The Major League Baseball Home Run Derby is one of the most exciting spectacles of skill and power in sports today. However, its popularity may be waning across the league with an increasing number of players choosing to skip the event.
Generally speaking, skills competitions across all major sports are failing to attract viewers on an annual basis. The NHL skills competition has become an exhibition of saucer passes and skating, which might as well be the live television equivalent of taking an Ambien. Meanwhile, the NBA Slam Dunk competition has become a relic of a bygone era which has survived mostly due to nostalgia, as well as fans desperately clinging to the pipe dream of LeBron James participating in the event one day. It is barely even worth mentioning how lame the NFL Pro Bowl has become, or as it should be called, the NFL, “Everyone Is Hurt At The End of a Long Season and Nobody Wants To Play In It” Bowl.
That being said the Home Run Derby was perhaps the only type of skills competition that could still captivate an audience. From new talent emerging every year, to new ballparks being put on display, to the introduction of a time limit the derby maintained a sense of variety that saved it from becoming mundane and routine. However, as it stands right now, MLB is having a hard time finding players to sign up for the event.
According to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, the league has been unable to receive any formal commitment from some of its biggest stars. The most coveted star for the derby is, without doubt, Bryce Harper. With the derby taking place in D.C. the league would love nothing more than for the Nationals’ biggest star to lead the field. Unfortunately, Harper has yet to commit one way or the other about joining in the event, and given the horrible slump he’s currently in the odds of him choosing to participate are becoming slimmer by the day.
Harper is batting a ghastly .148 in the month of June which was preceded by the lackluster .221 average he sported in the month of May. The Home Run Derby is a physically exhausting event, so the chances that a slumping player would voluntarily choose to go through such a demanding exercise are highly unlikely.With many superstar players choosing to sit out, the @MLB home run derby is in major trouble. @ColouroftheIris explains.Click To Tweet
Giancarlo Stanton is another name that has been batted about as a player whom MLB would like to see participate in the Derby. Stanton chose to be a part of the event last season, but that was mostly due to it being hosted by the Miami Marlins, whom Stanton played for at the time. Now, as a member of the playoff hopeful New York Yankees, Stanton might be less motivated to participate to save his strength for a potential postseason run with his new team.
Stanton’s teammate and reigning Home Run Derby champion, Aaron Judge, is also looking like a no-go for the event. Judge indicated before the season started that he will likely skip the derby going forward. Judge was hampered by shoulder issues during the second half of last season, which lends credence to his unwillingness to go through the event a year later.
Two more American League sluggers whom have reportedly turned down the invitation to the derby are the Boston Red Sox’ Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. When asked earlier this season by Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe, Betts replied with the following:
“Hell no,” Betts said Wednesday before the Red Sox played the Tampa Bay Rays. “I don’t hit home runs in BP. Can you imagine me going against Aaron Judge?”
Martinez, reaching a bewildering new level of pettiness, is passing on the event because he is still upset about being overlooked for it back in 2015.
“MLB didn’t want me. I figured I’d have the option of doing it and they said no. They had other guys they wanted, all these young guys,” Martinez said. “I was like, ‘Forget it. I’ll never do it.’ ”
It has become clear that the physical exhaustion resulting from the Home Run Derby has deterred many players from wanting to participate in the event. There are still several players with big power numbers that Major League Baseball can reach out to, such as Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman, and Nelson Cruz. However, it would not come as a shock to hear more and more players say, “no” and choose to save their shoulders for the second half of what is already an incredibly long season.
The Home Run Derby is still one of the most revered competitions in sports, so there is little doubt that the field will eventually come into form in the coming weeks. However, much like the NBA Dunk Contest, it has become an event that caters more to younger, fresher talent rather than established veterans.