Replacing the HR Derby with a Skills Competition

We’re only three weeks into the season and MLB has already released the All-Star ballot for the 2012 mid-summer classic. That means speculation about who will participate in the Home Run Derby.

Too bad, really. I’m tired of the Home Run Derby. I’m tired of the complaints about who’s in and who’s out. I’m tired of the talk about whether participants change their swings to win the Derby. I’m tired of “back, back, back, back, back.” I’m tired of the only non-game activities during the All-Star festivities being about home runs. Because baseball is so much more than home runs.

In that spirit, I propose that the Home Run Derby be replaced with a baseball skills competition. The NBA and the NHL put on skills competitions during their all-star weekends. Sure, they’re a bit goofy, but they do a pretty good job of highlighting the different aspects of the game. Here, take a peak. First, the highlights from NBA’s 2012 Skills Competition:

Dribbling, passing, shooting. Yeah, there’s not a lot of defense involved — unless you count the human-shaped pylons. But it’s better than watching guys shoot bombs from half court.

The NHL’s Skills Competition is a good model for what baseball can, and should, be doing. It features tests in speed, shooting accuracy, hardest shot, breakaways, elimination shootout and it includes a relay race like the NBA’s dribble, pass and shoot. Here’s a clip from the fastest skater competition. If you’re really interested, you can find more clips on YouTube.

 

I propose an All-Star Week baseball-skills competition that features tests of speed, pitching accuracy, hitting accuracy, throwing accuracy and throwing distance. Sure, there are injury concerns. But if these players can do it without getting hurt, I bet the major leaguers can, too:

 

What would a throwing accuracy competition look like? I’m picturing a mechanical runner on first, a ball-shooting machine at the plate, aimed at right field. The home plate machine lofts one into right field, the mechanical runner takes off for third base and the right fielder tries to do this:

 

Or you can have the mechanical runner at first, a pitching machine on the mound and a catcher behind home plate. The pitching machine serves up a fastball, the mechanical runner goes toward second and the catcher tries to do this:

 

There would be two separate throwing distance competitions. One for long-tossing pitchers:

The other for position players:

 

The winners in each distance-throwing competition would face off for the title of Baseball’s Furthest Hurler.

The speed test would be just like what the little leaguers do. Kind of like a pretend inside-the-park home run but without the outfielders crashing into the wall:

 

What say you, baseball fans? Is it time to replace the Home Run Derby? TV ratings for the Derby, broadcast on EPSN, were up slightly last year. And MLB got a lot of mileage out of its Derby-related social media plan. But ratings for the All-Star Game itself were down, to less than 8 million viewers, the fewest number of fans to watch the mid-summer classic since it was first broadcast in 1967.

I favor All-Star activities that showcase all of the skills and excitement of baseball. Do you agree? What would your skills competition include? Tell us in the comments. Every movement has to start somewhere.




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Wendy's baseball writing has also been published by Sports on Earth. ESPN.com, SB Nation, The Score, Bay Area Sports Guy, The Classical and San Francisco Magazine. Wendy practiced law for 18 years before beginning her writing career. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.


86 Responses to “Replacing the HR Derby with a Skills Competition”

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  1. Rick says:

    How about something like the Reading Phillies did last year?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unWmKXW094U&feature=player_embedded

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    • TomahawkChopper says:

      How did this turn out? I cannot imagine this going well.

      I hope he took out some insurance

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      • Rick says:

        I was incorrect in saying it was last year. It is actually this year on July 10, 2012. I will try to attend.

        It looks crazy. Could be awesome or it could be terrible LOL.

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    • Riles says:

      I’d like to see a best defensive play competition, with the best defensive players in the game trying to make the best play. And this could be set up with a batter with a fungo and base runners that volunteer. Or a stolen base competition where the top base stealers face off against the best catchers and pitchers that hold base runners. And whichever side gets the best steals/outs of 10 attempts wins. I also second using metal bats in the HR derby. It would be awesome to see a hitter put a ball in the 3rd deck of a stadium, or 500 feet away.

