Back and Forth: the Pitcher’s Home Run Derby

 

Pick a side

Editor’s Note: Welcome to a new weekend feature here at ChinMusicPod.com, brought to you by Brendan Murray and Tim Culverhouse. Each weekend, the boys will dive into a controversial topic or idea in sports and go back and forth. Enjoy.

From: Brendan Murray

To: Tim Culverhouse

Subject: Pitchers’ Home Run Derby

Tim,

This week, we got a weird, and perhaps kind of wonderful, idea from the birthplace of such things, San Francisco, California.

Giants Starter Madison Bumgarner, who can admittedly swing the lumber pretty well, wants to participate in the Home Run Derby, but Bruce Bochy won’t let him. That gave birth to an idea for an entirely new All-Star event, the Pitchers’ Home Run Derby.

It’s a simple enough concept, giving guys who usually get pinch-hit for a chance to show off their athleticism. I even liked the idea at first. But the more I thought about it, the more the old baseball curmudgeon in me came out. Now, I really think it’s a dumb idea.

Sure, at first glance, it sounds great. There are few things better in the sport than seeing a pitcher take his counterpart over the fence, and an event devoted to that kind of activity should be pretty fun, right?

Wrong. This event completely misses what is so great about home runs hit by pitchers, and it would probably be pretty damn boring to watch.

The reason those long balls are so entertaining is because they are so unexpected. Bartolo Colon’s home run was amazing and will live on as one of the best moments from this season. But it was only so great because no one could have expected it or seen it coming.

The same goes for almost any round-tripper from a pitcher. Even the ones from throwers who are also known as good hitters. Sure, any homerun in baseball is a highlight, as is every goal in hockey and touchdown in football. But how much better is it when a goalie puts one in from the other end of the rink, or when a big ol’ lineman rumbles across the endzone?

That’s what pitcher home runs are. An anomaly, a blue moon, a double rainbow. Something that spices up the long slog of the baseball season and brings some levity in the form of teammate reactions and opposing pitcher embarrassment.

Put them all in one competition where they just try to hit moonshots, and the element of surprise vanishes. All we’re left with is some average-to-below-average hitters trying to impress during batting practice.

But Tim, I have a feeling you’ll disagree with me. You love gimmicks, and if you agreed, there would be no point to this post. Try to persuade me….

bumgarner.jpg

From: Tim Culverhouse

To: Brendan Murray

Subject: RE: Brendan is Dumb

I think Bryce Harper said it best.

“Let’s make baseball fun again.”

All summer long, baseball fans (who aren’t getting any younger) are subject to 162 3-plus hour long games, with offensive numbers dwindling and pitching changes rising.

The Midsummer Classic is a good way to spotlight the best and the brightest in the sport, and quite frankly, the Home Run Derby is losing its luster. The last really good HRD was in 1999, when all the steroided-out guys like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were hitting balls onto the Mass. Turnpike at Fenway. Outside of Josh Hamilton’s single-round bonanza (he didn’t win that year, remember) the HRD has become nothing more than guys hitting dingers into the second deck of a cavernous stadium.

You know what’s more exciting than that? Guys hitting the ball literally out of a fucking stadium. And since Petco is pretty much the worst place you can have a Home Run Derby, that won’t happen. Sure, seeing someone hit one onto the hill or up on the top floor of the warehouse is neat, the star-appeal and moonshot capability of homers from yesteryear has dwindled.

Another part of ASG festivities is the Celebrity Softball Game. Yawn. We have to deal with Chris Berman SCREAMING when a guy hits a 333’ homer that just clears the fence, and the Celebrity game is about as unwatchable as the Pro Bowl. So, let’s replace it with a Pitcher’s Home Run Derby.

Come on, you don’t want to see Bartolo  try to hit another homer?

Or how about the two guys you mention, who are cavemen-like strong, just take 10 hacks each and see what happens? Including pitchers in the Home Run Derby wouldn’t work, since there’s no shot they win, but having a separate Derby with just pitchers (and maybe aluminum bats?) would be pretty damn exciting. Take two from each league, or four volunteers and just go to town.

Baseball is literally dying for something exciting. The two fights we’ve seen this year, Manny Machado vs. Yordano Ventura and Jose Bautista vs. Roughned Odor created the most buzz for the sport so far this season.

Want to get another jolt? Try this.

