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Home-run hitting contest is a joke

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It was one of those nights that retired the trophy for splendor, beauty, elegance, and wonder. For baseball lovers, it seemed an emotional overload that so much good could be concentrated in one spot.

It was Major League Baseball's All-Star home-run hitting contest earlier this week the night before the game - here in storied, 87-year-young Fenway Park in Boston. The best parts of Fenway are the supporting poles that block views from many angles and the overhang that prevents seeing the path of fly balls. It's old-timey in the best-timey ways.

Why in anybody's world would plans be going full speed to rip Fenway down and build a new facility? Greed can explain much but we digress.

The joint was jammed with the best players and exuberant fans. It seemed an unfair touch that the dazzling orange sunset beyond the outfield fences compounded the joy. It was an excess of goodness.

And nobody with an ounce of baseball romance in their hearts could peer down and not see Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Joe Cronin still playing.

The only discordant note was the home-run hitting contest.

Why does baseball do this?

It's like a freak show at the circus. You know, step right up, pay your money, and stare at the fat person lying abed inside the steamy midway tent. It's grotesque. It causes thoughtful individuals to avert their glance.

So, too, does the home-run hitting contest.

The problem is it is a charade. It's not what it appears. Hitting home runs in games is a singular accomplishment, a batter never knowing how fast a pitch is going to come at him, where it will come, how it will spin or drop, or curve or rise. Then, to hit a round ball with a rounded bat squarely becomes arguably the most difficult task in sport. That's why the accomplishments last season of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa cause everyone who understands to sigh in admiration.

What happens in the contest is a batting practice pitcher stands perhaps 10 feet closer to the plate than normal, then lobs straight and slow pitches to exactly the spot the player wants in order to swing from his heels. Doing this, both McGwire and Ken Griffey Jr. hit 16 homers each. One of the lollipops delivered to McGwire was smote 488 feet.


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