As a child of the 90’s, the Home Run Derby has a special place in my heart. I grew up playing baseball in my backyard imitating the home run hitters of the era; I would wave my bat around like Barry Bonds, flip my cap backwards and wiggle my shoulders like Ken Griffey, or even mimic Tony Batista’s absurdly wide batting stance.
Just like the NBA’s Dunk Contest, the MLB Home Run contest has had its share of legendary moments. Incredible blasts like Ken Griffey Jr hitting the Warehouse in the 1993 Derby at Camden Yards. Epic slugger duels like McGwire versus Bonds in 1996 and McGwire versus Griffey in 1999. Mind-boggling displays of power like Josh Hamilton hitting a record record 28 home runs in a single round at the Old Yankee Stadium’s final All Star Game.
But in recent years, the hype and excitement surrounding the Derby fizzled, despite some great storylines. In 2011 Robinson Cano won with his father pitching to him. In 2012 Prince Fielder became the first player to win the derby while representing teams from both leagues. Yoenis Cespedes repeated as champion by winning in 2013 and 2014. But, as is the typical argument against baseball, fans began to feel that the event was too slow, and the players were taking an incessant number of pitches.
The MLB responded by changing up the rules, and it led to a spectacular event. For the first time ever, baseball players went against the clock, and as a result fans not only saw increased excitement, but also output; 159 home runs were launched into the Cincinnati night compared to just 78 in 2014’s event at Target Field in Minnesota. As the clock wound down each round, you could feel the excitement increase in the stadium, even if you (like me) were just sitting on the couch at home. Add in the hometown hero Todd Frazier hitting a walk off home run, and this made for an all-time event.
The event was by no means perfect; the player going second won 6 of the 7 rounds last night, and that advantage should be addressed next year. But events like this are hugely important to Baseball’s rebirth.While the All-Star games in the NFL and NBA have become laughing stocks (the NFL recently considered eliminating their game, and the NBA dunk contest has lost its sizzle with its lack of star power), the MLB took the crown as best All-Star event, and must-see television. With a revamped rule set, and a star studded lineup of veterans and can’t miss prospects, the MLB took full advantage of its chance to shine, and perhaps recapture a generation of fans.