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MLB

MLB’s Traveling Home Run Derby Is Very Dumb, Possibly Fun

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Major League Baseball missed a platinum programming opportunity when, instead of delivering us Home Run Derby X—a traveling road show of home run derbies produced by people you either never heard of, knew only if you’re into amateur baseball and softball, or knew only if you are Comrade Roth—they just showed the sales pitch. That would have been enough entertainment for any baseball fan, as soon as you envision Rob Manfred sitting in a room with his eyelids stapled open while the concept was explained.

If in fact it can be.

See, baseball is trying to become more relevant to the kids in its own hamfisted idioms, and the best way to do that is to steer kids toward things that are only tangentially baseball. So sure, give the Home Run Derby another try, a crusty 62-year-old idea that was reinflated in people’s interests this last year only because Shohei Ohtani is a unicorn you dare not miss.

The idea as reinvented is to take four MLB “legends” (their term, not ours), Johnny Gomes, Geovany Soto, Adrian Gonzalez, and Nick Swisher, and form teams representing the scandalously underexposed Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, and Guardians … err, Cubs. Then you sign on “superstars” (their term, not ours) from the softball and women’s baseball fields: Paige Halstead, Erika Piancastelli, Ashton Lansdell and Alex Hugo (who is not, in case you were wondering, the burned-out Marseille cop in the eponymous French TV series).

OK, maybe there’s a germ of something here, though it still needs incubation. So the idea people (or “loons,” as they might also be known) then decided that was too small a net and brought in “wild cards” who are actually described as “influential content creators,” which is modern jargon for either “ICCs” or “people you would seriously consider setting yourself on fire to avoid.” These are BBC sports presenter Liv Cooke, FIFA YouTuber Spencer Owen, Mexican gymnast Daniel Corral, and South Korean speedskater Kwak Yoon-Gy.

And yet there’s more: a “rookies” field comprised of players from the men’s development system who aren’t quite good enough to have their service time manipulated and therefore known only to Baseball America subscribers.

And then, because this isn’t enough of a throw-it-at-the-wall-to-see-if-anything-sticks mess, they’re going to take this traveling whatsit to London in July, Seoul in September, and Mexico City in October, because of the enormous demand for whatever the hell this is.

Now we are not the target audience here, and that’s fine. Baseball has to figure out where it fits in the post-apocalyptic world we are creating, so there is ostensibly no bad idea. But this does come close because it is just a twitchy version of Scattergories in which everyone in the pitch room blurted out ideas, they were all dutifully written down, and then in a fundamental error they were all retained, jammed into a sausage casing, and sold as potential entertainment to a disinterested planet. Or, if you think this is too harsh an assessment, maybe you can share with us the last time you said, “You know what the Home Run Derby needs? More speedskaters.”

One suspects these people would have turned the concept into a field goal kicking contest and pitched it to the NFL if baseball wasn’t interested, or a royal rumble if the target buyer was Vince McMahon. Maybe it could have been tweaked to acquire a rodeo crowd, or maybe even F1; most of them can drive as far as we know.

But hey, people get told “no” often enough as it is, so let’s have this too—an aging idea that is bordering on retirement with former players picking up a check, ICCs whose work is ultra niche at best, and (the most legitimate part, frankly) women who are active in the actual sport being displayed, and then turn it into a bizarre slow-motion travelogue. It sounds like it could be absolutely ghastly, but it is programming of a sort, and maybe some viewers would give it a try. Once. After all, the newness of seeing a self-described YouTuber muscle up on a batting practice changeup can only last so long until you return to your regularly scheduled programming: the Actors In Tuxedos Punching Each Other Skills Competition.