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Doctor Longball

Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the Home Run Derby.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Growing up, I heard tale of a movie that was so funny, so edgy when it came out that the military actually produced it’s own short films to counter the premise. That it was directed by Stanley Kubrick, one of the most famed directors of all time, I felt I must watch it.

I didn’t get it. Maybe it was the fact that I had seen “Fail Safe”, essentially the same film but without the tongue-and-cheek humor. Maybe it was because the threat of nuclear war was so greatly diminished after the fall of the Soviet Union (which happened when I was so young I really don’t even remember it happening) that I didn’t see the need to satirize it. I don’t know.

But one quote that always stuck out to me as funny. It’s delivered by the late, great George C. Scott, playing a General in the film. When responding to the fact that the “program” they have in place is basically allowing one rogue man to start World War III, he responds by saying, “Well, I, uh, don’t think it’s quite fair to condemn a whole program because of a single slip-up, sir.”

When I saw the initial list of Home Run Derby contestants, I was big mad. Somehow, some way, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., a player with 8 home runs was on the list, while Royals slugger Jorge Soler, currently tied for fourth in the American League, was not on the list. I ranted, I raved, I spent a large part of the last weekend fuming about this snub. I even went as far as to say that it should be done away with entirely, or at least have its format/selection process completely altered.

I’m going to pause my rant here and say that yes, I understand that All Star week is all about marketing. It’s a major marketing opportunity for baseball. Baseball is an extremely regional sport, and a large percentage of fans are only peripherally aware of the greats on other teams (with players like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout being an exception).

The Home Run Derby is really the fan-servingest fan service a game can give its fans. It’s right up there with the NBA All Star Dunk Contest. The ability to hit home runs against a pitcher throwing batting practice isn’t particularly impressive as far as athletic feats go, but it is sure fun watching those 450+ foot bombs go out when they’re hit.

In a perfect world, the top 6-8 home run hitters so far in the season would compete, barring injury or opting out. It would also make sense to, when ties are present or there are players very close to one another in total, to select players not otherwise in the All Star game. I would also argue for an even mix between AL and NL. More representation for individual teams can only be a good thing.

The problem I had (and yes, I do mean had...) was that Vlad Guerrero Jr. is in the home run derby with his 8 home runs. Jorge Soler has 23 bombs, Mike Trout (28) is already an all-star, Gary Sanchez (24) has missed several games due to injury, and Alex Bregman was already slotted as a participant. Rounding out the top Home Run hitters is Edwin Encarnacion (henceforth and forever referred to as “E5”).

Nowhere in that list of names is Vlad, Jr. In fact, if you control for the number of plate appearances (Vlad has 253, not “qualified’ yet) and set it at 250, you could make the argument that 141 players were “snubbed” for the Derby, as that is the number of players who have hit more Home Runs than Vlad and aren’t in the Home Run Derby (140, actually, since Yellich opted out).

So if the Home Run Derby isn’t about home runs, what is it about? Why, given his lackluster performance at the majors (98 wRC+, 0.1 fWAR this seasonn) is Vlad Jr being given the opportunity to (likely) lose and lose spectacularly, when someone like Soler could slot in and potentially put on a hell of a show? I also confess to still carrying some bitterness from Billy Butler being snubbed, despite Mike Moustakas (who had 25 at the time) being in it just a few years ago.

It’s simple. No one really knows, or cares, who Jorge Soler is. Jorge Soler was a much bigger name in baseball five years ago as a prospect than he is now. He’s a power hitter who strikes out too much, doesn’t have any other skills really to bring to the ball game, and is playing on a team that is destined to lose 100 games or more this season.

For some reason, the powers that be believe baseball is dying. Despite record TV audiences, record revenues, and a slow, yet increasingly present social media campaign to attract younger viewers, they are afraid that the game will die.

Vlad. Jr is a name. His father is a Hall of Famer. Jr is just 20 years old and, despite lackluster results, is holding his own against the toughest competition in the world at that age. He was not good enough to be on the actual All Star roster (yet), but since the Home Run Derby is somehow even more meaningless than the All Star game itself, why not throw him in there to introduce the heir apparent to the Mike Trout crown of “Greatest player in baseball”?

I disagree with this decision, and consider it a mistake. But I’ve gotten over my anger, and will likely watch the derby tonight. And it really made me think of George C. Scott and his quote, ““Well, I, uh, don’t think it’s quite fair to condemn a whole program because of a single slip-up...”

If any of you have experienced similar anger issues over this snub (or any other all-star snub; Dozier, Gordon, Kennedy) take heart. There are snubs every year, and even if they get it wrong sometimes, it is still a good time. Enjoy it, don’t sweat it. And remember, at least the Royals won’t be losing any games until at LEAST Friday.