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Mookie Betts on Home Run Derby: ‘Do something else or take it out’

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Even before the 2018 Home Run Derby field was finalized on Wednesday, we had known since May that Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts wouldn’t be among the participants. Betts said, when asked if he had interest in participating, “Hell no. I don’t hit home runs in BP. Can you imagine me going against Aaron Judge?”

Betts was joined by teammate J.D. Martinez as well as Yankees sluggers Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in the non-participation pool. Angels outfielder Mike Trout also declined to participate.

Betts, in fact, thinks that Major League Baseball should find a new event to include in its All-Star Game festivities or just take the Home Run Derby out, Rob Bradford of WEEI reported earlier this week. Betts said, “Do something else or take it out. Don’t even do it.” Betts added, “Anything you do too much, people are going to get tired of it.”

Betts suggested doing a skills competition. “Something like a throwing from the outfield contest. Some time of throwing contest. Trying to throw into a barrel or infielders have to take a ground ball to your left, ground ball to your right, slow roller and they have to throw into a screen with a box. That might be something.”

While Betts’ idea is interesting, adding a skills competition wouldn’t have to come at the expense of the Home Run Derby. They could simply do both. A skills competition would be fascinating, seeing the outfield arms of Aaron Hicks, Kevin Kiermaier, Yoenis Cespedes and others put in direct competition with one another. There could even be an event where players try to circle the bases the fastest, pitting Betts against the likes of Billy Hamilton, Byron Buxton, and Trea Turner, among others.

It’s clear that the Home Run Derby is becoming less and less popular among the best players in the league, the exact players we should want to participate. That’s sad, because at least for me, the Home Run Derby has always been enjoyable to watch, even as the event as evolved over the years.

During the “Brother’s Little Helper” episode in Season 11 of The Simpsons, a crowd surrounded then-Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire, who was attempting to distract them after discovering that Major League Baseball was spying on them with satellites. McGwire said, “Young Bart here was right: We are spying on you, pretty much around the clock.” Bart asked, “But why, Mr. McGwire?” McGwire responded, “Do you want to know the terrifying truth, or do you want to see me sock a few dingers?” The crowd chanted, “Dingers! Dingers! Dingers!”

My sentiments, exactly.

Neal Huntington thinks players should be allowed to re-enter games after concussion testing

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Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli, who has suffered many concussions throughout his 12-year career, was hit on the back of the helmet on a Joc Pederson backswing Saturday against the Dodgers. Through Cervelli remained in the game initially, he took himself out of the game shortly thereafter and went on the seven-day concussion injured list on Sunday.

Perhaps inspired by Saturday’s event, Pirates GM Neal Huntington suggested that players should be allowed to re-enter games once they have passed concussion tests, the Associated Press reports. Huntington said, “Any player that had an obvious concussion risk incident should be allowed to be removed from the game, taken off the field, taken into the locker room, assessed by a doctor, assessed by a trainer, go through an extended period of time and then re-enter the game. Because right now, all of this has to happen on the field.”

Huntington added, “The player has to feel pressure as he’s standing there with 30,000 or 10,000 or 50,000 eyes on him. He has to feel pressure to make a decision whether (he’s) in or (he’s) out of this game. He knows if he takes himself out and he’s the catcher, there’s only one other catcher, and the game becomes a fiasco if that other catcher gets hurt.”

Huntington, who has been forward-thinking on a number of other issues, has it wrong here. The concussion protocols were created because players frequently hid or under-reported their injuries in order to remain in the game. Especially for younger or otherwise less-proven players, there is pressure to have to constantly perform in order to keep one’s job. Furthermore, there is an overarching sentiment across sports that taking time off due to injury makes one weak. Similarly, playing while injured is seen as tough and masculine. Creating protocols that take the decision-making out of players’ hands keeps them from making decisions that aren’t in their own best interests. Removing them would bring back that pressure for players to hide or minimize their ailments. If anything, MLB’s concussion protocols should become more stringent, not more relaxed.

The powers that be with Major League Baseball have no doubt followed the concussion scandal surrounding the National Football League. In January, the NFL settled for over $1 billion with retired players dealing with traumatic brain injuries, including dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. For years, the league refused to acknowledge the link between playing football and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia and has many negative effects, such as increasing the risk of suicide. Since baseball isn’t often a contact sport, MLB doesn’t have to worry about brain injuries to this degree, but it still needs to take preventative measures in order to avoid billion-dollar lawsuits as well as avoiding P.R. damage. In December 2012, former major league outfielder Ryan Freel committed suicide. Freel, who claimed to have suffered as many as 10 concussions, suffered from CTE. MLB players can suffer brain injuries just like football players.

Huntington seems to be worried about not having enough rostered catchers in the event one or two catchers get injured. That is really an issue of roster management. Carrying only two catchers on the roster is a calculated risk, often justified. Huntington can ensure his team never has to be put in the position of not having a catcher in an emergency by rostering a third catcher. Rosters are expanding to 26 players next year, by the way.