Miami Dolphins training camp is upon us, ushering in another August of obsession over a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since Tiger Woods was good enough to win a major and the Philadelphia Phillies were world champions.
Yeah, it’s been a while.
Isn’t it nice to know, however, that the Miami Heat are never far from a run at the NBA Finals with Pat Riley in charge and Dwyane Wade still happy to be here?
Think of it. The Heat, with LeBron James and without, have been to the Eastern Conference finals six times in the last 11 years.
The San Antonio Spurs have been to the Western Conference finals six times, too, but nobody else in the league, and certainly no one in the East, has been as consistent.
Here’s the list of conference finals appearances since 2005, with the most recent appearance in parentheses.
San Antonio 6 (2014)
Miami 6 (2014)
Detroit 4 (2008)
Cleveland 3 (2015)
Oklahoma City 3 (2014)
Boston 3 (2012)
L.A. Lakers 3 (2010)
Phoenix 3 (2010)
Indiana 2 (2014)
Dallas 2 (2011)
Orlando 2 (2009)
Golden State 1 (2015)
Houston 1 (2015)
Atlanta 1 (2015)
Memphis 1 (2013)
Chicago 1 (2011)
Denver 1 (2009)
Utah 1 (2007)
It gets even better when you examine the dropoff Miami suffered once LeBron was gone compared to the pit that Cleveland fell into under the same conditions.
In the season after LeBron, Miami went 37-45, missing the playoffs but knowing that they might have gotten there with Chris Bosh available for more than the first half of the season. Knowing, too, that things are looking pretty good for next season with Wade and Bosh and Goran Dragic and Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside and newcomers Justise Winslow and Amar’e Stoudemore ready to go.
Cleveland, on the other hand, bottomed out at 19-63 the year after LeBron abandoned them for Miami. What’s more, in the four seasons after LeBron bolted, the Cavs never once reached the 37-45 mark that Miami hit last year.
Big Three isn’t the only kind of math that Riley understands. Because of that, when you say wait until next year with the Heat, there’s actual promise in the phrase.
Good catching up with Jeff Driskel at Conference USA media day. He’s a genuinely nice kid who handled his demotion at Florida with class, not to mention the tsunami of social-media criticism that preceded it, and should have a lot more success playing quarterback at Louisiana Tech.
Maybe it would have just been better if he started out at a place like La Tech to begin with, but everybody was after Driskel, the Maxwell Club National High School Player of the year, when he came out of Oviedo in 2011. Signng Driskel away from Alabama, Auburn, Virginia Tech, LSU, Clemson and all the other teams that wanted him was the key to Will Muschamp’s first recruiting class at Florida.
The guy was fully committed to the Gators, all right, even though Urban Meyer’s departure would have given him an easy out. Driskel not only came to Gainesville, he enrolled early and got right to work on building what seemed likely to be one of the most memorable careers ever for a Florida quarterback.
Unfortunately, all anyone remembers now are the untimely turnovers by Driskel and the injuries that held him back, none of which did much for the generally impotent offensive game plan that Muschamp and his various coordinators served up.
There really is a fine athlete here, however, with the emotional maturity to become an instant leader at Louisiana Tech. Last year the Bulldogs went with another transfer quarterback, Cody Sokol, who played very little at Iowa but threw for 30 touchdown passes in one season at Louisiana Tech and got a brief look from the Kansas City Chiefs in May as an undrafted free agent.
Driskel, in contrast, threw 23 touchdown passes in four years at Florida.
Here’s a statistical sampling, however, of why Muschamp kept believing the Gators would take off with Driskel.
He rushed for 177 yards and three touchdowns in a 2012 game at Vanderbilt. That’s more than Tim Tebow ever ran for in a game.
Driskel also had a nearly flawless 14-for-20 passing day in a win at Tennessee that same season, plus three touchdown passes in a crazy triple-overtime win over Kentucky just last September. It took a fourth-and-7 scoring pass from Driskel to Demarcus Robinson just to keep that game going into a second overtime period.
