven’t always done in the past. It was refreshing and, dare I say, downright enjoyable.

More of this please.

Republicans accuse Hillary Clinton of being a bandwagon Cubs fan

CHICAGO - APRIL 4:  Hillary Rodham Clinton throws out the first pitch before the Chicago Cubs Opening Day game against the New York Mets at Wrigley Field on April 4, 1994 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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This was inevitable: The Republican National Committee published a ridiculously detailed and self-serious opposition-research report accusing Hillary Clinton of being a “bandwagon” Cubs fan.

If you’re of a certain age you’ll recall that Clinton, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, spoke about being a Cubs fan as a kid. You’ll also recall that when she was running for her senate seat in New York, she gave shoutouts to a heretofore unheard of Yankees fandom. A lot of people have had fun with this at various times — we’ve mentioned it here on multiple occasions — but I wasn’t aware that anyone considered it an actually substantive political issue as opposed to an amusing “politicians, man” kind of thing.

The Republicans think it’s serious, though. Indeed, there’s more detail to this oppo-hit than there is any of the party’s candidate’s position papers. And while someone could, theoretically, have a lot of fun with this kind of material, the opposition report is not even remotely tongue-in-cheek. It reads like a poisition paper on nuclear proliferation. If the GOP had been this serious about vetting its own candidate, I suspect they wouldn’t be in the position they’re in today.

As for the substance: eh, who cares? Sports is entertainment and cultural glue. As a kid in Chicago, being a Cubs fan is both fun and makes some sense. As a senator from New York in the early 2000s, you’re gonna get to go to some Yankees games and sit in some good seats and that’s fun too. And, of course, politicians are going to say opportunistic things in order to attempt to connect with their constituents. Think of that what you will, but if you think of that as something which reveals something deep and dark within their soul about what kind of person they are, you probably need to step away from the cable news for a while and get some fresh air. Or you probably need to admit that you already believed the worse about her and that this is just an exercise in confirmation bias.

Heck, at this point I almost hope she finds a third or fourth team to root for. Indeed, I hope she makes a comic heel turn, puts on a Chief Wahoo hat for tonight’s game and claims that, deep, deep down, she had always rooted for the Indians. Then even I could get on her case about it. And we could all talk about how, in her own way, Hillary was really bringing the nation together.