Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby is the epitome of summer sports boredom. With NBA free agency all but over and NFL training camps weeks away, the MLB tries to capitalize by having guys launch moon shots into the night. For the most part the event falls flat. Players burn out in the early rounds and it usually devolves into people complaining on Twitter about Chris Berman’s home-run calls. This year there is no Berman and the event lacks the small amount of pizzazz it normally has.
The one thing that can captivate an audience for the derby is a great storyline. In 2008, Josh Hamilton had eye balls glued to televisions as he sent towering fly balls into the cheap seats at the old Yankee Stadium. Hamilton was a former number one overall pick who had battled drug addiction to become an All-Star. Watching great hitters launch gargantuan homers is entertaining, but what makes the derby a spectacle is the added element of a compelling story.
The Milwaukee Brewers’ Eric Thames is as fascinating a story as anything in baseball. The guy went from playing in Korea to being an integral part of a division leader in a calendar year. Despite his meteoric rise, Thames was snubbed from an appearance in the derby. He has hit an impressive 23 home-runs in the first half of the season, many of them leaving the yard in a hurry.
It is not a secret that baseball popularity is dipping among young people throughout the country. The game is much slower and less action-packed than football and basketball. Exciting stories of triumph and perseverance are exactly what baseball needs to get mainstream media attention again. Putting Thames in the Home Run Derby would have been a great PR move by commissioner Rob Manfred and the league office. That ship may have left the harbor, but if there is even the slightest chance Major League Baseball should do the right thing and give Eric Thames the spotlight he deserves.