By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) We’ve already lived through three months of a Home Run Derby in Major League Baseball, watching all kinds of records fall due to the golf ball now in use.
This hard and bouncy little thing is leaving every park off from every kind and quality of hitter, while its changed texture is causing unprecedented problems to pitchers’ fingertips. Evidence both purely scientific and anecdotal has piled up at the feet of MLB’s leadership, yet those officials mumble about everything being on the up-and-up.
Even if the ball technically falls within what’s deemed to be an “acceptable” range of elasticity, it has been pointed out clearly by analysts that the game has been using something different since around this time two years ago. It can be both within their secret limits and also undeniably altered, and all it means is that commissioner Rob Manfred finds that what’s happening to indeed be acceptable, if not celebrated. There may have been no intent whatsoever to supercharge the ball and this is just some kind of random accident that happened concurrently with a change in manufacturing facilities, but there’s no doubt that everyone is aware that we’re in a new reality of ball leaving bat.
And Statcast’s compilation of vectors, angles and velocities has only highlighted the nightly explosions. Highlights are overlaid with information for one bomb after the next, reminding us of all the distance traveled by baseballs flying off and away, deep into seats, out onto streets and into local bodies of water.
So as the sport convenes in Miami for its annual showcase, we’re back to the carnival sideshow of the Home Run Derby in a way that recalls the eyebrow-raising grotesquerie of what we now recognize as the steroid era. That was all Popeye forearms and bulbous heads on display, then our raised eyebrows and sideways glances as we observed.
I’m fine with the idea of the Home Run Derby, in general, considering it harmless and still potentially entertaining for some, especially kids. It could already be more palatable with the removal of the insufferable Chris Berman, who has ceded responsibility to the calmer Karl Ravech.
But while watching the expected matchup of hometown favorite Giancarlo Stanton and national supernova Aaron Judge as some kind of heavyweight prizefight might be one idea of appointment TV, some of us are just too reminded by the whole spectacle of what’s now going on in the actual games in a way that it never has.
Any weekend duffer could place a tee at home plate, set down a range ball and hit an easy nine-iron over the fence. A seven-iron would put one at least 450, and a five-wood goes 600 feet. That’s just true and mundane.
In a way, that’s what this is becoming.