It would still be exciting to see these guys who normally can’t get it out of the infield swing for the fences. At the very least, you would be able to market these pitchers as athletes, and not just someone who performs every five days.

You must be convinced by now…

colon.jpg

From: Brendan Murray

To: Tim Culverhouse

Subject: I’m dumb

Tim, this is working out brilliantly. You already made my argument for me. “The last good HRD was in 1999,” you wrote, “when all the steroided-out guys like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were hitting balls onto the Mass. Turnpike at Fenway.”

I couldn’t agree more! Each year the Derby is completely underwhelming. Doesn’t matter if Josh Hamilton goes nuclear in the early rounds, doesn’t matter if they change up the format. The whole event is a snooze-fest masquerading as prime-time programing. Each year, I get excited for the HRD, find it fun for maybe the first five or 10 minutes, then quickly get bored.

And that’s exactly why we don’t need another home run derby.

Think about it logically for me, Tim (a difficult request, I know, but try your best.) We both agree the home run derby is borderline unwatchable as it is. And that’s with some of the best hitters in the world.

Now, imagine it with not only hitters inferior to those we are used to, but inferior even to most big league players. Sure, pitchers are professional athletes who are around the game constantly. But that doesn’t seem to help batting averages much.

I think the central problem with the HRD is this: it’s glorified batting practice. Baseball fans don’t need the Home Run Derby in their lives anymore. We can pull up the best swings from the best power hitters at the click of a mouse.

Or, if you want to know what it’s like to watch a major league hitter crush some meatballs over the fence, you can just, you know, go to a game early and catch batting practice. It’s the same exact event, only there are no kids in the outfield and no special prizes for hitting targets. Hell, plenty of teams broadcast BP now, either online via a live stream or through some type of pre-game show. So you can essentially watch the players on your favorite team, and the ones they’re facing, participate in the Derby 162 times a year.

I don’t want to watch the best in the game practice, so why would I want to watch guys worse than them? I don’t go down to my local links every weekend to watch 10 handicaps putter around the course. Compared to the likes of Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Hamilton, that’s all that Colon, Bumgarner and their fellow pitchers are.

Just some average hitters taking practice swings. Who wants to watch that?

arrieta.jpg

From: Tim Culverhouse

To: Brendan Murray

Subject: You’re still dumb

Ah, and here we are again. Using my words against me, quite a strategy Mr. Murray. While sure you can twist them however you wish (well done), I want to revisit a point you made in your original email, and turn your words back against you.

“The reason those long balls are so entertaining is because they are so unexpected. Bartolo Colon’s home run was amazing and will live on as one of the best moments from this season. But it was only so great because no one could have expected it or seen it coming.”

Let’s dive deeper into this, and also use this quote from your last response for my argument.

“I think the central problem with the HRD is this: it’s glorified batting practice.”

I’m not taking this point away from you, because in it’s most basic form, the Home Run Derby is batting practice. But, if you’ve ever been to BP, most players will crush the ball over the field in a power-showcasing bonanza. It’s great to watch, and then the game comes along and you forget about that.

However, why is it that 20 different sluggers since 1985 (when the modern Home Run Derby came into fruition) have gone homerless in the event? These same guys would blast homers to the moon in BP, but they tightened up in the Derby and they left with a goose egg. So while yes it is batting practice, doing so in front of 45,000-plus people with cameras all over the place, when you’re trying to hit home runs is a different animal.

And this leads into the next part of my rebuttal. You’re expecting these power hitters to hit home runs. But sometimes, they don’t. There’s still a likelihood that some bomber leaves with zero dingers after the first round and gets booed off the field (which is also awesome to see). You love seeing the unexpected, and pitchers getting into a Derby and subsequently hitting some balls over the walls would still be unexpected and much more interesting to watch then a couple of strong sluggers (but probably not the best in the game) go at it.

In the video you shared in your first email, you included Bumgarner blasting shots into Big Mac Land at Busch Stadium. Did you expect that? I sure as hell didn’t. Even if he were to hit two longballs in a HRD, it would still be unexpected, and fans would be pulling for him to keep it up. Imagine if he or Arrietta or some other stud pitcher was blasting off in this event and moved on or kept it close with a power hitter. How unexpectedly awesome would that be?

That’s why this is an idea that shouldn’t go away, and should be worked into this year’s All-Star Game festivities. Spice it up baseball, and don’t wax poetically about the national pastime and all that garbage. Let’s see something different, and have pitchers go yard.

 

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