Overall, Driskel was 15-6 as a Florida starter, and 9-5 as a starter in SEC games. He won, but not enough to meet the standards that Florida once kept under Meyer and Steve Spurrier, and not against the league’s best competition.
“It was time for me to move on,” Driskel said Wednesday of his decision to transfer shortly after Jim McElwain’s hiring as the new Gators coach. “I hope nothing but the best for the University of Florida.
“It wasn’t like they forced me out. I made the decision and I’m happy with the decision I made.”
And what does Driskel think of Conference USA competition compared to the poundings he took at Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge and Tallahassee?
“Looking at the NFL draft, a lot of great players have come out of Conference USA,” he said. “As far as what I’ve seen of the defenses on tape, I don’t think it falls off that much from what I was used to.”
That’s Driskel for you, always saying the right things and trying like crazy to do the right things, too. That included him asking, for whatever reason, to take a selfie with me, a weird old hack he doesn’t know from Adam.
Oh, and former Miami coach Larry Coker also looks much more relaxed these days as coach of Texas-San Antonio of Conference USA. The only thing bothering him during the league’s season kickoff session at the Boca Raton Resort & Hotel was the absence of an old friend.
“I usually wear my Miami ring (from the 2001 national championship) to events like this, and for recruiting, but I don’t have it today,” Coker said. “I was washing my hands at home not long ago when it fell on the tile floor and cracked the setting. I figured it would be all right but a few days later I looked down and it was gone. Just a black hole where the setting used to be.
“I’m getting a new setting now, but I tell you, I miss it.”
Coker went 4-8 last year in UTSA’s first season as a full Conference USA member, with a 27-7 win over Houston as the highlight. The Roadrunners also beat FIU 16-13. One of the worst moments of Coker’s Hurricanes career was the bench-clearing brawl that put both Miami and FIU in a horrible light during Larry’s final season with the Hurricanes in 2006.
“That was horrible, just horrible,” said Coker, who told it straight the the other day, just like always, terming the helmet-swinging fight “a riot” rather than a brawl.
They love him out in San Antonio more than Coker ever was loved in Miami. It’s a good fit, just like Louisiana Tech is for Driskel.
I have a list you’re going to hate, which is perfectly all right with me, because I hate it, too.
It’s a countdown of the 100 greatest college football teams of all time as determined by the website Sports on Earth. Using a complex metrics formula that drills much deeper than strength of schedule and other basic measures, the study concluded that the best team ever was the 1943 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who went 9-1 in the midst of a diminished World War II competitive field and lost to a military squad called Great Lakes Navy.
When you stop screaming, it may be possible to read on a bit more, but be warned. There are no teams from our state ranked in the top 40, and there seems to be special privilege given to any team that appeared on black-and-white television.
Notre Dame 1943
Notre Dame 1946
Notre Dame 1949
This should help explain why Notre Dame fans feel so superior. Like the Roman Empire, they once ruled the civilized world.
For me, any list of monster teams should start with the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers. Their closest margin of victory that season was two touchdowns and they routinely ran up 70 points on opponents. The capper was a 62-24 crushing of Steve Spurrier’s previously unbeaten Florida Gators in the Fiesta Bowl’s national championship game.
You probably have your own top choice, but we all should be able to agree that No. 33 isn’t high enough for this nuclear-option Nebraska attack. That’s where Sports on Earth has them, and that’s one spot better than Yale’s team from 1905.
Here’s where it gets personal.
The highest-ranked Miami team is the 2001 Hurricanes national championship squad at No. 45.
Florida’s best showing is No. 64 for the 2008 national title team, one spot behind the Purdue Boilermakers of 1943.
Florida State tops out at No. 82 for the title team of 1993. Oh, and just in case you’re worried that Notre Dame might be underrepresented here, the 1944 Fighting Irish come in higher than that with a tie for 80th-best.
Metrics are fun and all but even after weeks of crunching numbers I would throw out any system that produced results like this. It would have been far better not to bother.
