ESPN MLB Home Run Derby analysts Curt Schilling and Aaron Boone joined ESPN’s media conference call earlier today to discuss the 2015 Gillette Home Run Derby presented by Head & Shoulders and the MLB All-Star Game. ESPN will exclusively televise the Derby on Monday, July 13, at 8 p.m. ET. The event will also be available on ESPN Radio and WatchESPN.
Additionally, ESPN Radio will serve as the national radio broadcast home of the 2015 MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday, July 14, at 8 p.m. Baseball Tonight and SportsCenter will be on site in Cincinnati for pre-game shows. Boone will also participate in the 2015 MLB All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game, airing on ESPN Monday, immediately following the Derby.
I’d like to get your thoughts on Pete Rose’s involvement in the on‑field All‑Star Game ceremonies for this year’s game? How do you both individually feel about that?
AARON BOONE: I’m fine with it. I think on this level he should be allowed to participate in things on a limited basis. I think teams like Cincinnati and maybe even the Phillies in controlled situations should be allowed to have him be a part of their organization, part of their marketing, whatever. I think it’s time that we celebrate him in his accomplishments in a limited way.
But I also don’t believe that he should be allowed all the way back into the game. I think that the violations that he’s ultimately committed, I think, has been very clear, and I don’t think he should be allowed to be in decision‑making situations anymore in the game. But I absolutely believe there is a place for him in the Hall of Fame. I believe there is a place for him certainly with the Cincinnati Reds organization and certainly at this All‑Star Game.
CURT SCHILLING: I think I’m at this point now I’m indifferent. Apathy, I guess, is the right word, I think. I guess I’m a little tired of his story overselling, overplaying or other things like the Hall of Fame weekend. Every weekend at the Hall of Fame when guys are getting inducted there are always Pete Rose stories. I think that we’re going to see the same thing at the All‑Star Game. We have a lot of guys, and he’s going to be the story.
At the end of the day ‑‑ and I know Pete. I know him actually pretty well. I don’t know the last time that he has actually told the truth from the standpoint of every time he says something ‑‑ this is a guy that had a Lance Armstrong feel to it. It turns out that he’s lied in every possible way and he’s adamantly denied lying at every possible turn.
The question I think everybody wants to know, everybody wants to know, did he bet on baseball? No, no, no, never did, never did, never did. Turns out he did as a player. Now the question is did he bet on his own team when he played? You know, I don’t know where the line ends. But I do know that that poster about gambling was on every locker room I ever went in from the time I was in rookie ball to my last day in the Big Leagues, and it’s one of the few rules where I think you mess with a lot more than just the integrity of the game.
I’m apathetic. Certainly as far as the Hall of Fame goes, I don’t know. I’m just kind of ready for it to end, the story.
Aaron, first of all, you played at Great American in 2003 when it opened so you’re familiar with how the ball flies here. Question is how do you think that affects the Home Run Derby when it’s being held at such a home‑run‑friendly park? And number two, last year Todd Frazier talked about how when he reached the final round of the Derby he was physically, emotionally kind of exhausted. How different of a thing is this for a hitter to be out there trying to hit home runs? How different of an approach is that for you guys?
AARON BOONE: Well, first off, I think it’s the best home run park in the game. The reason I say that is because right field, as many of you know, is just really, really short across the board. And centerfield, because it goes to that point, even just to the left and just to the right of dead center is shorter than most parks that are rounded there. Also left field is probably more, call it fair, but it’s still, especially in the summer months, plays a bit on the smaller side.
So even with great hitters, in most great hitters’ ballparks for home runs, usually there is a place you can go that at least plays big. Nowhere does that exist in Cincinnati and right field, especially for right‑handed hitters, especially these guys, they can mis-hit a ball to right center, and it’s going to go a good portion out with these guys with tremendous power.
So it’s as good a home run park, and I think it’s going to be fun to see if some of these lefties can hit it into the river or over everything. I think there are going to be a lot of ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhh’ moments in this Home Run Derby because of the smallness of the park but because of where balls might end up. I think that’s going to be really cool to the eye. So I think it has a chance to be a great Home Run Derby.
The second question was Todd Frazier talking about how he was exhausted by the final round. Can you just talk as a hitter how different it is to be out there trying to hit home run after home run?
