Friday, July 12, 2013

On Pedro, the Home Run Derby, and why you need to sit down and shut up

You know what’s a great movie? Napoleon Dynamite. Great movie. Non-stop laughs.
Except, no. It’s not. When you’re watching it, Napoleon Dynamite feels like it’s five hours long, and not once is it laugh-out-loud funny. When you look back on it and stew on it and think about it, maybe it strikes you as clever. But generally, it’s way more enjoyable when you’re not actually watching it.
The home run derby is no different.
Once every five to seven years, someone goes on an absolute tear in the derby. Mark McGwire did it in ’99 at Fenway. Josh Hamilton did it a few years ago. But apart from those few memorable performances, the derby isn’t just unmemorable, it’s numbingly dull television.
Most golf tournaments are better produced for TV than is the home run derby. In fact, golf on TV can be riveting. The derby seldom is.
On top of that, it’s a completely meaningless exhibition activity that has no bearing on anything at all. It’s not even the biggest, most entertaining or important exhibition that takes place during the All-Star festivities. The game itself still takes center stage, even more now since baseball stupidly decided to assign added meaning to it following that debacle in Milwaukee.
Winning the home run derby doesn't go on a player’s resume. It’s not mentioned as pertinent criteria in MVP discussions or Hall of Fame voting. Hell, it doesn’t even have any bearing on who finishes the season with the most home runs. It’s a cheese-filled game show that simply encourages Chris Berman to become an even more cartoonish, obnoxious version himself, past the point anyone believes it realistically possible.
It’s the most meaningless — or least meaningful — part of the baseball season, and while it can provide the occasional fun moments, its entertainment value often doesn’t measure up to the Legends & Celebrities softball game which takes place earlier in the day.
(Rollie Fingers’s 2-2 pitch to Kate Upton is grounded to shortstop, where it’s scooped up by Dean Cain who flips the ball to Maya Rudolph covering second to get Kid Rock out on a fielder’s choice, ending the inning. That, ladies and gents, is entertainment.)
But just like the NBA clings to the Slam Dunk Contest despite not being able to draw any of its premiere players, baseball rolls out the home run derby year after year, occasionally tinkering with the format, but never really doing anything to make the event more interesting.
So when Pittsburgh’s sporting public — media included — spends the better part of a week slamming Mets third baseman David Wright for not selecting Pedro Alvarez to the National League’s team for the derby — an injustice Pirates’ broadcasters speak of like some might the execution of an innocent man — it comes off as both shortsighted and petty.
I got into a discussion about this on Twitter earlier today, and someone made the argument that Alvarez being selected for the derby would be a “point of civic pride.
For anyone who’s followed a team that’s been nothing short of a punchline the last two decades to think getting a player into the home run derby is something on which to hang one’s hat is utterly ridiculous.
Neither Pittsburgh nor the Pirates need such trivial exposure. Baseball fans, no matter how casual, don’t need to be made aware that the Pirates have a guy who is capable of hitting a lot of home runs.
If it’s a matter of recognition or civic pride, look at the team Alvarez plays for. The Pirates are 54-36, and just a game out of first place in the NL Central. They’re sending more representatives to the All-Star game than they have in any season among at least the last 30.
This is a team that, while not without its faults, has after 20 years finally forced its way back into a pennant race. That’s an important table to be at. To complain with the vitriol over Alvarez’s initial omission from the derby squad with which Pittsburgh has is to spend 20 years aching to get back to that table, then throw a tantrum over the seating arrangement.
You’re in the game. You’re relevant. Everyone’s talking about it. You’ve been invited to the party!
Oh, but they’re not serving the kind of olives you like? Well then, you might as well just go home.
Dejan Kovacevic’s Friday column quite correctly slaps these people across the face for vilifying NL derby captain David Wright for not initially selecting Pedro to the team, and it’s worth a read.
But where DK cites how unbelievably stupid it is to burn David Wright in effigy when the Mets come to town this weekend, as so many people seemed willing if not eager to do, I’m approaching this from an entirely different direction.
David Wright is a nice guy who gives all kinds of money to charity and visits sick kids in the hospital so much that they’re begging him to just go home?
Yeah, I don’t care. It’s great that he does so much nice community work, and that he’s such a well-liked guy. Good for him. It doesn't matter and I don’t care.
The home run derby is stupid. The process by which its participants are chosen is stupid. And the notion that anyone — least of all a player and most of all any fan — should take it personally to the point where they feel cheated is the kind of short-sighted, selfish behavior that makes fans of teams like Boston, New York and Philadelphia so easy to abhor.
We’ve been back at the party for a whole three months. Let’s not wear out our welcome so soon, shall we?


Unknown said...

Except golf is not a sport, its a game of concentration, and watching paint dry is as exciting. And I likec tonplay golf!

Matt said...

Nice to see we're taking the discussion to the next level.