HR Derby good for the game


PITTSBURGH — The All-Star home run hitting contest was full of hokum, and that’s good.

It’s a made-for-TV show that lends itself to that sort of over-the-top presentation.

The contestants came out like gladiators and climbed steps atop a platform that looked like a giant cake. They were introduced by a hype-filled public address announcer and there was a DJ on duty.

There was a lot of bombast and bluster, and that’s exactly what an event like this needs.

The contest is basically a throw-away, something that spices up a day that used to be an empty spot on the schedule. Now it’s an event. The outcome doesn’t really matter. Does anyone remember the winners of past contests?

The process gets awfully convoluted, but baseballs get launched and that’s good. It’s meant to be a spectacle. People get to ooh and aah as the baseballs fly.

The goofy presentation isn’t for everybody, but that’s by design. Baseball needs to attract young viewers. The gray-hair set already watches baseball games. They’re the ones who nod knowingly when Steve Blass makes one of those references to Willie McCovey.

But there are a lot of younger people who say, “Willie McWho?” They clicked over for a game, not a history lesson.

So the home run contest runs in a way that makes you wonder if Vince McMahon is at the controls. That’s OK. Kids are accustomed to that kind of presentation. They like an event that plays out like a video game that’s come to life.

As Ed Sullivan used to say, “…now for you youngsters….”

(Kids, ask your grandparents who Ed Sullivan was. He was big when Willie McCovey was).

If the home run contest and its glitz bring young fans into the MLB tent, it’s a good thing.

Shopping list

Assuming the Pirates don’t make a deal that involves a big name, they should be shopping for some spare parts.

Specifically they need another reliable arm (or two) for the bullpen and they could use a veteran bat (or two) to come off the bench.

The bench has been weakened by the absences of Starling Marte and Jung Ho Kang. Marte’s return next week should make John Jaso more of the backup player he was meant to be.

The late-inning pinch hitting options are seriously limited, though, and a couple of part-time professional bats would help.

The bullpen has been a season-long issue, as so few relievers have earned Clint Hurdle’s trust. The Pirates don’t always know what they’ll get from Tony Watson and Daniel Hudson, so an experienced reliever would be a boost.

The Pirates are in good shape in the ninth with Felipe Rivero. The issue is covering those innings between the stater’s departure and the ninth.

Shipping out

Of all the Penguins’ offseason losses, the most significant may be assistant coach Rick Tocchet’s departure to become head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes.

Tocchet was an important buffer between Phil Kessel and coach Mike Sullivan. Kessel has a way of exasperating coaches with his unique approach to hockey, and Sullivan’s patience with him could wear thin.

That’s where Tocchet could step in and keep things calm. That level of insulation is gone now, and it remains to be seen if new assistant Mark Recchi can handle the situation as well as Tocchet did.

Mehno can be reached