The Home Run Derby: Sports Last Great Exhibition


Tonight, what is perhaps the most awe-inspiring part of the Major League Baseball season takes place: the Home Run Derby. It’s the solo focus on what has been the most popular play in all of sports since Babe Ruth decided it would be about 90 years ago. And although the popularity of the game as a whole has taken a few jabs…and crosses…and uppercuts since Ruth was having better years than the given POTUS of the time, one thing that has not changed is that the spectacle of the best hitters in the world trying to swing for the fences is still the best exhibition going in sports.

For a while, the inventiveness of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest had most likely surpassed the Derby in terms of “Wow” factor. But the well has run bone dry in the dunk lane, as they turned to props, hi-jinks and even capes to find ways to create new elements to the contest, with underwhelming success. The NBA is struggling to find ways to keep innovation in the dunk contest while the NFL is struggling to have their own players take part in their Pro Bowl itself, let alone a skills showcase. Yet all the while, sport’s original spectacular play continues to thrive.

The reasoning for this is simple: there’s nothing quite as awe-inspiring as seeing a baseball take off and then seeing how far away it could land. It’s one of the most exciting plays in sports, an instant game-changer of the most impactful sort. The greatness of the home run lives in its timeless legend, and then seeing it happen again…and again. Nothing is quite like seeing one be hit, the excitement of the moment and seeing it through its completion, which is sometimes 400 to 500 feet from where it started. It is the premier power move in the game.

There is also the factor that it still has prestige within the game. The summer’s elite have never treated it like a second-tier event for their participation. While the NBA faithful continue to clamor (and heckle) for LeBron James or Blake Griffin to embrace the Dunk Contest (at least once in one case), their counterparts in the summer will will get to see Prince Fielder, Robinson Cano and Chris Davis take their hacks, as well as put their reputation on the line doing what they do best. It’s the one time a year that baseball is able to be the most stand-up of all sports, while showcasing its greatest attraction.

Sometimes, it pays out and a legend is created: ask Josh Hamilton. Other times, it simply re-affirms what was already known, such as was the case with Mark McGwire, David Ortiz or Ken Griffey, Jr. Every once in a while, a surprise has its day, like Bobby Abreu or Hanley Ramirez, and the crowd gets to ride behind the underdog (especially if they did some championship betting on the contest).

But one thing remains certain, and it is that there is no more consistent showcase of the talents of the best players in a given sport than what will take place tonight at Citi Field. Whether it is getting behind the face of the home team in David Wright, or seeing if Prince can join Griffey as the only three-time King of the Derby ever, as usual, there is no shortage of a story line in play. Or maybe you just want to tune in to see the hell hit out of baseball in ways that only occur once a year. No matter what lands you there, it will be a clear reminder that for all its faults, baseball still has  one thing right.

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