Derby TV crew reflects on first-half topics
ESPN analysts Boone, Valentine discuss home-run contest
Five sluggers are still committed to the State Farm Home Run Derby, and soon enough, three more names will be added. But before the event kicks off in less than a week, an issue that's broached almost on a yearly basis with regards to the Derby will inevitably come up once again, as many -- most notably, the players themselves -- will say taking part in a contest that rewards guys solely for hitting balls over the fence causes messed-up swings and sustained slumps for the second half of the season.
Hogwash, say ESPN analysts Aaron Boone and Bobby Valentine, who will take part in the broadcast of the Home Run Derby at Angel Stadium.
"I personally don't think it's a big deal," Boone said when asked about that notion. "Any time somebody goes in and struggles from that point on, it seems to get linked to the Home Run Derby. But anything can happen to get you into a little funk, and anything between the ears can get you to go into a funk.
"To hit the ball out of the ballpark, frankly, you have to do a lot of things right within your swing."
The Home Run Derby will take place on Monday at 8 p.m. ET in Anaheim and will be aired on a number of ESPN platforms -- ESPN HD, ESPN Radio, ESPN 3D, ESPN Deportes, ESPN3.com and ESPN Mobile TV. Valentine will serve as an analyst during the Derby for ESPN, and Boone will be part of the crew handling the first Derby aired in 3D.
The All-Star Game will follow on Tuesday and will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m.
Miguel Cabrera, David Ortiz, Vernon Wells, Matt Holliday and Corey Hart have already committed to the Derby, but Robinson Cano dropped out after vowing to participate because of a minor back injury, according to The New York Daily News.
Injury is certainly a valid reason for not participating. But a fear that the Derby can alter your mechanics isn't a legitimate excuse, Valentine believes.
"I mean, come on, give me a break, guys take batting practice every day, and it's a home-run derby for guys who can hit a home run every day," Valentine said while taking part in a conference call on Wednesday along with Boone and ESPN vice president of programming and acquisitions Mike Ryan. "What do you think the home-run hitters do during batting practice?
"We're talking about people who just don't want to put the effort in on an off-day, and I can understand that. So just say it. Just say, 'Hey, I'd rather have an off-day then go out there and stand in front of 40,000 people and a national TV audience, where I might embarrass myself and not hit them out, or where I might rather be doing something else with my family.' But I can't imagine that a professional athlete swinging that many times is going to have anything to do with his season that starts three days later."
Up until Heath Bell was chosen to take the spot of an injured Yovani Gallardo on the National League roster, the Padres' phenomenal pitching staff had been deemed as one of the biggest All-Star Game snubs.
Heading into Wednesday's game, San Diego's pitching staff sports a collective 3.09 ERA that is the lowest in baseball and has carried the Padres to a surprising three-game lead in the National League West. But when the All-Stars were announced during the Selection Show on Sunday, only first baseman Adrian Gonzalez -- and none of his pitching teammates -- was on tap to represent the Padres in the 81st All-Star Game.
And as of now, starter Mat Latos (9-4 with a 2.62 ERA) and Luke Gregerson (2.45 ERA) are slated to watch the Midsummer Classic from home, to Boone's chagrin.
"It's the same old story every year, where teams, players sometimes get overlooked and get snubbed and get disappointed," Boone said before news broke that Bell would join the NL pitching staff as a replacement. "Hopefully, one, two or all of those guys [Bell, Latos and Gregerson] can get in there somehow, whether replacing someone or any route."
Valentine and Boone do believe one pitching decision was handled properly: Phenom Stephen Strasburg currently not being an All-Star.
No pitching prospect has ever been given more attention during Minor League starts than the Nationals' new staff ace. That further intensified when Strasburg's ERA stood at 1.78 through his first four starts, as many around baseball began clamoring for the 21-year-old rookie to attend the Midsummer Classic despite not beginning his Major League career until June 8.
But Strasburg himself said, "I didn't feel I was qualified to make the team, No. 1, based on the experience that I have."
"I don't think he was deserving," he said. "I think it's an honor and a very select chance that people have in their career to make an All-Star team. I hope that he can take the time to sit back and reflect a little. I didn't think that he needed more cameras, more questions and more spotlight on this young career of his that has really been spectacular at the start."
In regards to the pre-All-Star Game festivities, Boone and Valentine said they like the Home Run Derby how it is and don't believe the event has lost its luster, though Valentine would like to see some sort of charity aspect tied into it.
As of now, no major changes are planned for the Derby in the near future.
"The measure for us is in the popularity of the event," Ryan said when asked if steps could be taken to shorten the Derby. "We measure that in ratings. It's by far our highest-rated baseball event of the year, and the rating holds throughout the entire event. A tweak here, perhaps, or a tweak there [could happen], but it's been a really successful event.
"It rates well, it holds the rating throughout the entire duration of the show. So, we're not looking to make significant changes to it."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.