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It happens to me every year: I go into the Home Run Derby thinking, “Aw, this will be a fun little diversion!” And every year, I get precisely the same sick, weak feeling, like I’ve been kicked in the gonads. Wait a minute, I realize. This really sucks.
And the thing is, it sucks on so many different levels: A wide, glaring spectrum of suckage. For one thing, and I cannot stress this enough, the Home Run Derby is not even a baseball game, yet you still have to suffer through Joe Morgan speaking out loud. I can understand gutting it out for a Sunday night game, because the excellent Jon Miller is there to water down his awfulness. Nor do I wish to give the impression that I think Mr. Morgan is a bad human being: He is, after all, a second baseman, the position I played with somewhat less distinction, and we middle infielders stick together. It’s just that, as a color commentator, his witlessness and inanity are bywords.
Speaking of witlessness and inanity, guess who else growls and grunts in your ear throughout the Home Run Derby? That’s right, the Swami — why he has this title, I cannot care enough to actually look up — himself, Chris Berman, whose semi-retirement has clearly been treating his digestion better than his brain.
A pub quiz team in Our House, the bar where I watched this particular iteration of the Home Run Derby, was quick to dub themselves “Chris Berman likes it up the back back back back door.” Needless to say, I snorted with laughter so violently that I almost spewed beer all over my laptop. (Also, Our House is a very nice place and you should go there and eat their food and drink their beer, and I am certainly not saying this because I’m hoping for some kind of freebie from them.)
In fairness to Messrs. Berman and Morgan, they really don’t have a lot to work with — “He hit it out!” “He didn’t hit it out!” “Wouldn’t it be wild to see one of those mowed outfield patterns in somebody’s pubic hair?” Obviously, they’ve got to break up the flow with a lot of extraneous bilge, and they do so with great frequency. Unfortunately, they mostly accomplish this by interviewing the participants, who don’t have much do say beyond “I hit it out,” “I didn’t hit it out,” and “Yes, it would be wild to see that mowed outfield replicated in pube form.”
This year, ESPN knocked it up a notch by adding glowing trails to the ball as it traversed the skies of St. Louis. You know, like that thing that worked so well for hockey. How the hell does that work, anyway? Do they just have some sharp-eyed clever person with a light pencil following the ball/puck around on a monitor? I guess it works for something as silly as the Home Run Derby, but if they put it in actual baseball games, I’m going to hide poisonous spiders in Chris Berman’s car.
Oh, you want to know what actually happened? Didn’t want to sit through it, did you? After all, no Red Sox were involved. Fine, Prince Fielder’s big fat ass hit about eighty-seven home runs to win the thing over the AL’s Nelson Cruz in the final round. On the way, he did cause some minor excitement by hitting one 503 feet according to ESPN, which even I have to admit was pretty cool. Hometown hero and presumptive favorite Albert Pujols scraped into the semi-finals by virtue of a tie-breaking “swing-off” — which sounds to my jaundiced ear like archaic British slang for masturbation — where he goes out with a whimper. Brandon Inge failed to hit any home runs in the Home Run Derby, which is funny, though the same feat was accomplished by Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza (twice!).
Other than that, it was pretty much a question of not letting the commentary irritate me into purchasing whiskey, which would have angried up my blood even further and made efficient note-taking impossible. Since I stayed quite sober for this Home Run Derby — which I don’t necessarily recommend to SoB readers — I feel good-natured enough to point out an important caveat to this anti-Derby diatribe: I bet it’s awesome if you’re actually there. Most of what makes it boring is the way ESPN dolls it up and precedes it with performances by American Idol winners. It’s just so viscerally commercialized, and it makes for an uncomfortable reminder of how close actual sports are to being this hoed-out nowadays.