If you missed this year’s rendition of the Home Run Derby, the premier pre- MLB All-Star game event, then you missed one hell of a ride. Two rookies, Pete Alonso (Mets) and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. (Blue Jays), put on an absolute show, blasting home runs left and right and shattering previous derby records.
Of course, for the first time, the derby actually had a massive prize: a cool $1,000,000. Even to professional athletes, that’s a lot of cash.
However, because of baseball’s archaic rules that prevent rookies from getting paid big money until six years into the league, this year’s winner, Pete Alonso, only has a salary of $555,000 this year. His performance in the derby ended up earning him double what he will get paid for the rest of the season with the Mets – even though he is an All-Star and potential MVP candidate.
This begs an interesting question, that was originally discussed on the Effectively Wild Podcast: Could the home run derby survive as its own ‘sport’? After all, watching players blast home runs off pitches right down the middle during a timed event is completely unlike real baseball. The only similarity is the equipment and the field – both things that could be altered in a theoretical new league.
Who Would Participate?
Would people pay to see players participate in a home run derby on a regular basis? Hard to say. Clearly, a startup league would struggle to pull professional players from the major leagues into a new derby league. So the talent level probably wouldn’t be there right away. There are certainly plenty of recently retired players or players who didn’t make the major leagues – but who had serious home run power – who could probably excel in a sport dedicated exclusively to hitting dingers.
If the league could get guys like Jose Canseco, Adam Dunn, Chris Carter, David Wright, and the Barry Bonds types to come out of retirement to blast some home runs, perhaps fans would tune it on a semi-regular basis. And with a cash prize, it’s not impossible to think some of these guys would do it.
Other Home Run Derby Innovations
However, eventually, people would get bored watching the same event over and over, even if they were attached to the performers. But what about having a derby on a football field? Over a lake? In the Grand Canyon? These are pretty ridiculous ideas, but if enough fans showed up and cared about watching, maybe they could pull this off.
Fans have proven that the best part about sports is watching people hit or throw a ball as far as possible. The home run in baseball, the three-pointer in basketball, hail mary’s in football, long goals in soccer, whatever it is, humans tend to love their feats of strength.
A sport dedicated to the home run derby probably wouldn’t survive, but the concept is there if they found the right people and the right gimmicks to make it last without the MLB All-Star game.