Last night's Home Run Derby in Miami was a spectacle, as it turned out. No longer a sideshow to baseball's All-Star Game (or MLB's tired answer to the worn-out NBA slam-dunk contest), the contest was a stunning example of the sport's sudden realization of the value of the home run.
Not only to drawing fans but to winning games.
Just as the NBA has finally given in to the statistical data that proves the three-point shot is an invaluable weapon to winning basketball, baseball seems to finally understand that home runs beat the hackneyed old "small-ball" attack -- and attract attention, too.
Aaron Judge -- a massive man who reminds me of one of baseball's long-lost sluggers, Frank Howard, won the derby and is the player in the forefront of its power surge. He's hitting homers at a Ruthian pace and is one of those players you simply can't take your eyes off of when he's in the batter's box. He's so big, so strong, that his average fly ball seems to carry over fences. And, of course, it isn't just this one player hammering tape-measure home runs.
A juiced baseball and a complete turnaround in hitting philosophy has led to an almost home-run-or-nothing era that is on a record pace this season. Can you believe that one out of every 6.8 hits this season has been a home run? That's amazing.
People within the game will tell you that the baseball has changed and studies outside of MLB seem to support that theory. The seams on the ball aren't as high as they used to be (college baseball lowered seams on the ball a couple of years ago and NCAA power numbers are up). Lower seams lead to less wind resistance, allowing the ball to travel farther.
And at the same time, an entire new approach to hitting is taking over among MLB players. No longer are players trying to hit ground balls or even line drives. The way our dads taught us to hit is not the proper way these days. Upper-cut swingers are in vogue as players have decided to forget about trying to beat shifts and to just hit the ball over them. Players don't want infielders to ever come near anything they hit. They want the ball in the air to the outfield.
Suddenly, launch angles and exit velocity are the new buzzwords among hitters. And hey -- Ted Williams was telling hitters decades ago to upper-cut the ball to keep their bat on the same plane as pitches coming from the mound, so this isn't exactly a new idea.
I have no doubt that just as Monday's Home Run Derby was a thrilling event, the home run is going to lead to an upsurge in interest in the game, just as it did during the steroid era, back when they used to say "Chicks dig the long ball."
Everybody digs the long ball, especially when they travel 500 feet. Those long ones Monday were both majestic and breathtaking. And as I've been saying for years, nobody ever paid a dime to watch some poor overmatched guy bunt the ball or hit a weak ground ball to second in order to advance a runner.
After all, the home run is a permanent part of the lexicon in this country. When you do something well, you've hit a home run. You come up with a great idea, that's a home run.
Baseball hit a home run Monday night -- and has this season -- with the home run.