Hernández: With Shohei Ohtani bowing out, MLB should cancel the home run derby

Dodgers designated player Shohei Ohtani reacts as he runs the bases after hitting a 433-foot, 2-run homer

Major League Baseball might as well cancel the home run derby.

With Shohei Ohtani saying on Tuesday night that he is unlikely to compete in the annual swing-a-thon, what’s the point?

“This time, I think it will move in the direction of me probably not participating,” Ohtani said in Japanese.

What a loss for the event, which will be staged on July 15 at Globe Life Field in Texas, one day before the all-star game.

Dodgers designated player Shohei Ohtani is greeted by outfielder Teoscar Hernandez after hitting a home run TuesdayDodgers designated player Shohei Ohtani is greeted by outfielder Teoscar Hernandez after hitting a home run Tuesday

What a loss for baseball.

Ohtani’s decision shouldn’t be considered a dereliction of duty to promote the sport, however.

This is a sacrifice. This is a calculated wager. This is a recognition of what is at stake.

Ohtani wants to play in the postseason.

“The reason he came to the Dodgers,” manager Dave Roberts said, “was to win a championship.”

All-Star week isn’t baseball’s greatest stage.

October is.

Read more: Freddie Freeman, Teoscar Hernández key thrilling walk-off win for Dodgers

Roberts said Ohtani is “very in-tune with his responsibility” as the Face of Baseball.

“No player moves the needle in baseball more than Shohei, as far as on a global scale,” Roberts said.

Ohtani winning, or even just participating in, a home run derby could draw attention to baseball for a handful of days. Ohtani dominating the playoffs could reverse the trajectory of the sport’s declining popularity.

The widespread enthusiasm over his potential entry in the derby was entirely understandable, considering his performance with the Dodgers.

Ohtani leads the National League in homers with 27.

The most recent of them was hit in a series-opening 6-5 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday night, with Ohtani launching a slider by Justin Martinez into the right-field pavilion after taking a 101-mph fastball for a ball.

Dodgers designated player Shohei Ohtanilets out a scream as he foul tips a ball off his legDodgers designated player Shohei Ohtanilets out a scream as he foul tips a ball off his leg

Dodgers designated player Shohei Ohtanilets out a scream as he foul tips a ball off his leg against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

“I don’t understand how he was able to do that,” first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “It’s hard to imagine because I’m rolling that over.”

The homer was Ohtani’s 10th in the last 14 games. The ball traveled an estimated 433 feet but was only his 10th-longest homer of the season.

Ohtani said last week he wanted to compete in the derby but cautioned that his participation was contingent on the approval of team officials, trainers and doctors because he was still rehabilitating his surgically-repaired right elbow.

In other words, the decision would take into consideration his anticipated return to the mound. The two-way player is expected to resume pitching next year. Future Octobers were also at stake.

Roberts admitted that his preference was for Ohtani to skip the event. Ultimately, after what Roberts described as a “group discussion,” Ohtani agreed.

Read more: Shohei Ohtani misses pitching, but is DH-only role boosting his plate production?

“It’s not solely his responsibility to carry Major League Baseball,” Roberts said.

In addition to the rehabilitation of his elbow, Ohtani pointed to the number of swings he would have to take as a reason to not compete. New rules will permit hitters to take as many as 40 swings in each of the first two rounds and 27 in the final.

Ohtani was a derby contestant once before, in 2021. He crashed out in the round but set a record for the most 500-plus-foot homers with six.

“In any other normal situation, where he wasn’t rehabbing, I think he would love to participate,” Roberts said. “But then you layer on something that is so unique to anyone, the volume of swings, the intensity of it, it would just be a real disappointment for not only Shohei, the Dodgers, and also the fans, if something were to happen during something like that, which is an exhibition, essentially.”

Read more: Inside Shohei Ohtani’s baseball journey

Ohtani will be in Texas for the All-Star Game, as he has received more fan votes than any other NL designated hitter.

Nonetheless, his exclusion from one of the week’s signature events will matter. Will a casual sports fan tune in to watch Gunnar Henderson in the derby? Does a casual sports fan even know who Gunnar Henderson is?

Ohtani has placed a significant wager on the Dodgers. He has gambled that they will make the necessary moves to give them a realistic chance to triumph in October. He has bet that he will perform once he is there.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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