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.

Royals outfielder Gordon to retire after 14 seasons

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Kansas City Royals outfielder Alex Gordon, the former first-round pick whose rollercoaster career took him from near bust to All-Star and Gold Glove winner, announced Thursday he will retire after the season.

Gordon was the second overall pick in the 2005 first-year player draft following a standout career at Nebraska, where he won the Golden Spikes Award as the best amateur in baseball. He made his big league debut two years later and, after a few years shuttling back and forth to the minors, moved from third base to the outfield and finally found success.

He wound up playing his entire 14-year career in Kansas City, joining only George Brett and Frank White as position players with that much longevity with the franchise. He heads into a weekend four-game series against Detroit with the third-most walks (682), fourth-most homers (190), fifth-most doubles (357) and sixth-most games played (1,749) in club history.

The three-time All-Star also holds the dubious distinction of being the Royals’ career leader in getting hit by pitches.

While he never quite hit with the kind of average the Royals hoped he would, Gordon did through sheer grit turn himself into one of the best defensive players in the game. He is the only outfielder to earn seven Gold Gloves in a nine-year span, a number that trails only White’s eight for the most in franchise history, and there are enough replays of him crashing into the outfield wall at Kauffman Stadium or throwing out a runner at the plate to run for hours.

Gordon won the first of three defensive player of the year awards in 2014, when he helped Kansas City return to the World Series for the first time since its 1985 championship. The Royals wound up losing to the Giants in a seven-game thriller, but they returned to the Fall Classic the following year and beat the Mets in five games to win the World Series.

It was during the 2015 that Gordon hit one of the iconic homers in Royals history. His tying shot off Mets closer Jeurys Familia in Game 1 forced extra innings, and the Royals won in 14 to set the tone for the rest of the World Series.

Gordon signed a one-year contract to return this season, and he never considered opting out when the coronavirus pandemic caused spring training to be halted and forced Major League Baseball to play a dramatically reduced 60-game schedule.

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