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The Home Run Derby is a boring anachronism. Let’s replace it with something fun.

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN — A wise man once said something pretty spot-on about the Home Run Derby:

“I’m just irritated by how much attention the thing gets. It’s like a big show, and the game is an afterthought, which is totally ESPN.”

That man was Tony La Russa. Now that he’s baseball royalty and not just another manager he probably won’t say such things publicly, but he’s still right about it.

The Home Run Derby is boring. Occasionally something interesting like Josh Hamilton dominating the first round in 2008 happens, but it’s basically batting practice. Three-hour-long batting practice in which the coolest thing about home runs — the way in which they change the course of a game, often in dramatic fashion — is taken out of the equation. Come to think of it, the second coolest thing about home runs — how it represents a batter getting the best of a pitcher who is trying his damndest to get him out — is taken out of it too. It’s the NBA slam dunk competition without as much athleticism.

Baseball has acknowledged this to some degree this year, reducing the number of “outs” each participant gets in an effort to make it move along more quickly, but it’ll still drag tonight. And not only will it drag, it will be accompanied by either Chris Berman’s “back, back back!” nonsense if you’re watching it on TV or Mike & Mike’s commentary over the loudspeakers if you’re watching it in person.

I wish the Home Run Debry was done away with, but actually, the thing about the Home Run Derby which justifies its elimination the most is not its tediousness, but its anachronistic nature. It’s been around since the mid-80s in various forms, but it really took off as a televised and heavily-promoted event in the mid-to-late 90s. Back when “chicks dig the longball” captured the zeitgeist and offense ruled the day. We now exist in a low-offense era. Yes, there are still a lot of homers, but what really sets a player apart these days is his all-around game. Someone who can hit for average, hit for power, run well and play good defense. If anything, long-ball-only guys are mild weirdos in this day and age. Curiosities.

So, like many have advocated, I advocate for the end of the Home Run Derby and its replacement with something that is not only more interesting, but which better reflects our age. A skills competition is the most obvious example. A decathlon-esque competition. Or fewer skills; pick the Greek prefix which best fits. The point is to find the player with the best all-around skills. Some ideas of what it could consist of:

  • A greatly abbreviated Home Run Derby to get at power;
  • A first-to-third or insider-the-park-homer competition that gets at baserunning. Something that doesn’t just get at raw speed but which also factors in how you cut the corner at the base and how well you slide;
  • A throwing thing where outfielders fire balls toward a target, Tom Emansky-style, from right or left field to home plate. For infielders, something with a relay throw, perhaps;
  • A gap-ball contest. Set up one of those automatic fly ball machines they use in spring training to fire fly balls farther and father from a set position on which the fielder sets up. Whoever can run down balls farther from that position is the winner.
  • Something for catchers. We don’t want to kill them so maybe we don’t do a block-the-ball-in-the-dirt drill, but maybe a thing in which speed and accuracy of firing the ball down to second base is used.

There are tons of other possibilities, of course. For any skill there could be a competition with which to gauge it. Some are better ideas than others — we don’t want players to get hurt in the name of off-day TV programming — but I’m sure there are three or four things we could put together that would be far more novel and far more interesting than the Home Run Derby.

Got any ideas of your own? Share them in the comments, where they can be ignored by Major League Baseball alongside my ideas, which will also be ignored, I fear.

Bryce Harper reportedly wants a $400 million extension

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 13: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals reacts after hitting a single in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game five of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park on October 13, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports the Nationals are “balking at Bryce Harper’s demands in early talks about a long-term contract extension” and are thus prepared to let him walk when he becomes a free agent following the 2018 season.

What would make the Nationals balk? According to Nightengale’s source it’s a deal that “will exceed 10 years in length and likely pay him in excess of $400 million.”

That might seem crazy given historical norms and given that Harper is coming off a disappointing season, but if Harper returns to anything close to his 2015 form in which he won National League MVP honors while hitting .330/.460/.649 and hit 42 home runs, $400 million is going to seem quite reasonable. That sort of production was not some crazy fluke for a guy with Harper’s talent, after all. And he’ll be 26-years-old when he hits free agency, which is far, far younger than your typical free agent. Indeed, he’ll be entering what have, historically, been the prime years of most superstars’ careers.

The closest comp to star hitting free agency at that age was Alex Rodriguez, who was 25 when he signed his first $250 million deal following the 2000 season. Top big league deals going from $250 million to $400 million in the space of two decades is not really all that crazy when you think about it. Especially when you realize that, between 2001 and 2018, baseball revenues will have increased by a factor of three, assuming current growth holds.