These conclusions look more like Sports on Mars than anything that might actually be believable on our planet.
It wasn’t pleasant watching David Blatt get overpowered by the ego and authority of LeBron James in the NBA playoffs. As Blatt repeatedly reminded the media, he wasn’t a rookie coach, not after years spent running successful pro teams in Israel and Russia, but LeBron never minded overruling the guy on the sidelines or simply ignoring him altogether.
I’m betting we’d find a lot more of this around the NBA if anybody cared to follow other teams the way the media does the Cleveland Cavaliers. Most players bend to strong authority figures on the sidelines for as little time as possible, and that includes the marginal experience of dropping by college on the way to the pros.
I skimmed through the Cavs’ roster to note the pre-NBA backgrounds of key players from the NBA Finals loss to Golden State. There are exceptions, like Matthew Dellavedova, who played four seasons at St. Mary’s College, and Iman Shumpert, who played three at Georgia Tech, but here is the rule.
Player Pre-NBA background
LeBron James Drafted out of high school
J.R. Smith Drafted out of high school
Kyrie Irving One-and-done at Duke
Kevin Love One-and-done at UCLA
Tristan Thompson One-and-done at Texas.
Now that’s not saying all of these guys have attitude problems or won’t allow themselves to be pushed by a demanding coach. That’s not true at all. Around the league, however, it’s the players who make the money and the coaches who come and go. Now mix that general dynamic into the environment at Cleveland, which centered around LeBron’s view that he always has been his own best teacher in developing the skills that make him the NBA’s best player.
Clearly, Blatt was in trouble from the beginning.
The Miami Heat have a solid core of hard-working players but even there coach Erik Spoelstra is fortunate to have a power broker like Pat Riley minding the shop. Riley is the foundation for the notion that sacrificing money and minutes for the good of the team is the secret to championship contention. If anyone else were saying it, and if Riley didn’t already have a long history of proving it, there aren’t many players who would want to hear that.
Look at these key Heat players and their backgrounds. We’re leaving out Udonis Haslem (four years at Florida) and Mario Chalmers (three years at Kansas) because they don’t fit the mold.
Player Pre-NBA background
Dwyane Wade 2 competitive seasons at Marquette, sat out freshman year
Josh McRoberts 2 years at Duke
Chris Bosh One-and-done at Georgia Tech
Luol Deng One-and-done at Duke
Hassan Whiteside One-and-done at Marshall
Justise Winslow One-and-done at Duke
Amar’e Stoudemire Drafted right out of high school
One team presents itself as a significant outlier in this discussion, and it might help explain why Steve Kerr did so well in building a cohesive championship team in his rookie season as an NBA head coach.
His Warriors feature a majority of players who put in their time in college, running wind sprints, pushing to make grades, trying to win the trust of often-grumpy coaches who were institutions on their own campuses and didn’t much care if all their players didn’t like them.
Check this Golden State roster.
Player Pre-NBA background
Draymond Green 4 years at Michigan State
Andre Iguodala 4 years at Vanderbilt
Festus Ezili 4 years at Vanderbilt
David Lee 4 years at Florida
Steph Curry 3 years at Davidson
Klay Thompson 3 years at Washington State
Shaun Livingston Drafted right out of high school
Hey, it doesn’t explain everything when separating the top teams from everyone else, but Kerr, who had a long career as an NBA player, understands how difficult it is for coaches to maintain the focus and respect of millionaire players over the course of a long season. Could be he considered the information in the list above before deciding to leave the broadcasting game and give it a try.
Now we’ll wait and see on Billy Donovan and Fred Hoiberg, two college coaches getting their first taste of the NBA life this season.
It just won’t show up, no matter how many times I stare at the Florida Gators 2015 football schedule.
There’s no Florida-Auburn game this year, which means there will be no immediate chance for Tigers defensive coordinator Will Muschamp to rain havoc down on his former Gator team, or to be humiliated by a Florida offense he never could get kicked out of neutral.
