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Can MLB Realistically Air Home Run Derby Now?

Due to COVID19, ESPN is planning to replace their Opening Day programming by re-airing the Home Run Derby from the past five seasons. With them being run in reverse, Mets fans get to see Pete Alonso winning the 2019 Home Run Derby in the 6:00 P.M rebroadcast, and they get the end the day watching Todd Frazier, then of the Cincinnati Reds, winning the 2015 Home Run Derby.

While this the Home Run Derby we all know and love (at least some of us), watching players like Yoenis Cespedes launch homers into the Citi Field stands under a bracket format is not in congruence with the original concept. In fact, the original Home Run Derby was quite different.

Under the original format, sluggers would face off against each other in a nine inning game. The game was very much akin to a baseball game with nine innings and three outs per inning. Under the construct of the game, anything not hit for a homer was an out, and if a batter did not swing at a strike, it was an out.

Re-watching those games/episodes, you’ll notice they were played at an empty Wrigley Field. No, not the Wrigley Field in Chicago, but the old one in Los Angeles. The venue was selected for a myriad of reasons including it being supposedly neutral to right and left-handed hitters.

In this series, we saw some of the greatest sluggers of all-time face off against once another. Perhaps, it should come as little surprise Hank Aaron had the best record in the show’s history. The only other two hitters with a winning record were Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, two Hall of Famers who are also members of the 500 home run club.

Conceptually, pulling off this version of the Home Run Derby could be accomplished with the outbreak of COVID19. As we know a pitcher stands 60’6″ away from the batter. The two batters can stay in their own dugouts, and they only come out after the other batter has cleared the playing surface.

In lieu of a catcher or umpire, we can just let balls go to the backstop, and we can let technology determine if it was a strike or ball. If nothing else, it would be a good test of the technology MLB wants to eventually introduce to the Major Leagues.

With the announcer up in the broadcast booth, there would be social distancing of much more than six feet between everyone. At least in theory, this makes the set-up of a Home Run Derby possible, at least conceptually. In reality, that may not be realistic, at least not yet.

Frankly, there is too much inter-personal contact necessary to set up the event. Someone is going to have to set up cameras, microphones, and handle the baseballs. There are many more things which would need to be done to allow this to happen, which, given the current state, would make this event impractical.

That’s at least right now. Hopefully, there will be a point where we will be able to have expanded testing efforts, which could permit individuals and players who have tested negative to have this event in an empty ballpark. Potentially, baseball could do this during the time period between people getting cleared on a widescale basis and everyone being able to return to work/baseball.

At this moment, it’s just an idea, but it may be a worthwhile idea to pursue. After all, the Home Run Derby is one of the more popular events of not just the All-Star festivities, but the entire season. If possible, it would give us a live sporting event until games can return.

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