The HR Derby Fascination and the All-Star Game


No single relatively meaningless exhibition event gets the attention like that the one last night did (or does): the Home Run Derby (trended as #HRDerby on Twitter).  The hype machine that is ESPN hasn’t hurt in making this event the spectacle that it has become, although all of the things surrounding the event almost became bigger than the contest itself.  There was a time in a parallel sport (i.e. the Dunk Contest of the NBA All-Star weekend) that could hold a candle to the HR Derby, but not getting participation from the biggest names has hampered that event.  Seemingly, even MLB could struggle with that (only eight players, none of whom were former champion Josh Hamilton, for example).  Yet, even without some big sluggers in the event (such as an Adam Dunn, who has yet to compete), people tune in (myself included) to watch the big bats hit the long ball.

The All-Star Game itself obviously matters at least a little (home field advantage in the World Series on the line), although exhibition baseball without all of the best of the best is still hard to process with a popularity-driven starting eight on each side.  Clearly, the Dan Uggla‘s or Pablo Sandoval‘s of the NL won’t stick around all that long if there are better options on the bench (Tony La Russa or his counterpart Ron Washington for the AL can almost guarantee that), but the HR Derby is a different matter.  The fans have “input” (for whatever that matters) on the All-Star ballot as it related to the Derby, yet the team captains (Matt Kemp and Robinson Cano, for the NL and AL, respectively) made the final cuts.  Some of the selections truly were no-brainers (Prince Fielder, a former champion while a Brewer and now in the AL as a Tiger; Jose Bautista, the Blue Jay slugger; Carlos Beltran, having a resurgent year and a former Royal in his past life).  Some of the choices, while “solid” on paper, were not well-suited to this type of contest (Carlos Gonzalez and Andrew McCutchen, two prototypical line drive hitters, had results to match trying to launch homers in their one and only rounds).  For those who didn’t catch the event (or even if you did), here is the quick breakdown of the round-by-round results from the 2012 Home Run Derby at Kauffman Stadium:

Round 1 (Top 4 advanced):

Jose Bautista – 11

Carlos Beltran – 7

Mark Trumbo – 7

Prince Fielder – 5

Carlos Gonzalez – 4

Andrew McCutchen – 4

Matt Kemp – 1

Robinson Cano – 0*

* – Cano’s 0-fer appearance made for all kinds of instant reaction fodder as the Royals home crowd was merciless in its grilling of the Yankees’ second baseman.  They cheered strongly on every out and booed almost constantly otherwise.  Needless to say, it provided interesting drama in an otherwise lifeless kind of event round.  Trumbo’s blasts were getting most of the attention, but Bautista’s steeliness looked hard to beat in the early going.

Round 2 (Top 2 advanced – cumulative total from Round 1 carried forward):

Prince Fielder – 11 – 16 (it was here that Fielder turned on the engines to pull away into the Finals, setting a torrid pace nobody could catch ultimately)

Jose Bautista – 2 – 13*

Mark Trumbo – 6 – 13

Carlos Beltran – 5 – 12

* – Bautista went last in the round (having hit the most from the first) but was only able to manage tying Trumbo’s two-round total of 13.  In a swing-off, Trumbo only hit a single homer, which Bautista tied then passed in only two swings, advancing to the finals.

Championship Round:

Prince Fielder – 12 [Winner]

Jose Bautista – 7

The Prince became the King by simply blowing away “Joey Bats” in the finals, hitting three homers before an out and eight before a second out.  Fielder put on an exhibition in the finals Bautista simply couldn’t catch.

I hope everyone, as fellow baseball fans, enjoys watching tonight’s All-Star Game.  Reds’ fans can stay united about one thing: the NL winning the All-Star game does matter for something on the path to winning it all by the end of this post-season.  Keep the eyes on the prize, regardless of our starting pitcher (who wouldn’t have played anyway) making the team.

Follow me on Twitter @JDRentz to continue the conversation.