It’s a shame for those of us who crave drama on a Saturday afternoon, with a little bulletin-board buffoonery on the days leading up to the game just for added spice.
Think back to April, when new Florida head coach Jim McElwain began to set the table for lowered expectations by the noting lack of depth he inherited on the offensive line. Muschamp jumped on that, remembering how McElwain had previously answered questions with the confident approach that he could win with anybody, even his dog Clarabell.
“Said he could coach a dog and win,” Muschamp said when asked about McElwain’s poormouthing of Florida’s depth. “Heck, (does) he like the dog better than his players?”
Muschamp won’t be able to resist popping off during Florida week, either, whenever it first comes around. He’ll revert to the skyrocketing “Coach Boom” role that he perfected in a previous time as Auburn’s defensive coordinator, and he would have loved even more taking on the Gators right away after being fired as their head coach last November.
Don’t make the mistake of categorizing this guy as wholly incompetent just because he went 17-15 against SEC competition as Florida’s head coach and, worst of all, lost to Georgia Southern.
I wrote in December of 2010 that Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley would be rewarded for his bold move of hiring Muschamp, and wrote again in November of 2013 that Foley needed to cut the guy loose because it wasn’t working. In between those two columns, however, and to this day, I never stopped believing that Muschamp is one of the strongest defensive coaches around.
During his previous stint at Auburn, Muschamp prowled and jumped and fist-bumped on the sidelines at the Swamp as the Tigers pinned the first loss on Tim Tebow’s Heisman Trophy season. One year earlier, in 2006, the Gators won a national championship, but not without taking a loss at Auburn, their only one of the season. In each case, Florida scored only 17 points and Muschamp got a lot of the credit for that.
Now he’s getting $3.7 million per season over the next three years to run Gus Malzahn’s defense, and even though he’s the highest-paid assistant in college football, most of that total comes from what Florida still owes him. He has no reason to feel mistreated by Foley, who gave Muschamp one more season than necessary to straighten things out, but Muschamp is an intense competitor who also probably never quite got over the indoctrination of playing football at Georgia. He just can’t help being who he is.
So here’s how it plays out. The coach Florida fans couldn’t wait to get rid of is in line now to torment the Gators and everyone else in the SEC, on and off, for the next several years.
Auburn isn’t a contender for the national title according to media consensus simply because Alabama is a little down, or because Malzahn is a terrific playcaller. Having Muschamp there to shore up the Tigers’ porous defense is as important a reason as any.
Still staring at the Florida schedule and still no Auburn game popping up. That’s bad news for the TV networks, who would have fought each other for that matchup, and good news for the Gators, who are much better off playing LSU and Ole Miss from the SEC West this year.
There aren’t any easy teams in that division, but going up against Auburn right now would do McElwain no favors at a time when he really could use a few.
If anybody still gets a kick out of bashing Ryan Tannehill as some kind of a total dud compared to other quarterbacks around the league, there’s an easy measure of that coming up this season.
Three wide receivers who used to partner with Tannehill in Miami – Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson – are playing for new teams in 2015. It’s the perfect opportunity to put behind them all the groans and eyerolls and grimaces that accompanied their missed connections at Dolphins, and to prove that moving the ball down the field in hefty chunks really shouldn’t be all that difficult.
For Wallace, that means finding an easier offensive rhythm with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in Minnesota. If Wallace’s numbers are better than last year with the Dolphins (67 catches for 862 yards and 10 touchdowns) he’ll finally be happy.
The thing is, no Vikings receiver caught more than six touchdowns last year during Bridgewater’s 12-start rookie debut. The one who did, Greg Jennings, is now with the Dolphins. What’s more, Teddy averaged just 224.5 passing yards per game. Tannehill wasn’t exactly a monster, but he was better than that (252.8).
