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Baseball’s star rookies specialize in the art of the home run

July 10, 2017 at 6:15 PM EDT
Halfway through a compelling year for professional baseball, several of the game’s best players are in Miami for the All-Star Game, starting with Monday’s Home Run Derby. Jeffrey Brown speaks with Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated about what to expect from the annual home-run hitting contest.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Professional baseball has reached the midpoint of its season, and it’s turning out to be a most compelling year.

Many of the game’s best players are in Miami for the next couple of nights for the midsummer classic, the All-Star Game.

Things kick off tonight with the Home Run Derby.

Jeffrey Brown takes it from there.

JEFFREY BROWN: Another at bat, another home run. Balls are flying out of the park this year at a record pace.

And adding to the excitement, two of the biggest sluggers are rookies: Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees and Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Tom Verducci is an MLB Network analyst, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, and, tomorrow, he will be the FOX MLB reporter for the All-Star Game in Miami. He joins us from Marlins Park, the site of the all-star festivities.

Tom, welcome to you.

So, first of all, all those home runs, I have seen different theories, the changes to the balls, changes to the swing. What’s going on?

TOM VERDUCCI, Sports Illustrated: Well, a little bit of everything. It’s like baking a cake. It’s not just one ingredient. There are many ingredients.

If you talk to the pitchers, they will definitely talk about the difference in the baseball, that the baseball actually is wound tighter and the seams on the baseball are smaller. So if you have lower seams, you have less drag.

And you have less drag, of course, that means more carry, and more fly balls are carrying out of ballparks.

So, you did bring up something. Hitters now know that to make money in the baseball, you have to do damage. You have to hit the ball in the air. So, this generation hitters is all about launching the ball in the air and not necessarily hitting it on the ground for batting average. It more about in the air or slugging.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, speaking of this generation, we have these two new rookie stars, and they happen to be in very large markets, right, New York and L.A.

So, what kind of impact are they having this year?

TOM VERDUCCI: Yes, it’s the perfect storm for baseball, because it truly is the intersection of the two dominant trends in baseball, number one, the home runs we talked about, and, number two, the influx of young stars in the game.

Now, baseball, traditionally, there has been a long learning curve. Even when they get to the Major Leagues, after their apprenticeship in the minor leagues, it takes a while for a player to establish himself.

What we’re seeing now in recent years — and Judge and Bellinger are great examples of this — hitters becoming impact players almost immediately as soon as they get to the big leagues.

Now, I think this has something to do with our society in general. We’re now specializing at early ages. So, these hitters now are specializing on the art of hitting, rather than playing multiple sports, locking in on their specific skills.

So, Judge and Bellinger have hit the ground running. And one more thing. Bellinger, in A Ball a couple of years ago, specifically changed his swing to hit more balls in the air. In other words, he’s adapted to this revolution of fly ball hitters. And it’s paying off for him.

JEFFREY BROWN: We have this sort of overperforming team in the Houston Astros and the underperforming, the reigning champions, the Cubs.

But do want to ask you in our last minute about this continuing problem, the length of the games, something I notice and probably a lot of the fans. Why is it so hard to change that?

TOM VERDUCCI: Sure.

Well, first of all, it’s not so much about length of game as it is about the pace of the action, how quickly or not, as it is, is the ball put in play. It’s all the time between pitches. So, I think it is a priority for Major League Baseball going forward. The game is strong right now economically, but I think baseball is worried about a younger generation of fans who get turned off by the amount of downtime in the game.

In soccer, football, basketball, the ball is generally in motion quite often. In baseball, it’s going in the opposite direction. So, baseball now is talking about some remedies, talking about, now, including perhaps a pitch clock, where a pitcher now would be literally under a clock to deliver his next pitch, say, within 20 seconds.

They have tried that in the minor leagues. It definitely has worked in transportation of moving the game at a better place. Now baseball needs the Players Association to agree to that kind of change. As they say, negotiations are ongoing.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Tom Verducci, enjoy tomorrow night’s game, and thanks so much for joining us.

TOM VERDUCCI: Thank you.

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