Splash Down: It's Home Run Derby Time

Let's get this straight right from the first sentence: There's nothing "wrong" with the Home Run Derby.

Heck, we love the Home Run Derby. We're not the only ones, either. The whole country loves the Home Run Derby.

Check those ratings, friends. More people now watch the Home Run Derby every summer than watch your average division series game. For that matter, we'd bet more people now remember what unfolds in the Derby more vividly than they remember what happens in the All-Star Game itself. Think about it. Scary, isn't it?

So we're not here to fix the Home Run Derby. No need. It isn't really broken.

But that doesn't mean we can't make it even better, more fun and more watchable than it already is. So we're here to offer our invaluable guidance, absolutely free of charge -- via this handy-dandy list of Five Ways to Improve the Home Run Derby.

Some of these ideas are more serious than others. You'll probably have no trouble telling which are which. But in case you're not sure, here's this important announcement:

We're kicking off this piece with an idea we love, and one we've floated -- to massive acclaim -- to lots of baseball people for the past two years.

So we don't care if everybody on earth ignores the last four suggestions. We'll start with one we hope they'll think long and hard about:

1. Inject more drama into the finals

The issue: The Derby finals have become downright anticlimactic.

The solution: Inject a little ebb and flow with a back-and-forth "nine-inning" game between the two finalists.

If you think back on your favorite Derbies of yesteryear, we bet you'll notice there's one portion of the festivities you reminisce about least:

The finals.

Why? Because the way the finals are structured now, the ambiance has a distinct let's-get-this-thing-over-with-already aroma. And that's easily avoided.

It can be avoided by dumping the format of the first two rounds -- when each hitter gets 10 outs uninterrupted by anything other than an occasional gasp to digest some 514-foot tale-of-the-tape estimate.

That might be an OK way to go in the prelims. But it sucks all the intrigue out of the final.

If your first finalist hits, say, two home runs in his round, everybody in the park knows Contestant No. 2 is going to win. But if the first finalist erupts for, say, 14, we get the opposite mess -- when even Contestant No. 2 knows Contestant No. 1 has this Derby virtually locked up.

So here's a better idea:

Emulate the motif of the slam-dunk contest. Toss a little back-and-forth, mano-a-mano, you-do-your-thing-now-I'll-do-my thing competition into this mix.

Why give these guys all their swings in one burst? Let that second hitter answer before the score gets out of hand. How complicated is that? Just break the final into three "rounds" of three outs each. That'll do the trick.

Hitter No. 1 gets to bop all the homers he can hit before he makes his first three outs. Then it's Hitter No. 2's turn. Then they alternate, just like in a real game, until they've used up all nine outs. And if everything goes right, the finals might build to an actual crescendo as opposed to an excuse to sprint for the parking lot.

Everybody we've run this idea by has liked it. So if the proper HR Derby authorities feel the urge to steal it in time for use Monday night, we'll even drop our usual consulting fee.

2. Pack the field with stars

The issue: As cool and star-studded as the Derby normally is, many of the best sluggers still dodge it.

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