AARON BOONE: Oh, yeah, it’s got to be emotionally and physically draining, and a lot depends on the player. I used to marvel at Ken Griffey Jr. would go out and hit for an hour and be fine, and I used to be like, gosh, he hits so much. All he wants to do is hit. I think part of that is how simple his swing was and how smooth it was and what we remember of Junior’s swing. But for a lot of us, going out there and taking lots of rounds of BP in the heat and then add it to the fact that you’re grinding through mentally and trying to go deep here and put on a show, and they’ve taken ‑‑ you hear all the time about the tunnel being the batting tunnel being out of there, that is an adjustment.
I did a Home Run Derby at the AAA All‑Star Game. I’ve never done it with the Big Leagues. That was the first thing that was really weird and really awkward was here you are in this fan setting, trying to hit home runs with no tunnel around you. It’s something you just don’t do.
Now I think more and more guys are preparing for it, practicing for it, have their pitcher. So really it’s about getting in a groove and getting in a comfortable scenario.
I think Todd now having experience in this will help him. I think he understands it. And there is a different format with the five minutes; I think that’s going to be a good thing. But the challenge is staying physically sound in an event that can be grinding.
For some of these guys it’s a little easier because their swing is a little less maybe physically demanding or violent or whatever. But I think that’s one of the big challenges these hitters face, and certainly Todd faces.
Curt, are you pleasantly surprised that a player like Prince Fielder (No microphone) bounced back so he can go to these events, both the Derby and the All‑Star Game?
CURT SCHILLING: Pleasantly is understating it. I’m excited. I’ve always been a huge fan. I think when he was good, even though the accolades he got, I think he was still a very underrated player. I think he was one of the last guys who or is one of the last guys who understands the value of the number 162. He loves to play. He’s a phenomenal athlete. No matter what you want to say about his size, and he’s good for the game.
I’m very excited that he is back playing and he’s a force, because he is definitely a guy who you just don’t get up from the seat when you’re watching him do what he does. I think it’s good for baseball.
Aaron, both rosters showcase two very good or a lot of very good third basemen. What is your take on the position now and your comparisons between Donaldson and Frazier?
AARON BOONE: Yeah, I mean there are great third basemen in this game and great defensive third basemen. Maybe historically great third basemen defensively coming through this game that will be coming off the bench in this one. Donaldson for me is just so much fun to watch because he’s really good and athletic defensively, and the violence with which he swings with the understanding that I just love watching him try to work through the ball. He’s obviously got good power to all fields, but he’s just confident in his ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark the other way. So he has no ‑‑ there is no agenda up there where he’s trying to hit the ball. He’s trying to cover it.
That allows him the time to see the ball deep and because that power is good the other way, he’s able to do that.
As for Frazier, Curt said, talking about Curt’s being good for the game, I think Todd’s one of those guys that’s so good for the game. He’s become so popular in Cincinnati. He’s such a great personality. When we used to go through there when he was first coming up and we’d talk to Dusty Baker, one of the things that stuck out to me with Dusty Baker was he’s got this team of young veterans now like Votto and Bruce and Brandon Phillips, who is kind of the voice in there? And he said I think the leader of this team in short order will be Todd Frazier, and I think it spoke to what he saw of him outside of his physical playing ability.
He’s just a smart guy. It’s a big personality. Now he’s developed into this guy that was a little raw, with a big‑time power, and he’s one of those guys that I think is great at using torque and leverage to create enormous power, but there are a lot of holes in his game. I think now he’s in a place where he really understands what he’s doing, has a real good idea at plate, and now we’re seeing the blossoming of a star player.
As for Machado and Arenado, I think you’re seeing two potentially all‑time great defensive third basemen, and that’s assuming Machado stays at third. But I think he and Arenado defensively are ‑‑ when I was playing I used to marvel that I played in the same division with Scott Rolen all the time. That was kind of my benchmark. And I’ve watched him play third base like a shortstop built like a power forward, just with the range and the hands and the easy arm.
You know, Machado and Arenado are, honestly, I think going to be on the short list of great defensive third basemen if they stayed healthy and continue this track for a long time. Now you add in what we’re starting to see with Machado offensively. We’re starting to see ‑‑ we saw the doubles and the good young player, and I think everyone kind of envisioned there is a day out there where he’s going to start to hit 30, 30‑plus home runs a year. And it’s happening now. I think sooner than I even thought, but we’ve seen him gradually fill out more and more each year.
And then Arenado, I think maybe a little more of a secret considering he’s been playing in Colorado and maybe in Tulo’s shadow, to a degree, on a team that hasn’t won yet while he’s been there. But special, special player, maybe even better defensively than Machado. But certainly a superstar right now emerging.
