The MLB recently announced a number of changes to the format for the HR Derby possibly in an attempt to regain some viewership for the event, which had its lowest rating last year since 1997. That could be due to the fact that the event was delayed an hour due to rain, as the previous few seasons had seen an increase in viewership, but it could also mean that the MLB needs to change something. In my opinion the best thing new commissioner Rob Manfred could do is create an All-Star Skills Competition similar to the one that the NHL holds every season. The NHL version features a bunch of different competitions including a Shootout Contest where players try to perform trick shots in order to score one-on-one against the goalie. I think that baseball needs this fun competition type of event and I think both casual and devoted fans would tune in to watch the event. I also have a couple of events that Commissioner Manfred should consider.
Throwing Strength/Accuracy (OF/IF)
This could be two separate events with the participants most likely being right fielders and shortstops. The shortstops would have groundballs hit one right after the other to various spots around the infield. They would then have to throw an accurate ball over to first. There could be an actual first baseman or a target with various point totals for the areas hit on the target. A throw to chest height would obviously be the most points.
Watching Andrelton Simmons unleash a missile from deep in the hole and drilling a target in the chest would make this all worth it. For the outfielders they could also have five throws from different spots throughout right field with two of these throws going to third and three going to the plate. It is not often that fans get to watch some of the strongest arms in the game as teams often do not run on these guys and if this was a thing back in the day watching Vladimir Guerrero or Bo Jackson let one fly would be something I think all baseball fans would’ve tuned in for.
Catchers have a number of responsibilities including framing pitches and calling a game, but its hard to argue that the biggest impact they can have is their ability to block a ball and throw out runners. A competition for catchers could involve them receiving multiple pitches, half over the plate and half in the dirt. The competition could be timed and on every pitch they receive they have to make an accurate throw to either second or third with time penalties for errant throws. The next pitch would be delivered immediately after the previous one. In today’s game it’s hard to imagine Yadier Molina not dominating this one.
This is one that I do not think would get as much fanfare and support. Watching a guy hit a line drive the other way over the second baseman’s head is just not as fun or impressive as watching Giancarlo Stanton try to hit a ball to the moon. You’ve got to have something for everyone, though, and for the more advanced fan of this game this would be a treat.
Players could get a certain number of swings, ten for example, and have to hit them to different parts of the field on command. For example, a player could be tasked with hitting a line-drive the other way followed immediately by having to pull a grounder down the line. There would be point values associated with the various tasks and there could even be targets throughout the field for bonus points. There was once something very similar to this in the All-Star Game festivities but it was target based hitting which is much more difficult than this type of contest. Hitting to all fields is losing its place in the game but this would celebrate the players who do it the best.
I would argue that anyone who has played the game of baseball has taken groundballs in the middle infield and turned double plays. It is hard to explain and pinpoint exactly why, but there is just something unbelievably fun about turning two. Often times this simple act evolves into glove-flips and other plays with a little bit of flare. In the shootout contest and even dunk contest mold the MLB should start a double play contest where you try to turn the nicest double play. There would be a panel of judges who score the plays on speed, fluidity, and overall swag. This would likely be the most difficult to adopt because many baseball purists will likely have an issue with praising the over the top swag culture of the game nowadays, but I really just want to see the elaborate show Brandon Phillips would put on.
These are just a couple of ideas for the various types of contests the MLB could adopt in order to get even more fan engagement with their All-Star Weekend festivities. These do not need to be at the expense of the HR Derby, which could be the culminating contest likely scaled down a bit to account for the extra competitions. The increased number of competitions will allow more players to be involved with the All-Star Weekend, allowing fans more chances to see their favorite players. This format would increase the fan interest and therefore increase overall viewership of the event.