Baseball

Only two sluggers have confirmed for next week's home run derby. What's going on?

Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper takes a swing against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, July 10, 2018.
Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper takes a swing against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, July 10, 2018. AP

The 2018 Home Run Derby is six days away and just two players have confirmed their participation in the 34th annual contest. With some notable superstars declining their invitation, has the competition outgrown itself?

Bryce Harper and Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Max Muncy will be competing in Monday's derby. Harper told the Washington Post via text message “count me in for the derby if I make the (All-Star) team” on June 23 and was announced a starter on the National League All-Star roster on Sunday. Major League Baseball announced on Twitter Monday afternoon Muncy would be the second participant to commit.

Last year's derby had all eight participants announced a week in advance, including 2017 National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton and American League Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge. The ESPN telecast was the most watched since 2008 and the second-most watched since 1999 with nearly 9 million viewers, according to Forbes.

Judge and Stanton, who are the last two derby champions, have said they will not compete this year.

“I’ve done it plenty of times, take a year off. Take two years off,’’ Stanton told the New York Post.

Said Judge to NJ.com: “This year, we've got something special going on here. I'm kind of sad I'm not doing it, but we've got something pretty special here. I just want to stay healthy going into the second half.”

It's not as if this year's most prolific home run hitters won't already be in Washington, D.C. – nine of the top 11 made the All-Star rosters, and the other two, the Brewers' Jesus Aguilar and the Yankees' Giancarlo Stanton, are on the final roster ballot.

Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts, who is one of five players tied for seventh-most home runs this year, voiced his opinion on the competition.

Do something else, or take it out. Don’t even do it,” Betts told WEEI radio. “Anything you do too much, people are going to get tired of it."

Betts made a suggestion to bring on a skills competition, similar to what the NBA added in 2003 to show ballhandling, passing and shooting.

“Something like a throwing from the outfield contest. Some type of throwing contest," he said. "Trying to throw into a barrel or infielders have to take a ground ball to your left, ground ball to your right, slow roller and they have to throw into a screen with a box. That might be something.”

The derby has dropped in viewership throughout the past decade with an average of 6.68 million viewers from 2013 to 2017, nearly an 11 percent drop compared to the viewership from 2008 to 2012.

Major League Baseball has not yet announced a format change or the pending invitations of players for the derby. So fans should expect to see the announcement of six other participants for the upcoming competition within the next few days.

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