The best news for Wallace is that Bridgewater has a strong arm and may finally prove a good deep-ball fit with the former Pro Bowl receiver. Teddy completed an 87-yard pass to Jarius Wright last season. Only Ben Roethlisberger, Wallace’s old teammate in Pittsburgh, hit one for longer in 2014.
Who knows? Maybe Wallace will rejuvenate his career with the Vikings and Bridgewater will polish his significant skills more quickly than Tannehill has in four pro seasons. Right now, though, the Dolphins have the more efficient quarterback (Tannehill threw 27 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions last year) and overall that makes life simpler, if not always spectacular, for wide receivers and everybody else.
Hartline’s in Cleveland, where Josh McCown is the starting quarterback du jour. McCown, 36, was 1-10 as a starter in Tampa Bay last year. From that standpoint, you could say he played a major role in improving the Bucs, in that he played a major role in getting Jameis Winston there.
If McCown doesn’t work out, Hartline’s Plan B is catching passes from Johnny Manziel.
Bottom line, Hartline may increase his stats from last year (39 catches for 474 yards and two touchdowns) for the simple reason that there will be more passes coming his way. He’ll have to work harder than ever for every reception, however, and he’ll be even farther from the playoffs.
Gibson gets the best deal from the respect of going to New England, where Tom Brady runs the show as long as Roger Goodell will let him. The problem is Gibson has no guarantee of making the regular-season roster.
Tannehill, meanwhile, will be working with Jarvis Landry plus a new cast of Jennings, Kenny Stills and first-round draft pick DaVante Parker, plus tight end Jordan Cameron, another offseason addition.
Maybe none of them will catch 10 touchdown passes like Wallace did in 2014, but the whole package is still promising. Tannehill, who’s no dud, will keep improving, and as always he’ll still get bashed for not doing more.
I’m guessing that $95 million extension he got in May will aid in getting over the criticism, though. The Dolphins are building a team around Tannehill, and if this new group of receivers doesn’t work out, they’ll go out and get him some more.
Nobody asked me, but it seems like the psychic scribes at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., are piling on Florida and new coach Jim McElwain for no good reason.
Reporters at the conference kickoff meeting predicted the Gators would finish fifth in the SEC East this season, ahead of only Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Did nobody tell them that Will Muschamp moved on?
My assumption is that Florida will be better on offense no matter who McElwain chooses to play quarterback and no matter what he asks them to do. This coach knows offense. He can’t work miracles, not without anything resembling strength on the offensive line, but he knows offense.
So if the Gators are slightly better on offense and hold their own defensively, why shouldn’t they be as competitive within the division as they were last year? That’s right, even with Muschamp’s boring offensive attack, Florida went 4-2 in the SEC East.
Florida beat Georgia 38-20, and the Bulldogs are the team that the media picked to win the division in 2015.
There was one horrible loss in there, 42-13 to Missouri in the Swamp. Still can’t figure out how Mizzou took control of this division so quickly.
The other SEC East loss, to South Carolina, was in overtime. There were other squeakers, too, a three-overtime monster against Kentucky and a 10-9 snoozer against Tennesse, but the Gators won both of those. Isn’t that what counts? Last within the division there was one of Florida’s best games overall, a 34-10 pounding of a Vanderbilt team that usually makes the Gators work a lot harder.
Here’s another thing. Florida, for all its problems, would have been 8-5 last year if not the season opener against Idaho being canceled by storms. The cupboard isn’t completely bare, at least not to the point that weaklings like Kentucky and Vanderbilt are the only SEC East rivals that McElwain can handle.
Big Mac has brought some of this on by poormouthing his team and trying to build a little cushion for his first season in Gainesville. Expectations do tend to get out of control pretty quickly at Florida, or at least they did before Muschamp popped that balloon.
I’ll just say that the media missed on this one, just like they did in predicting that Alabama would win the SEC West but Auburn would win the league title. Make up your minds, fellas.
Better yet, let’s just see how it all plays out.
(By the way, if anybody had asked, I would have put Florida in a third-place tie with South Carolina in the SEC East, behind Georgia and Missouri.)
