All-Star Week 2015 has come and gone in Cincinnati, and as usual there was some good and some bad. As we currently sit smack dab in the middle of the MLB All-Star Break, let’s review the week that was.
The Good: Home Run Derby
After 30 years of boring, glorified batting practice, the MLB has finally figured out how to effectively conduct business in regards to the Home Run Derby. When it was first announced that there would be a new, bracket-style format as well as clock integration to the contest, reception was lukewarm at best. While these sounded like great ideas, it seemed like there was truly no saving the Home Run Derby. Don’t get me wrong, there had been some truly amazing moments over the years, specifically Ken Griffey Jr. hitting the B&O Warehouse on the fly with a blast in 1993, Bobby Abreu usurping the much more prestigious competition ahead of him in 2005, Josh Hamilton raking at Yankee Stadium to the tune of 28 first-round homers in 2008, and finally Robinson Cano winning the Derby (with his father Jose pitching) over hated Red Sox rival Adrian Gonzalez in 2011. These events however, were too few and far between. That’s what made this year’s Home Run Derby so special. These memorable events by stars of the game were thrust forward from the first swing. For once, the Derby became something of a strategy game, and not just simple BP. Some hitters, like Anthony Rizzo and Joc Pederson, swung at everything, while others like Albert Pujols took their time to only swing at quality pitches. It should also be mentioned that the competition we saw on Monday had its rules altered even from the original rules thought up before weather intervened. Each round was now 4 minutes with no stoppages save for one 45-second timeout, and it worked to perfection. The original thought was to have 5 minute rounds with the final minute having stoppages between each swing. The showcase itself still lasted 2 and half hours, so there is no reason to further prolong the Derby by using the originally proposed rules next year and beyond.
For once, the guys seemed to be having fun as they partook in the exhibition. Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rizzo embraced after Donaldson beat Rizzo in the night’s first matchup, a harbinger of things to come. The camaraderie amongst the players was special. It didn’t take long for our first 470-foot blast, as Prince Fielder hit a few into orbit in round 2, but was still beaten by a super performance by hometown boy Todd Frazier. Frazier struggled out of the gate, but came back late to tie and beat Fielder within the final 15 seconds. This too would repeat itself in time. After Manny Machado was beaten soundly by Joc Pederson, Albert Pujols taught the kid Kris Bryant a lesson in home run hitting by launching a winning homer as time expired, a buzzer beater if you will. It was the most exhilarating first round of a Derby ever.
Round 2 was more of the same in terms of spectacular showings. After Josh Donaldson put up a beatable 9-spot, Todd Frazier won over the hearts of audiences everywhere again by once again tying and winning within the final 15 seconds. Frazier’s finals opponent was yet to be determined. Joc Pederson faltered a bit, only smacking 12 homers, a reachable goal for the slugger Pujols. Pujols himself was right on the verge of catching up to Pederson when his batting gloves got wet from sweat and his bottom hand slipped on each swing. Pederson barely crept into the final, but it was some final after all.
Pederson swung first, fresh off of a tiring 12-homer showing. He didn’t disappoint. Pederson launched the longest home run of the night, a 487-foot blast, in the first round. While he didn’t quite reach that lofty figure, he did hit more than a couple over 450 feet. When the dust had settled, Pederson had belted 14 home runs, the longest total by anyone on the night. The stage was set for the Toddfather, Todd Frazier, to strut his stuff in front of his home fans. Frazier followed his same blueprint, starting slow but then catching fire. As time expired, Frazier tied Pederson, a remarkable showing. It only took one pitch from brother Charlie to clinch the Home Run Derby Championship for Frazier. The excitement never waned throughout the evening, making for one memorable night for all who tuned in.
The Bad: MLB All-Star Game
Unfortunately, the All-Star Game itself had nowhere to go but down after the previous night’s stellar showing. And as the law of averages would predict, the quality went way down. Some of the ceremonies were great, while others were duds. Bringing Pete Rose back to Cincinnati for a nearly 90 second ovation? Good. Bringing the Avett Brothers, a band consisting of a banjo, a double bass, a cello, and violins among other bizarre instruments, to play before the game? Bad. Having a “Greatest Living Players” poll conducted and the winners presented on the field? Good. Having a 6-minute long introduction for the rosters? Bad. From there, the game began with a bang when consensus best-player-in-MLB Mike Trout hit a leadoff home run on his way to All-Star Game MVP honors. The National League responded in the National League way, small ball, and tied the game up at 1 after 2.
As expected though, the game itself dropped off in quality rather quickly. The problem with the All-Star Game is that few players actually care about being there. Some, like Trout, Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, and Andrew McCutchen, were hustling, throwing gas, or hitting home runs. The rest of the rosters though, were playing a typical exhibition game. Yes, there were some highlights, including Lorenzo Cain’s clutch double and Brian Dozier’s backbreaking home run, but there is no saving the All-Star Game from being an exhibition game. No matter how much value is placed on the game, whether it be home-field advantage in the World Series or some other concoction, the game will never be anything more than a pedestrian game. The game itself featured its lowest ratings in history, another indictment of the game. There were some good things in the All-Star Game, but the shortcomings overshadowed the good as the American League emerged victorious by a 6-3 figure.
The All-Star Game should be a celebration of the season that has transpired so far. And in that regard, it is just that. Baseball is renowned for its home runs and its 100 MPH fastballs, both of which were on full display over the last two days. But the fact that the game simply drags on with little action or enthusiasm is why this sport is on the downfall. All-Star Games are never entertaining, but if the MLB wants to cater the market to young people, they should get better performers, better broadcasters, and better gameplay. Maybe the All-Star Game should only be 7 innings, or it could be played with altered rules, or there could be a Young Guns vs. Veterans format instead of AL vs. NL. I’m just spitballing here, but if the MLB wants to cash in after the massive success that was the Home Run Derby, then maybe a shakeup could be needed to save the All-Star Week as a whole.