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.
The solution: Don't take no for an answer (or at least make it worth their while).
The script for this year's Derby seemed so obvious. You have the Derby in San Francisco. You have a star from San Francisco (perhaps you've heard of him) about to break the most momentous record in sports. So you don't exactly need to be a descendant of Willie Mays to know this Derby and that star were meant for each other.
And we don't care how you feel about Barry Bonds, either. This is his park. That's his kayak fleet out there. These are his people. This is awesome baseball theater just waiting to happen.
Except it won't, of course.
The Man This Derby Was Built For blew it off with a simple: "Nope." With a dismissive, too-old-for-this-stuff excuse. With a lame, "It's-too-long … too-much-sitting-around" song and dance everybody knows is just a cover for: "I've got a party with Jay-Z I've got to get to, dudes."
Well, that just can't happen.
America should be able to get the Home Run Derby field it deserves. And we see all kinds of ways to accomplish that, too.
First suggestion: If we can let fans vote for the All-Star starters, why not let them vote for the Derby field, too -- with this proviso: If you're elected, you must compete.
Second suggestion: Expand the Derby field to non-All-Stars. If America wants to see Adam Dunn or Gary Sheffield or Jimmy Rollins or Josh Hamilton, why the heck not? Give the people what they want. Ryan Howard was invited to defend his Derby title this year, and he's not on the All-Star team. So the precedent is already out there.
Third suggestion: One longtime baseball man we surveyed says, "Throw some money at these guys. Give them 25 grand, and they'll all do it. And have a cash prize if you win. Sweeten the pot. Have a sponsor. It's not that hard." And he's right. It's not.
Fourth suggestion: Just as there's money in it for these hitters if they say yes, there ought to be fines if they say no. And if you're not in traction, in surgery or on the disabled list, you'd better supply a notarized letter from your orthopedist.
Fifth suggestion: Barry's right about one thing. Shorten it. Which reminds us that it's time to move ahead to Suggestion Numero …
3. Shorten it (Hmmm, is there an echo in here?)
The issue: This Derby takes toooooooo daaaaaaarneddddd looooongggggg.
The solution: Doesn't matter. Whatever it takes. Cut out a round. Lop off two contestants. Call strikes. Impose a Chris Berman quota on number of "backs" in "back-back-back-back-back" calls. Doesn't matter. Just do it.
You know the Home Run Derby is way too long when Bud Selig's wife thinks it's way too long. Well, she does. The commish said a couple of years ago that ever-patient Sue Selig did in fact turn to him at one point in the Derby and ask the following question: "Buddy, how long are we going to sit here?"
Heh-heh. Mrs. Selig apparently was under the impression that the commissioner had some power over stuff like this. And perhaps he does. But if so, he hasn't exerted it because the only major negative about the Derby is still its unwieldy length.
And Sue Selig isn't the only one who thinks so.
"They need to make some changes in it if they want [the big] guys to get back in it," Derby alumnus Chipper Jones says. "They need to shorten it. I think it's getting to the point where it's monotonous."