With the Home Run Derby upon us newspapers and television shows are predicting who will win tonight in St. Louis. To me, more important than who will win, is how this player will win. In recent years we have seen many players blow up in the first or second round of the Derby, only to lose in the finals to a less conspicuous but more consistent opponent. Certainly everyone remembers Mark McGwire at Fenway in ’99 and Josh Hamilton last summer at Yankee Stadium each setting a record for home runs in a round. However, most people would probably have trouble citing the actual winners of both tournaments (Justin Morneau won last year; frankly I’m too lazy to look up who won in 1999).
This upsets a lot of baseball fans. Hamilton was definitely the crowd favorite to win it last summer after belting 28 in the first-round. A lot of critics say that the Hamiltons and McGwires are just trying their hardest to put on a show for the fans, and that when they do, they should be justly rewarded. While I understand this argument, the Derbies that contain a player who hits the most homers in the first two rounds often have very mundane and anti-climactic finishes.
The final round is head-to-head, mano-y-mano. It is meant to be an exciting duel to the finish between the day’s two top sluggers. While McGwire and Hamilton were exciting in the first round, both of them tired out in the following rounds. Both players hit the fewest home runs in each round after their big blowout. Hamilton only got into the finals because of his cumulative score which included his first-round total. Then he disappointed all of the fans cheering for him when he hit only three home runs in the final-round. McGwire didn’t even make it to the final round in ’99.
So is there something to be said for saving your energy for the finals? Absolutely! While the first rounds incorporate more players, the final-round, as in all sports, is supposed to be more exciting. When you watch Wimbledon each year, you want the highlight to be that epic five-set final, like the one between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick. I am sick of watching a Home Run Derby final involving one mediocre slugger beat the fan favorite who unfortunately, sprinted the first lap of the proverbial mile.
If I am a player who wants to win the Home Run Derby and put on a show for the fans I would pace myself, as I would if I were running a mile race.
Ideally, the Home Run Derby should be a sprint; all sluggers hitting as many dingers as possible in all rounds. However this has not proven to be how the event plays out. A player who hits a lot of homers in the first round usually gets tired both physically and mentally, and does not produce later on. So I think that players should hit mediocre amounts of home runs in the first couple of rounds and then light up the scoreboard in the finals. This way each player can establish a groove without tiring himself out. Obviously each player still has to ensure that he makes it to the next round, this is where the competition ensues.
I am in no way suggesting that a player dog it early on so that we see a pathetic first two rounds. Just that he pace himself as if he was running a mile. Jog meaningfully for 3.5 laps and then sprint until the finish.