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    • radicalhenri says:

      what. the. @#%&? this looks amazing. how do you become an intern? haha. the guy hanging from the crane is going to die, i’m sure of it.

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    • TheScout says:

      They should have renamed this the AllState All-Star Mayhem Derby. Mayhem will happen to the intern on the crane, for sure.

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  2. NJ says:

    Without the HR derby, me and my friends lose a great drinking game.

    All-Star weekend just wouldn’t be the same…

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  3. Aaron says:

    fattest wad of dip in yer cheek contest

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  4. ElJosharino says:

    Could be fun. You could take the best guys in categories like stolen bases and pickoffs and outfield assists and have them square off. Dee Gordon tries to steal 2nd off a battery of Mark Buehrle and Yadier Molina. Or Michael Bourn tries to tag up at third and score on fly balls hit to an outfield of Gerardo Parra, Rick Ankiel, and Jeff Franceour. Andrus and Kinsler try to turn two with Gordon on first and Bourn at the plate. Etc.

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    • Andrew says:

      That could be fun to watch, but then you’d have all sorts of random one-trick ponies going to All-Star Weekend.

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  5. Anon says:

    I’m tired of “back, back, back, back, back.”

    This. I don’t want to hear mating ducks when I watch baseball.

    Also, I would love to see Ankiel show off his arm.

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  6. Chike says:

    I like the idea of a baseball skills competition, but I also like the home run derby. No reason they couldn’t do both.

    If there were such a competition, we’d need events that would “prove” something. Who has the fastest fastball in baseball? Who is the fastest baserunner? Who has the best control? Fans and players would like the added competition as well as the respect of having the title “best X in the game.” Heck, I’m sure the agents would like it too.

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    • Tito Landrum says:

      Exactly. This is a great idea but it doesn’t have to be an either/or. The HR derby, which I personally haven’t watched in years, can be part of the skills competition, IMHO.

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      • LondonStatto says:

        And then they can shorten the HRD so it doesn’t need to fill an evening’s TV. It would be much better if it was over in an hour, or 90 minutes max.

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  7. Jamee says:

    I think that the HR Derby could be (in a smaller form) a part of the skills weekend stuff; if it went straight from 6 guys to the final. Right now it’s waaay too long.

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  8. Ballens says:

    I still like the HR derby. You could add some of these to the festivities though.

    Also, why are the NBA skills guys allowed to travel during the competition?

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  9. Feeding the Abscess says:

    I can’t stand watching the NBA guys go at half-speed (and that’s being generous) during the “skills” competition.

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  10. baty says:

    What’s funny about the All-Star festivities is that they’ve managed slow the pace even more for the casual fan. The invested fan, doesn’t really care much about it to begin with.

    The HR derby can still be a part of a skills challenge, but does it really have to be 30 rounds and 5 hours long? Is it really that important?

    The other issue is that the skills challenge has to be as injury risk free as possible, otherwise you’ll get the NFL Pro Bowl all over again. I doubt pitching coaches will be interested in having their guys trying to throw the ball as hard and fast as possible.

    The skills challenge should happen… MLB is way behind the curve on this one. Have players demonstrate their baseball skill and not just their physical ability… We could even learn a lot about what’s harder and easier to do in an actual game.

    hitting to all fields
    sac fly challenge
    bunt challenge
    plate discipline
    infield range
    outfield range
    cut offs from the wall to home times
    accuracy to home throws
    target practice for infield throws
    short hops to first baseman
    turning double plays
    turning triple plays
    around the horn AL vs NL speed and accuracy
    pick off/leadoff distances with stealing

    the list could go on… Make it more of an AL vs. NL challenge, so you have individual and league bragging rights…

    hitting to all fields

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    • baty says:

      It could also be a way of reinforcing new technology to the casual fan.

