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All-Star Week: HR Derby is a thing so this is a thing

I admit, I have outgrown Home Run Derby. I probably had outgrown it before the first All-Star Game version of it blasted off in 1985. That's how old I am.

The All-Star Game brings out the kid in me. The HR Derby cannot. It's possible that if they were doing HR Derby in 1977, I'd look at it more fondly than I do, but they didn't and I can't help the way I feel. This activity is a one-trick pony, pretty annoying and probably not for anyone who isn't a major leaguer or over the age of 12.

OK, let's just get it out of the way: it's terrible.

I don't like the gimmick, I don't like ESPN, I don't like Berman, I don't like the stupid "special uniforms" they make the players wear, I don't like the jocularity plastered all over the thing. It's one of those activities that's fun to do, but excruciating to view.

Sadly, it's probably never going away and one of the reasons I know this is because Topps makes cards of it. There have been HR Derby references in every Topps update set since at least 2005. I dug out a few cards -- most of them awful -- and decided to post the worst in my collection.

But just to be charitable -- because I'm doing this for the kids, you know -- I found a few HR Derby cards I didn't mind. We'll call those "the best," although we all know that "the best" would be to never acknowledge the HR Derby in a card set EVER.

All right, let's get on with the most appropriately awful:

6. Troy Glaus, 2006 Topps U&H

For whatever reason, the color yellow was stripped across many of the All-Star cards in 2005 and 2006 Topps. This automatically turns me off. Also, although the completist in me appreciates this, back then Topps featured a card of ever HR Derby participant with their HR total on the card. So, Troy Glaus, loser with one home run, you get your failure noted for all-time! AND, Topps numbered the cards in order from most to least. So, again, I appreciate this as a collector, but Troy Glaus probably wasn't thrilled with it at all.

5. Todd Frazier, 2014 Topps Update; Pedro Alvarez, 2013 Topps Update

My biggest argument for getting rid of HR Derby cards is the fact that players stopped wearing caps for this thing a few years ago. I don't want players without caps on my cards. My blog is filled with posts about this. If I wanted to collect cards of Dads Playing Softball In The Backyard, then, yes, fill up the set with these things. Otherwise: you're a major leaguer, they gave you a fancy exclusive cap when you became a major leaguer, wear it.

4. Ryan Howard, 2007 Topps Updates and Highlights

There is much about HR Derby that doesn't represent a regular major league game -- different jerseys, people wearing caps backward. In such disorienting times, it's best that there is something in the photo that tips you off that this is a baseball event. ... um, like a bat. There is no bat in this picture so Howard looks like he's drunkenly walking through a stadium filled with people and he has just spotted a pink elephant.

3. Bobby Abreu, 2005 Topps Updates and Highlights

Not a terrible card. Most of these are night cards, you know. Except for the yellow strip and the goofy uniform, no real problems.

The issue is that another card in the set is this:

In the newspaper business, we get hell for running the same story twice.

2. Michael Cuddyer, 2013 Topps Updates and Highlights

Whoever dressed up Cuddyer as a New York Met here did an excellent job of foreshadowing. But, of course, at this time, Cuddyer was a Colorado Rockie, which you can barely see from this photo. I'm happy that he's wearing a cap, I just wish it was a Rockies cap instead of whatever that thing is. As usual, this is about MLB trying to sell more merchandise. I don't need to be reminded of that on my cards.

1. Prince Fielder, 2013 Topps Update

Prince Fielder is one of the greats at HR Derby, a two-time winner. I'd really rather not have a close-up of his gut.

OK, now here are some "good" HR Derby cards. I'll be going through these a lot quicker because, come on, it's the HR Derby.

5. Albert Pujols, 2007 Topps Updates and Highlights

Albert Pujols looks like he was born to hit home runs. He looks like he was born to hit home runs in this photo. Good thing he's in Home Run Derby. Although these really are not home runs at all, they're all fake, kiddies, they don't count. Also, Chris Berman? He's actually a puppy-eating cyborg.

4. Ryan Howard, 2009 Topps Updates & Highlights

All HR Derby shots should be uppercut swings like this. I'm just going to pretend that Howard's uppercut swing knocked off his cap.

3. Chase Utley, 2008 Topps Updates and Highlights

I love this card a little more than I should. It's an Awesome Night Card and I do love horizontal swinging action. And, look, kids! Evidence that Chase Utley can hit!