UPDATE: My first thought after reading all of this was “I wonder if the Nats leaked the $400 million thing, whether it was an actual demand or not, in order to turn the PR in their favor if they deal Harper?” Question answered:

At least one quarter of the Today’s Committee owed Bud Selig a solid

Bud Selig
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OXON HILL, MD — The 16-member committee that voted Bud Selig and John Schuerholz into the Hall of Fame — the “Today’s Game” Committee — consisted of the following members: Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Bobby Cox, Andre Dawson, Dennis Eckersley, Pat Gillick, Ozzie Smith, Don Sutton, and Frank Thomas, major league owners/executives Paul Beeston (Blue Jays), Bill DeWitt (Cardinals), David Glass (Royals), Andy MacPhail (Phillies) and Kevin Towers (Reds); and media members/historians Bill Center, Steve Hirdt and Tim Kurkjian.

That’s certainly a venerable list of names. A quarter of that electorate, however, could be characterized as having a pretty notable conflict of interest when it comes to Bud Selig. At least if anyone cared about things like conflict of interest when it comes to baseball.

Whatever the case, two of those 16 guys became owners — and even more wealthier as a result — due to his affirmatively choosing or approving them to join sports’ most exclusive club. Two others were personally chosen by Selig to assist him over the years, raising their profile and importance in the game and giving them resume pieces that will one day be part of their own Hall of Fame cases.

  • Royals owner David Glass: Became the Royals CEO and Chairman in 1993, right after Selig became the acting commissioner. Glass was a key ally for Selig’s efforts to impose a salary cap and take a financial hard line in negotiations with the union, which eventually led to the 1994-95 strike. In 1999-2000 he became the full owner of the Royals after Selig personally stepped in to stop a bid for the club by a competing ownership group and is thus widely refereed to as Selig’s handpicked man. Glass is on the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors, on which Selig served for decades.
  • Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr.: Bought his club in 1995, after Selig had taken over and thus would not be a baseball owner without Selig’s approval. DeWitt was a point man for Selig on a host of his pet projects, including the Wild Card and interleague play. He likewise led the charge for revenue sharing and other potentially divisive financial matters which tended to be in the interest of smaller market clubs, the sort of which Selig himself championed when he was a mere owner. DeWitt chaired the committee to find Selig’s successor, which eventually served to validate Selig’s desire to have his hand-picked choice, Rob Manfred, succeed him.
  • Phillies President Andy MacPhail: Selig’s handpicked choice for the labor negotiating committee in 2002 which, at the time, continued speculation that MacPhail would one day be on the short list to succeed Selig. A few years before that MacPhail was public in saying that Selig would be the right choice to become permanent commissioner at a time when many were concerned that a team owner assuming that role was a conflict of interest.
  • Former President of the Blue Jays, Paul Beeston: In the late 90s, Beeston resigned as president of the Toronto Blue Jays following a successful reign to accepted baseball’s newly created position of president and chief operating officer. The move was widely seen as a means of giving Selig a top lieutenant — a defacto deputy commissioner — which would help him smooth his transition from acting commissioner to permanent commissioner. Many thought at the time that if Beeston was not hired for that gig, Selig may have declined the full-time commissioner’s role. Selig was described in the press at the time as a strong admirer of Beeston’s. In 2014, Beeston reflected glowingly on Selig’s legacy, saying, “I absolutely admire him on this steroid thing.” Beeston is on the Hall of Fame’s Board of Directors, on which Selig served.

Is there anything necessarily wrong with that? No. Baseball is a small world and Bud Selig existed in it for a long, long time, so having a relationship with Selig was pretty unavoidable for almost anyone with any sort of profile in the game. No technical rule or historical baseball norm was violated by virtue of this vote or the composition of the committee itself. Indeed, the old Veterans Committee to the Hall of Fame was widely seen as a group of good old boys voting their old friends. Worth noting, perhaps, that that iteration of the Veterans Committee was abolished precisely for that reason, but I suppose we’ll leave that go for now.

I wonder, however, what the vote totals would have been for some of the other candidates if 25% of their electorate consisted of people who owed personal and professional debts to them the way Selig’s electorate owed him. Maybe Barry Bonds’ agent could get a Hall of Fame vote? Roger Clemens’ mechanic? Mark McGwire’s interior designer?

I suppose we’ll never know.