The Major League Baseball All-Star break is usually a welcomed sigh of relief for the majority of players around the league needing to recharge their batteries and prepare for the second half and a potential playoff push.
All in all, the All-Star week is usually pretty festive and fan-friendly and meant to be for entertainment purposes, especially more so with the game having less meaning now. Baseball already does a pretty good job filling out All-Star week, but they are missing something that every other major pro sport offers in their respective mid-season breaks: skills competitions.
It’s a good, fun way to get more players around the sport involved in the festivities and get them exposed to the nation. It’s also one of our five ways to make baseball great again. So here are five contests MLB could add to it’s All-Star festivities and only enhance the week even more.
This is a pretty easy one if you ask me. Having a base running competition would simply answer the question, “Who are the fastest players in the league?”
In hockey, they have the ‘fastest skater’ contest, something the Red Wings’ very own Dylan Larkin claimed the title of during his rookie season. Players race around the rink and times are ranked accordingly with the help of motion-body sensors. They could easily do the same thing in baseball. Have each contestant start at home and circle the pillows as fast as they can, as if they just hit an inside-the-park home run.
Take 10-15 players and have them do one go-round on the base paths. The winner is given the proverbial title of “Fastest Man in Baseball.” My pick would be Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton.
TARGET PRACTICE (HITTING)
One aspect of a baseball player is his ability to spray the ball all over the field, hitting for both average and power. It’s one of the reasons that the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera, even as he ages and his body deteriorates, is regarded as one of the best pure hitters of his generation.
Imagine Cabrera and other competitors in this target practice event having to hit one ball into one of five parts of the field: left field, left-center, center field, right-center, and right field. Hitters have a designated time to hit the corresponding target (randomized) as many times as possible.
TARGET PRACTICE (THROWING)
In baseball, pitchers have to learn how to hit their spots in the strike zone and position players have to make good, clean throws to their target.
For pitchers, it can be something similar to when the hockey players shoot at multiple targets in the net. Perhaps instead of timing the player (because pitchers don’t like to be rushed), see how many pitches it takes for them to hit all of the designated targets. It’s something three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw should have no problem doing.
As for the position players, there are a lot of different ways they can go. Catchers can throw to a target down at a base from behind home plate. Infielders can aim for a target posted up at first base since that is the most common throw they have to make. Outfielders can practice on throwing runners out at home plate. Hell, we can make it team versus team even with one pitcher, catcher, infielder and outfielder all from one club facing another club, thus making it a timed event.
Here is one that can feature everybody on the field – pitchers, catchers, infielders, and outfielders.
How many times did we hear it from our coaches when playing in Little League? “Hit your cut-off man! Get the ball in quick! Make sure you’re all lined up for the relay!” Well, those fundamentals still apply at the big league level and with a well-executed relay, it could prevent a run from being scored.
This is definitely an event that can have ‘Team vs Team.’ The idea that I propose is having four players a part of the relay – one outfielder, two infielders (cut-off men) and the catcher. The relay can extend from the warning track in center field all the way into home plate, with all four players evenly spaced out.
And just like swimming, they have to go down and back multiple times. A timed event, the clock is stopped when the catcher receives the ball on the second relay and he slaps home plate as if he’s slapping a tag on a would-be sliding runner into home.
This is also one that can be implemented with the help of Statcast, the new and very popular tool that measures various aspects of baseball such as speed of a throw from an outfielder, exit velocity of a ball when hit and projected distance travel of a home run ball.
Statcast (which could help formulate and measure all of these proposals, in theory) also measures the distance of a throw an outfielder often makes when throwing home, along with how hard they throw it. This would be a great competition to determine who has the strongest arm in the league and which outfielders you should probably not try and run on when a ball is hit to them.
In theory, any player on the field can participate in this proposed event. So how about the logistics of it? Well much like the base-running competition, have players each just take one ridiculously long throw, furthest distance wins. This can be done from home plate towards center field (or vise-versa).
Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco would be a worthy candidate for this event, as would he center field mate, Starling Marte.