Column: Back, back, back away from the Home Run Derby

WASHINGTON — Baseball’s my favorite sport. I grew up pitching and playing in the middle infield, so I appreciate close, low-scoring, well-played games as much as anyone. But I also love home runs.

It’s terrific fun to watch the biggest sluggers in our game launch baseballs into the upper reaches of stadiums barely big enough to hold their mammoth drives. As such, the Home Run Derby should be must-watch television. But it’s not. It’s awful, and I’m done with it. Here’s why you should be, too.

If you want to see the biggest home runs hit by the biggest home run hitters, all you have to do is go online. We can watch highlights anytime we want. Before the advent of MLB.TV, it was impossible to see the biggest sluggers from across the game play every day. Sure, you might catch a highlight here or there on SportsCenter, but now a quick trip to allows us to instantly pull up any highlight from any player we want.

Want to see the longest home run of the year so far? Here you go.

Well, technically it’s tied with this one.

Notice, of course, that those were both hit by Giancarlo Stanton, the Major League home run leader, who won’t be in this year’s event. Neither will budding superstar Bryce Harper, nor Yoenis Cespedes, the two-time defending HR Derby champion.

Which is another big problem.

What, exactly, is the point of the competition, if arguably the three most exciting home run hitters in the game aren’t taking part?

Sure, there are some big power guys competing, but even with new rule changes in place, the early rounds will still lack drama. The players are always all smiles, handing each other towels and Gatorade, taking the bite out of the competition.

Want to make the players care about competing in and winning the Home Run Derby? Put some money on the line.

Not just, say, $50,000 for the winner, but something for the leading hitter in each round. Toss in $1,000 for every “money ball,” too.

Sure, these are well-paid athletes, but don’t think that bonus cash wouldn’t make a difference in the way they approach the event, especially for young players like Joc Pederson and Kris Bryant on rookie minimum contracts.

Of course, we all know the biggest issue with the Home Run Derby. It can’t be fixed by shortening the lags in action, or adding incentives. It can only be remedied by removing the man that drags the entire proceeding into the mud.

There may be a new format this year, but there will still be Chris Berman mumbling, bumbling and stumbling his way through his treasure chest of tropes and clichés that lost any glimmer of luster they may have had a decade ago. By the end — or, likely, well before — you will once again be reminded that he is the worst part of the whole affair, and wonder, possibly aloud, why he hasn’t been replaced yet.

The answer can only be the ratings, or that he’s got something truly awful on some high-ranking Bristol executive. It’s fair to assume the former, as the event still draws over 5 million viewers annually. Of course, last year’s 5.4 million mark was well off 2013’s 6.7 million, itself down from 2012’s 6.9 million. So perhaps the populace is wising up and doing more than just hitting the mute button.

Hopefully so. After all, the All-Star Game itself has trended up in viewership over the same time period (10.9, 11.0, 11.3). With your help, the trend will continue even more so this year, at which point perhaps ESPN will take care of the real issue.

Until then, back, back, back away from your TV and enjoy your night off from baseball. There are still 70-some-odd regular season games left with October to follow. Save your energy for something that deserves it.

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