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Home Run Derby Missing Star Power       Share

13 July 2010

Monday night in sports featured baseball’s Home Run Derby as part of its All Star festivities.  David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox won the derby which proved to be a real snooze-fest. The derby takes the better part of three or four hours in which the field of eight players is narrowed to two until a final champion is determined.  Between each player’s chance to hit in the early rounds and ESPN’s commercials, only the most ardent baseball fans could refrain from checking out a re-run of “Pawn Stars” or some other mindless activity.
For some reason, baseball’s big home run hitters stayed out of this year’s contest.  Five of the eight contestants were in the derby for the first time, and big time sluggers like Josh Hamilton, Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, and Alex Rodriguez opted to skip the contest this year.  Maybe one reason is that typically derby contestants have a poor second half of the season because allegedly they adjust their swing for the derby and have a hard time switching it back to their regular stroke. 
This year’s winner, David Ortiz, or “Big Poppy” as he is nicknamed, certainly hopes that trend does not continue.  After being one of baseball’s premier hitters in the middle of the decade, he has faded of late until once again regaining his stroke this summer.  He was one of the older contestants in the derby which is usually reserved for baseball’s young sluggers, so maybe he felt like he had something to prove.
Regardless, this part of the All Star festivities tends to get more irrelevant every year.  A notable exception was Josh Hamilton’s performance a couple of years ago when he belted 28 home runs in one round in Yankee Stadium.  In comparison, Ortiz won this year’s derby with 11 home runs in the championship round.  The runner-up, Florida’s Handley Ramirez, had five. 
One Liner: “The Home Run Derby has gone the way of the Slam Dunk contest.”  (Refers to the NBA’s All Star equivalent, the Slam Dunk contest, which used to be a memorable event but now fewer of the NBA’s stars choose to participate).

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The Basics

Baseball Regular Season:

Major League Baseball (MLB) is divided into two leagues, the American League (AL) and the National League (NL).  Each league is further divided into three divisions, west, central, and east.  The regular season lasts from early April through early October.  While NL teams mostly play other NL teams and vice versa with the AL, there are occasional times in the regular season that NL teams will play AL teams.  During the regular season, each team plays 162 games.   These games determine who will go to the playoffs—each division winner and one “wild card” team from each league.   

Baseball is a statistics crazy game—true fans will quote batting averages, fielding percentages, slugging percentages, and just about any stat that you could think of for their favorite teams or players.  We’ll explain the ones that you need to know throughout the season. 


Win (for a pitcher):  A pitcher must complete five innings of pitching and his team must be leading when he exits for him to get a win.  A pitcher with 15 wins in a season is doing well; 20 wins is the recognized plateau of excellence.

ERA:  Earned Run Average.  A statistic which measures how many runs a pitcher averages surrendering to opposing teams based on pitching nine innings.  For instance, a pitcher with an ERA of 2.00 would on average give up 2 runs over the course of 9 innings.  ERA’s are always measured to the hundredths.  An ERA of under 3.00 is considered good.  An ERA under 2.00 is excellent and only a handful of pitchers are able to sustain an ERA under 2.00 for an entire season.

Pinch Hit:  when a player that did not start the game comes in to bat for a player that did start the game. 

Batting Average:   How often a player gets a hit.  Batting average is calculated by dividing the number of hits by total chances to hit.   If a player walks or is hit by a pitch, such actions are not counted as a chance to hit in calculating the batting average.  A .300 batting average (getting a hit 30% of the time) is considered to be above average for a MLB player.

Mendoza Line:  A euphemism for a .200 batting average.  The term came from a reference to Mario Mendoza, a light hitting infielder in the 1970s that usually batted around .200.  A player that is hitting around the Mendoza Line is lucky to still have a job in the Major Leagues.