Don’t blame ESPN
Monday’s Home Run Derby was supposed to be the best in event history. The range was stacked, the balls were pressed, and the air was thin. He had all the ingredients to be legendary. And while it was a fun time, the show made it difficult to keep track of what was going on.
Many viewers thought the problem was ESPN split screen view used. Indeed, the constant action on both sides of the screen made it difficult to decide where your eyes should focus. It was helpful to see every shot, but sometimes a hitter seemed to make less than stellar contact and, because they were at Coors Field, it turned out to be a homerun. This meant that you couldn’t ignore the majority of batted balls and had to keep darting your eyes back and forth at the batter as the ball was stolen.
Split screen is nothing new, however. ESPN has been using it since the 2017 derby, and for the first few years it added to the viewing experience. Compare the 2018 final between Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper to the 2016 final which pitted Todd Frazier against Giancarlo Stanton.
It’s much more satisfying to see every shot the drummer takes, which is what the split screen allows. And you are still able to follow the flight of the ball. The problem with Monday’s derby wasn’t with the split screen, it was with MLB ignoring the rule in previous derbies that required the pitcher to wait for the previous ball to land before he could deliver another pitch. As a result, there would often be two bullets in flight at a time. The first would land and ESPN’s cameras would cut the second so late in its flight that it was impossible to tell where it was going. That’s why the broadcast was lousy, not because the screen was split in half.
I understand why the MLB would relax the application of this rule. If Pete Alonso had to wait for each of his monster hits to come back to earth before he could swing again, there was no way he could have hit 35 home runs in the time allotted to him in the first round. In a derby that had caused a sensation for weeks, it was in MLB’s best interests to change the conditions to allow as many homers as possible.
But in the future, the referees should be more strict about the application of the rule. Not only would that make the derby easier for fans to follow, but it would also benefit hitters. Presumed derby favorite Shohei Ohtani looked absolutely gassed in his first round loss to Juan Soto. If he had had another split second to catch his breath while waiting for the ball to land, he might not have been so out of breath. Just add a little more time to each round to make up for the time wasted waiting for the ball to land and hitters will still be able to put up big numbers. The other benefit of waiting for the ball to land is that it allows ESPN to display a graph showing how far the last home run went, which is the information fans most want to know.
MLB saved the derby by ending the outdated “outs” -based format that led to too many throws taken, but there is certainly still room for improvement. Making the derby a more viewer-friendly experience would go a long way to solving the much-discussed marketing problem.
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