      You could use pitch tracking to challenge pitcher accuracy and change of speed… Sort of like billiards… Have them call the shots, pitch type, location, and velocity and see how well they can predetermine their stuff with pitch tracking. (no umpires)

      Same with batter discipline… You make the objective so that a batter must swing at strikes and not swing at balls for 10 straight pitches to see how good they are at reading the zone… (pitch tracking determines)

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    • Steve the Pirate says:

      Ask AJ Burnett how safe that bunting competetion would be.

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  11. Bobby says:

    For the throwing contest I keep picturing the kid throwing the ball from the outfield into the bucket at home in the Tom Emansky video

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    • Slartibartfast says:

      HOW DOES THIS NOT HAVE 1 BAZILLION THUMBS UP

      SHOW ME THE CRIME DOG

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      • ndbrian says:

        Damn it. I had two comments teed up upon reading this–the one about Burnett and the one suggesting the Emansky model–and somebody beat me to both. I would say that when the outfielder is throwing into the trash can, he must be wearing a mesh hat.

        In all seriousness, I’ve been hollering about this to my friends for year. Would love to see a first to third or a quickest double play.

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  12. Andrew says:

    BEST IDEA I’ve seen in months!!!
    How can we get this going?

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  13. bpdelia says:

    Awesome aside from “faryhest hurler” that IS an injury risk. Injuries hsppen when people do things they usually dont. No baseball player EVER muacles up to throw a ball s million feet.

    Also the accuracy doesnt need s mechanical runner. Jst a big bulls eye on each base. 5 for bullseye, 4 for nexrpt circle etc. each of throws to second, third and home twice in a rotation adf up points winner has bsseballs “best of arm”.

    Same for pitchers. 15 piches at a screen with pizza sized bullseyes projected on it at different spots.

    But anyway yeah the hr derby blows. certsinly a well placed blow to bermans larynx the morning of the event would go a long way to improving it but this is better and doesnt require anyone to take an assault collar for the rest of us

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    • John says:

      “No baseball player EVER muacles up to throw a ball s million feet.”

      Look into Alan Jager’s long toss program. You’d be amazed.

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      • bpdelia says:

        Ah but that’s different. Those guys work up to it and throw what they can. Having a bunch of andrelaine pumped 25 year olds trying to see who can throw farthest seems like a baf idea, plus it actuallt is a skill that isnt used in the game. No one needs to ever tgrow a ball more,than,300 ft or so MAX so that aspect seems kunda pointless. But, agai,.good idea. I havent watched the hr derby in anything more than passing in ages

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    • Ball Player says:

      I often muacle up to throw a ball s million feet.

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    • chuckb says:

      “faryhest hurler” = worst typo ever

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      • bpdelia says:

        Lol yeah, though my android autocorrect sometimes makes incomprehensible choices. Swype exacerbates this issue…though look at that. Swype ducks (that should be f k) up bad but nails exacerbates. Crazy.

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  14. Neil says:

    Yes. A million times, yes.

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  15. Bryz says:

    I like the idea of a skills competition. Here’s what I’d like to add.

    1. I’m not a fan of the mechanical runner. I guess that’s where I’d drawn the line on the thing becoming too gimmicky. Instead, I’d just have the outfielders attempt to hit a target at 2nd/3rd/home. Hell, you could even do one for a faux cutoff man (but make that one worth fewer points if you hit it, because we want to be entertained by the throws to the bases/plate, dammit!)

    2. I would be interested in a bunting competition. Again, put targets on the field and see who can land a bullseye.

    3. While I would like to see a hardest throw competition, that has “injury risk” written all over it.

    4. Fastest runner. This can either be done base-to-base or inside-the-park-home run style.

    5. However, Domingo Ayala would win every competition.

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  16. sporkless says:

    I’m guessing y’all are young ‘uns around here? This very briefly used to be a thing. In 1989 Barry Larkin got injured in such a competition and missed 2 months, and that was the end of that.

