The Home Run Derby, that traditional big-swinging staple of ESPN’s baseball programming during the All-Star break, sometimes in recent years has felt as stale as Chris Berman’s shtick. The correlation is a direct one since Berman is the longtime foghorn voice of the event, habitually shoehorning in catchphrases and tired 1970s rock lyrics between and during each majestic drive.
But even as Berman can’t resist turning the event into one blusterous baseball-and-Boomer filibuster, and even as the event itself has never quite found the ideal format (tell me again how Josh Hamilton could hit 28 homers in a single round, as he did in 2008 at Yankee Stadium, and not leave the premises with the trophy), it still has plenty of entertainment value.
It’s worthwhile to stall your remote control on ESPN at 8 p.m. Monday to watch a favorite player swing for the fences. Who doesn’t want to watch Chris Davis or Bryce Harper let it fly? And there’s a subtler appeal: When Berman pauses for breath, there’s an opportunity for some candid, casual baseball chatter, particularly among analysts Nomar Garciaparra and John Kruk.
Despite their baseball pedigrees, Garciaparra and Kruk might not initially be a fan’s first choices as good companions for storytelling about the sport. Both had issues with the media as players — something the media cares about far more than the sports-watching public — and neither was an instant standout as analyst.
Garciaparra was always articulate, but it’s only recently that he began sharing opinions without hedges and qualifiers. And Kruk, who once beat out the incomparable Dennis Eckersley for a studio role at ESPN, was such an awkward fit initially this season in the “Sunday Night Baseball’’ booth with holdovers Dan Shulman and Orel Hershiser that the refrain here was that it’s too bad he wasn’t offered the Cleveland Indians managerial job just so Terry Francona could have stuck around.
Both have come a long way, to the point that I’m actually expecting to be entertained and informed Monday night. That especially applies to Garciaparra, who participated in two Derbys himself (in 1997 and the ’99 classic at Fenway) and offered been-there insights into the challenges of participating when I asked him about it Wednesday.
“It’s not the same as batting practice,’’ he said. “In batting practice, there is a rhythm to it. The pitcher is throwing the ball constantly. Even there, you can hit a lot of home runs, but you’re not watching them. You hit them and keep going.
“Whereas here in the Home Run Derby, it’s hit it, sit down, wait and watch it. Here comes another one, hit it, sit, wait and watch it. It’s not like batting practice at all. So it is different, and like I said, I think when you’re feeling good you want to keep that rhythm. You don’t want to lose that and go into a Home Run Derby and totally change your style of swinging to hit it out of the park all the time.”
In the ’99 Derby, a night when Mark McGwire hit baseballs over the Green Monster that were last seen soaring over downtown Worcester, Garciaparra hit all of two homers.
“For me, I enjoyed it. I tried to take that batting practice approach,’’ he said with a laugh. “It didn’t work.”
Access an issue
The initial thought here was that the Patriots made an unjust and exclusionary decision in limiting the media audience for owner Robert Kraft’s comments Monday regarding Aaron Hernandez to three outlets — the Globe, the Boston Herald, and ESPN Boston.
CSNNE’s Tom Curran belonged in that company, and the Providence Journal and Worcester Telegram, not to mention all the electronic media outlets, had a legitimate gripe about being left out. And they have made those gripes known to the Patriots.
But the Patriots’ reasoning — that the message is more important than the method, a press conference would have been chaotic, and that making Kraft available to just a single source such as an Associated Press reporter would have been unfair — makes some sense, particularly logistically.
Ultimately, the decision was made on short notice to invite the Globe and Herald because of their large local audiences and ESPN because of the national reach. And the news was embargoed so none of the three outlets would have a scoop.
It wasn’t a perfect way to handle an unprecedented situation. But it was fairer than some of the alternatives.
He will be missed
Brian Scalabrine, so excellent this past season as a part-time color analyst on Comcast SportsNet New England’s Celtics telecasts, decided to take the coaching route this week, joining Mark Jackson’s staff as an assistant with the Warriors.
Tough break for the network as well as Celtics fans.
Scalabrine was funny, candid, no-nonsense, and, as someone barely removed from the game as a player, incredibly plugged in.
He meshed well with Mike Gorman (then again, who doesn’t?), and the mutual you-get-this-game respect between Scalabrine and Tommy Heinsohn was palpable.
Scalabrine was shaping up to be the ideal successor to Heinsohn whenever he decides to retire. Now, it won’t be easy to find a successor to Scalabrine.
Herald branching out
The Herald is planning to launch an online radio station, though the timetable is uncertain according to industry sources. The plan is to broadcast four three-hour shows daily in the 9 a.m.-9 p.m. window. The sports program is expected to air from 3-6 p.m., and though nothing is official, expect WEEI expatriate Jon Meterparel and Jen Royle to co-host. The shows will also be broadcast via webcam . . . Speaking of Meterparel, he has taken over for Bob Socci as a radio voice of the Pawtucket Red Sox. Socci is leaving to prepare for his role as Gil Santos’s successor as the play-by-play voice of the Patriots on 98.5 The Sports Hub . . . Not hearing anything beyond whispers and wishful thinking regarding changes at WEEI after it was routed in the spring ratings period by The Sports Hub by a 10.2- to 5.5-share margin. But those who want to blame it all on program director Jason Wolfe are misguided. The institutional arrogance during their only-game-in-town glory days happened on his watch, but recent dubious decisions are well beyond his reach. This is Entercom’s problem and Entercom’s doing.