Independent of the fact that you obviously work for ESPN which has the rights to this event, do you think there is a shelf life at all for the Home Run Derby? Or is it one of those things that if promoted correctly, done correctly, it could exist in baseball 50 years from now?
CURT SCHILLING: I think it has potential to be open‑ended as far as life span goes. I think what you’re seeing ‑‑ I tell you what, for the duration of Rob Manfred’s tenure it will be here because Rob has shown a willingness to act quickly, which I think you have to do in certain situations.
And I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a fan say, wow, I went to the Home Run Derby and it was horrible. It’s fun. It’s a unique event. I think that they’re trying to address the one major issue, everybody is, which is the length of time.
But who doesn’t like to see guys make ballparks look really small? I mean, it’s like the Slam Dunk Contest, and I think the hockey skill competition is starting to pick up a little bit from a notoriety standpoint. But I always use the example when you watch the Home Run Derby, for the most part, everybody in the stands watching it can in a way say they’ve all hit home runs. They’ve all played baseball. They’ve all played little league. That’s maybe changing a little bit from a numbers perspective.
But you can watch the Slam Dunk Contest, and my vertical at my peak was 4 to 6 inches, so I can’t relate to what I’m watching. I sure as hell can’t relate to the hockey skills competition, but I can relate to the Home Run Derby, and I think a lot of people can, and I think that’s why baseball still resonates the way it does, and I think things like that do.
AARON BOONE: Yeah, I think the tweaks that they’ve made this year will help it. I think it’s important to continue. Like Curt said, with Rob Manfred in they’ll act and do things that help change. And I think you always have the chance of having historic moments at the Home Run Derby. You know a Josh Hamilton, that kind of moment can happen, can take place.
We may go through a year where we have a bit of a clunker or not a great one by our perspective. But I think there’s going to be years where you still have a wow, almost I remember where I was watching that when X‑player had that round in round three. I think another thing that’s really cool this year is when I look at the brackets now and I see the one‑on‑one. It’s kind of like I’m seeing a team or a brand. Pujols versus Bryant, Pederson versus Machado.
In my mind, it makes it feel bigger initially. It’s like those two star players, power hitters kind of slugging it out toe to toe. I think that puts, I don’t know ‑‑ I think that personalizes it a little bit. I think these small little changes will help. And I think over the years you’ll continue to have to make small little changes to keep it very popular and to continue to resonate which I think it has a chance to a long time into the future.
CURT SCHILLING: I guess I don’t know ‑‑ well, I guess I know why, but we tend to shy away from commenting in, about, around or involving any of the guys that were labeled as PED guys. But I promise you any baseball fan in the last 35 years if you ask them about one of the Home Run Derbies, I’ll bet you at the top of everyone’s list was 1999. What was going on at Fenway for all the other reasons, but being there and watching that, that’s why I’m excited about this one. Because these guys are going to have a chance to make a big league ballpark look like a Wiffle Ball field, and that’s kind of cool.
Curt, you were talking about the hockey skills competition. Do you see any tweak in the future to the MLB All‑Star Weekend where a similar skills competition is added, perhaps to the pitching side to highlight some of the better pitchers, or do you feel that’s possibly something that would be fought given the protection around arms these days?
CURT SCHILLING: Yeah. I always wanted to see it. I always wanted to be at the All‑Star Game and have a controlled competition with Maddux or a velocity competition with somebody, but for the exact reason you stated. When you think about the money that is invested in just one guy, and now you’re looking at a Max Scherzer who has $200‑something million dollars. That will never happen from a pitchers perspective, which is unfortunate.
I get it, but you’re also asking ‑‑ hitting is so different because Aaron will tell you, you can go out and take batting practice, three, four, five times a day at different times. You might be tired at the end. You can’t go out and throw four or five bullpens. Well, you can, if you’re playing in Japan. But it just doesn’t work.
Maybe we’d see a base‑running competition or something like that. But, same thing. I mean, if you’re the Angels and Mike Trout pulls up lame on a speed contest to first base and he’s out 6 to 8 weeks, that’s a problem, right? I think it’s one of the reasons why you see the Pro Bowl for the NFL is at the end of the season.
And in hockey, the only thing I would tell you is the All‑Star Game itself in hockey is the way it is for that very reason. Guys don’t want to get hurt in an exhibition. The other thing is this game actually has residual effects.
The home team for the World Series, which I always thought was a pretty big deal, is decided. I still think that there needs to be some maneuvering around that and adjusting to that, but those are all factors that factor in.