2. David Ortiz, 2010 Topps Updates and Highlights

Red is for Red Sox. That is this card here. The only thing that would make it better is if Ortiz flipped his bat.

1. Robinson Cano, 2011 Topps Update

Cano properly reflects the mood of this event because he looks like a little kid accepting this trophy.

It's been raining in Cincinnati today and there was talk about canceling the HR Derby, and that tells you how important it is, because they'll never make it up. I suppose the HR Derby is all right for what it is, a three-to-four-hour noisy, confectionery-candied event that is forgotten the instant it's over. It's kind of like watching people at an amusement park even though you can't participate.

In other words: what's the point?

Yes, I know, the kids.


Zippy Zappy said…
Silly me, and here I thought kids moved on from baseball to something more fast paced and excited and better suited for their six second attention spans. Every kid I know did.
Commishbob said…
I couldn't possibly sit and listen to Berman for as long as I'm sure it takes. The unis are dumb but people are sheep and buy them. Who wants an A's jersey in red and black? Stupid.
Stubby said…
On this topic, we are in complete agreement. Well, not "complete" agreement. Thanks to the HR Derby and the other circus acts MLB has added to the event, I can't even watch the game anymore. (And, Topps, you aren't helping). The fact that they now use the game to determine home field advantage in the World Series just makes it that much worse. Pity. I used to love the All-Star game.
Anonymous said…
I've got to disagree with the sentiment here. I loved the All-Star game 30 years ago and I still love it now. I think the World Series thing, while maybe it's not the best thing for the World Series, it is the best thing for the All-Star game. Managers play to win now. Instead of picking A-Rod, Ned Yost takes guys like Brock Holt and created a true team with relievers. It had become a bit of a joke where guys didn't want to be there as much as they used to.

As for the HR Derby - I think it's great, and unlike the dunk contest - it's sustainable. We will always be interested in guys hitting home runs for show, and the fact that the game is a different park with different outfield lengths every year means that every one has an element of being unique. The dunk contest doesn't have that, and it becomes increasingly harder to wow the fans. I love the changes they made to time it and make it a playoff - the drama is much higher now. Of course I'm biased cuz my guy won yesterday :)

Finally - I completely get how some people aren't interested in the Derby. To each his own - I just happen to enjoy it. But the HR Derby and All-Star Game are not only different events - they are on different days. The existence of the former shouldn't impact one's ability to watch the latter.
night owl said…
Obviously, fans can watch whatever they want to watch, I'm certainly not suggesting they get rid of the HR Derby or that it hurts the All-Star Game. I still think it's about as "bubblegum" of an event as it gets -- it's not based on anything real, pitchers lobbing balls to hitters who hit balls over the fence for a "home run". Not only is there no significant consequence to this that anyone will remember, but I can't really appreciate the feat fully because I know it's batting practice pitches. If people can block that out of their head, more power to them, but the whole thing seems much too artificial to me and always has. (Joc Pederson was teased for being a "5 o'clock hitter" early in his career -- meaning he only hit in batting practice, but in HR Derby he was praised for doing just that, shows you how meaningful the whole thing is).

As for the game itself, it's too bad you weren't around for the '70s and early '80s, because the managers played to win then. I personally think it was the fans and media whining about "their guy" getting into the game and agents and other teams' coaches whining about "their pitcher" getting hurt that made managers more interested in satisfying hometown fans and agents than managing to win. Also, compromising the World Series for the sake of the All-Star Game is not something I'll ever support.
Anonymous said…
Yeah, should of clarified - I really meant more of the sentiment of the comments. I think the HR derby is something that some people remember, and some don't (which is something you could say about the World Series, too - though obviously on a different scale). I know without having to look it up that Griffey has won 3x, Fielder twice, and that Cespedes is the only B2B winner. Plus, I just think it's a fun event, no more no less.

I do remember an extra-inning game in the 80s where Dave Winfield played the whole game. I think you're probably right about the reason. Things like exhibitions tend to take a back seat as professional athletes make more and more above the average Ameican salary.

I agree that you generally wouldn't want to compromise the WS for the All-Star game - but I don't think home field really does so. Home Field is so overrated. Two Game 7's since they changed. The road team won last year. And there was no way the Rangers were winning the 2011 game 7 after their crushing loss in game 6. So it's relatively harmful in my opinion. And it's actually more fair than what they were doing before, which was just alternating.

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