So, the Home Run Derby… happened

Last night, from 8:00pm to 10:00pm 11:00pm EDT, was Amateur Hour on ESPN.

ESPN's plan was to send a small army to San Francisco. Chris Berman, Joe Morgan, and Dusty Baker would call the action, with Peter Gammons and Erin Andrews doing player interviews, and Kenny Mayne in a kayak in McCovey Cove. The Baseball Tonight team, Karl Ravech, John Kruk, and Steve Phillips, would chime in from a platform in the right-center stands. That's nine commentators for an eight-player derby. And that's not counting Jon Miller, who was doing PA work at AT&T Park, nor the Spanish-language ESPN Deportes crew.

Right off the bat, they fooled themselves into believing that this was the year the Home Run Derby would actually end in its allotted two hours. Um, guys? The HRD has been getting progressively longer as years go by. What made you think this would be the year for a dramatic reversal in that trend? The HRD didn't end until around 11:05pm EDT, delaying part 1 of their long-hyped mini-series, New York Is The Center Of The Universe The Bronx Is Burning, by over an hour, and thoroughly screwing anybody who set their VCR and/or TiVO.

Then ESPN was handed a slight change of plans. Seems that they scooped TBS' exclusive All-Star Lineup show by announcing the National League starters the night before. Bud Selig was not amused, and punished ESPN by banning the Baseball Tonight crew from working live from San Francisco. Ravech, Kruk, and Phillips were stuck in Bristol, while their platform, which had already been assembled, was given over to photographers.

Now I don't know for sure why the evening turned out the way it did. Maybe it was the late BBTN banishment, or maybe tWWL is just getting sloppy. But last night was the poorest production I've seen from ESPN in decades. Versus' first week of NHL broadcasts weren't this bad. (OK, maybe the temporary Hockey Central set was that bad.)

Everybody's timing was off. Segues between the BBTN crew and AT&T Park were particularly clumsy. Berman, Morgan, and Baker were stepping on each other's lines all night. Berman and Morgan do the HRD every year. Adding Dusty probably threw the chemistry out of whack. Not that there was much chemistry to begin with. Morgan just gets dumber every year, and Boomer is, well, Boomer. "Winnie The Pujols?" Shoot me now.

The audio engineering was a joke. Throughout the night, microphones weren't properly muted, allowing little bits of chit-chat and discussions with inaudible producers to cut into pretty much anything that was going on.

Worst of all, the event itself conspired against the network. First of all, to fit the 8:00pm EDT time slot, the HRD started at 5:00pm PDT. At that time, the shadows around home plate at AT&T Park start creeping towards the pitcher's mound. That put the pitcher in bright sunshine and the batters in shade for most of the first round. Even at soft-toss speeds, the pitches were hard to see, so the night started out with a whimper. The cool, dry atmosphere and inward-blowing winds certainly didn't help.

The big attraction of a Home Run Derby at AT&T Park is, obviously, McCovey Cove. Joe Morgan was legitimately concerned that, should anybody fall in the water, they wouldn't be able to surface for all the boats crammed into the prime landing zone. Mayne and his helmet-cam stayed on the fringe of the flotilla, where he could get a better view of the scene and keep thousands of dollars of ESPN camera equipment from taking a swim. You know what this means, of course.

3 left-handed hitters, 8 home runs between them, zero in McCovey Cove.

And none of the lefties made it through to the second round, either.

In the end, this night belonged to Vladimir Guerrero. He must have figured that, if he didn't hit anything, he'd at least bring a party with him. Literally. There was a small entourage of buddies with him on the sideline, who would occasionally come out to towel him off, or exchange high fives. But it was fellow Dominican David Ortiz who stole the show. After Vlad started his first round with three straight outs, Big Papi stepped up to the plate, took Vlad's bat out of his hands, and had one of Vlad's buddies bring him a large box. Ortiz opened the box to reveal another, presumably better, bat, which Ortiz kissed before giving it to Guerrero. Vlad then proceeded to then crush pretty much anything he made contact with. In the second round, with the mound in shadows, he hit some towering shots to left-center, and almost became the first player in AT&T Park history to hit the giant glove behind the stands.

Now that I think of it, maybe ESPN's 2-hour timing is wishful thinking on their part. I couldn't tell you much about the final round because I had zoned out by that time. All I can tell you is a) Guerrero beat Alex Rios 3-2 in the final round, and b) Alex Rios? Where the hell did he come from?

The only other notable thing about the night, at least for me, were the on-the-sly hockey references thrown in by Boomer and Mayne. Most of them were in the first round, as British Columbia native Justin Morneau was at bat, as Berman pointed out that Morneau wears 33 in honor of Patrick Roy. Later, Mayne joked that he'd like to try kayak-cam again for the NHL All-Star Game. It was probably out of the blue for most, but that Situationist blog entry I linked to last week bubbled its way up to Deadspin yesterday, so it's probably been making the rounds in Bristol.

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