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  17. John says:

    “I propose an All-Star Week baseball-skills competition that features tests of speed… throwing distance.”

    ZERO chance.

    No agent/team would allow their player to do that.

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  18. Tangotiger says:

    Right, they had this every year in the 1980s. Tim Raines won one of the last ones.

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  19. sprot says:

    “TV ratings for the Derby, broadcast on EPSN, were up slightly last year. And MLB got a lot of mileage out of its Derby-related social media plan. But ratings for the All-Star Game itself were down, to less than 8 million viewers, the fewest number of fans to watch the mid-summer classic since it was first broadcast in 1967.”

    So wait … the HR derby is drawing more viewers at a time where interest in the all-star game might be dwindling? Well in that case. Yes. Let’s kill the derby. It’s the only logical thing to do.

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  20. Ben says:

    pretty sure the long toss deal is how Micky Mantle blew out his arm. I think you would have just as good of a chance of getting them to take a fastball off the chest “billy Madison style”, as to doing that.

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  21. Wizard of Woz says:

    I imagine a pitching control contest like the NHL does/did with shooting accuracy. A few mounted targets at the corners of the zone. Maybe, instead of being timed, they could use the least pitches thrown with average MPH as a tiebreaker.

    As for hitting, set up targets all over the field, and positive and negative scores for hitting them (the one at SS would be negative, for example). That would also give a change to show off some Hit F/X technology.

    Another twist may be a HR derby of sorts, but the batters throw the ball up in the air, like we all did when we were young.

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  22. Hurtlockertwo says:

    The Home Run derby is lame since it proves nothing and is not very entertaining. (Heck, there are pitchers that can hit HR’s against batting practice pitching) It would be cool to see who is the fastest player, best outfield arm, best bat control, etc.

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  23. cpebbles says:

    I thought chicks dug the long ball.

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  24. Nate says:

    I’ll see your Francoeur, and raise you an Ichiro!
    http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=16865121
    (no short hop on that throw)

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  25. Slartibartfast says:

    Uhhhh… replace? Horrible, horrible idea.

    In addition to the derby? Awesome, love it.

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  26. JKP says:

    I’d love to see how far the major leaguers could hit the ball with aluminum bats in the Home Run Derby. They’d probably have to do it in an empty stadium.

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  27. 1azsportsfan says:

    The skills competition sounds like something I would like to watch, but the HR Derby has to be kept just at a more compressed version. Maybe have the final four with only three or five outs for the derby. The fastest time for inside-the-park sounds awesome, but a home-to-first or first-to-second doesn’t sound as dramatic. A pitching location competition sounds good using pitch f/x where they have to hit several predetermined spots (also that ‘call your own pitch’ idea is pretty cool). Fastest double play turn sounds good as well as best outfield arm using throws to second, third, and home (all from right field).

    Unfortunately, I do think it would be a tough sell to teams due to injury concerns.

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  28. Doug D. says:

    Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

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  29. James says:

    Sounds incredibly boring. I’d rather watch the home runs. I bet most viewers would too.

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    • Paul says:

      Nah, surely it would be the same outrageous ratings success that the NBA skills comp is, right? Just to make sure, they could do some kind of team skills challenge with a MLB player and a women’s softball player. I mean, what passionate baseball fan would not be glued to that?

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  30. ithrowplastic says:

    Almost as useless as the bean ball article pffff

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  31. Nathan says:

    Anyone that watched the NHL Skills competition this past year will tell you that it was embarrassing to watch skilled players not even trying. A slap in the face to the educated fan, in my opinion, but the kids and casual fans eat it right up.

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  32. DCN says:

    Ankiel is a long-tossing pitcher in a way.

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  33. DCN says:

    I think this would be cool, but I doubt managers would let players try the throwing contest. There’s that famous story about Jimmy Piersall irreparable injuring his arm in that throwing contest with Willie Mays.

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  34. DCN says:

    “But if these players can do it without getting hurt, I bet the major leaguers can, too:”

    Kids can do all kinds of things without getting hurt that adults can’t do. Being stronger is a liability in a lot of ways, as is having your bones set and your muscles tighter.

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  35. Keystone Heavy says:

    Those NBA and NHL players don’t even try. This would be embarrassing in practice. And if you really enjoy the NBA/NHL skill competitions more than the HR derby, then you are a strange human being.

    Also, Wendy, I don’t know why what you hate about the HR derby can’t be changed. There will be arguements about who is in and out in any skills competition. Chris Berman can be replaced. And if you don’t like talk about “whether participants change their swings to win the Derby” then I really don’t think you can be pleased.

    And on top of everything, your last complaint was that hitting HRs was the only skill currently on display. And your solution is to make the AS break about every skill BUT hitting, when there is no reason a HR derby could not be in a skills competition. And it would be alot more entertaining than watching a “throwing accuracy competition”.

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  36. Jay says:

    What’s wrong with having a high school kid run the bases?

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  37. Uncle Remus says:

    Donkey Baseball?
    Donkey Baseball

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  38. pft says:

    I prefer the HR Derby. However, I would like to see a pitching machine used. The players who do the best have pitchers who throw straight and to the location the hitter wants it. Some of these guys have way to much movement and poor command, so even the best hitters don’t hit many HR. I know they pick their own pitcher, but sometimes they are obligated to pick a team coach or friend, and it’s not a level playing field.

    Of course, I hope no Red Sox hitter ever hits in the HR Derby again. Last year Papi and A-Gon had no power in September.

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  39. DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy says:

    I’d move the ASG to the end of the season, then have the HRD with a pitching machine at 70mph, also it’s mandatory to attend so no skipping Mr. Jeter!

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  40. The players just want the days off.

    It gives many of them a chance to attend their son’s baseball games.

    Best typo ever was a buddy who asked why someone was “busying their balls” (busting). From that point on “busying their balls” became our “pwned”.

    Skills competition is a decent idea, but getting player participation when they just want to rest, will be an issue.

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  41. Spunky says:

    I agree that I’d like to see a skills competition in addition to the Home Run Derby. After all, hitting homeruns is maybe the most spectacular skill in baseball.

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  42. Jarrett says:

    Have a shorter HR Derby, and a Pitchers HR Derby. Now THAT I’d like to see.

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  43. Marc says:

    Teams simply would not approve of any throwing for their pitchers.

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  44. deadhead says:

    This skills competition sounds horrible. A mechanical runner? What is that? Has anyone watched one of the other sports skills competitions? You know what would make good TV? Spring training drills! It sounds like people want to watch practice.

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  45. Antonio Bananas says:

    I’ve been telling my friends this idea for years. Love the idea. I’d do the long toss idea. Accuracy throwing. Maybe a range thing where you have a ball hit to either side at a set distance and you just keep going to see who has the best range.

    the HR derby would be the main event. It’s still fairly popular. Just like the dunk contest, it has it’s up years and down years. I would like to see aluminum bats used and maybe a bonus for the furthest. HR derbies are boring when they’re a bunch of 375 foot pull shots like Bobby Abreu or whoever it was that bored me out of my mind.

    I think an accuracy pitcher’s contest would be awesome too. Maybe a game of pepper too.

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  46. Snowblind says:

    I already watch skills competitions 162 times or so a season. The all star game should only happen about once every five years to begin with.

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  47. Grant says:

    Today on MLB Network they showed footage from the 1987 All-star game which featured an NL vs AL skills competition: Hitting (won by wade boggs and the AL), Catching/defensive (won by Ozzie Virgil and the NL) and the homerun derby (won by Mark Mcguire and the AL).

    and maybe they can get greg maddux to come back for a pitching competition. supposedly in his bullpen sessions he could hit a chairleg from 70+ feet away.

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