Getting Amar’e Stoudemire now at the veterans’ minimum of $1.5 million is a Pat Riley master stroke, and it’s proof of the Miami Heat’s continued reputation as a franchise that’s never far from striking it rich.
I’ll be interested now to see if Hassan Whiteside, the 7-foot shot blocker with all the raw skills, can keep Stoudemire on the bench more than half the time.
There’s quite a gap in their ages – Whiteside just turned 26 and Stoudemire is 32 – but their stat lines aren’t as different as you might think in some categories.
Look at last year’s per-game averages.
Player Mins Pts Reb Blks
Whiteside 23.8 11.8 10.0 2.6
Stoudemire 21.1 11.5 5.6 0.6
Whiteside you figure will improve, especially in the development of his offensive skills, but overall it’s a matter of the Heat hoping he will become the player that Stoudemire was in his prime. There’s no guarantee on that, even though Amar’e went through the same kind of rapid development.
As a 20-year-old NBA rookie, Stoudemire averaged 13.8 points and 8.8 rebounds for Phoenix. By his third pro season he was an All-Star, and by his ninth he was an Eastern Conference All-Star starter alongside LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose.
In between was the free-agency summer of 2010, when Stoudemire got a five-year deal just under
$100 million to join the New York Knicks. The Knicks met with LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh, too, and Stoudemire actually believed there was a good chance that one or more of them might join him in New York.
“I feel great about being a pioneer and showing my leadership,” Stoudemire said on the day he signed his Knicks contract. “Playing with LeBron would be great. But again, I’m not sure what his decision is and where he’s leaning. If he’s leaning more toward New York, then that’s a great start for us.”
Of course, “The Decision” settled all that later in the week, setting the Heat up for a championship run and leaving Amar’e atop a Madison Square Garden molehill instead of a mountain.
Look ahead to next summer, though, and try to guess whether Whiteside will be worthy of the same kind of max contract money that Stoudemire once was.
When Stoudemire got his jackpot deal, he was coming off four straight seasons averaging 20 points or better.
Whiteside still needs to learn a few things from this guy before he thinks about becoming him.
Clayton Kershaw is an All-Star, which is far out, and right this minute the ashes of his great uncle are floating through the stars, which is even farther.
Clyde Tombaugh (1906-1997) discovered Pluto 85 years ago while staring into the Arizona night sky through a powerful Lowell Observatory telescope. In recognition of his achievement, the scientists who packed up the New Horizons space probe for the recently completed trip to whatever Pluto is (some say planet, some say pshaw) included a canister of Tombaugh’s ashes and an inscription identifying him as “father, astronomer, teacher, punster, and friend.”
Does any of this matter to Kershaw? It must. In a 2013 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night talk show, the Dodgers’ ace verified that Tombaugh is his great uncle and then blasted off a bit on the International Astronomical Union, the august body responsible for sending Pluto down to the Triple-A league of dwarf planets.
“I’m really glad you brought this up,” Kershaw told Kimmel, who may have been expecting a lighter answer to his question. “It’s something that’s been a huge problem in the Kershaw/Tombaugh family for a couple of years now.
“My great uncle discovered Pluto. I know that sounds like a joke when it comes out, but it’s true. Clyde Tombaugh, my great uncle, discovered Pluto, and they took it away from us. Said it’s a dwarf planet now. What, scientists just decide to just get in a room one day and say, ‘Oh, you know, we’re out with Pluto’?”
Is there nothing we can agree upon down here? I prefer to believe, for instance, that the moon is made of swiss cheese, nicely chilled. Any of you nerds over at the International Astronomical Union got a problem with that?
Anyway, I’m hoping that one day Kershaw can pitch for the Houston Astros. It seems to be in his blood.
It wasn’t always necessary to add artificial significance to the All-Star Game, as in awarding World Series home-field advantage to the winning league.
Before interleague play, and before the NFL and other sports pushed baseball down off its pedestal, the rare treat of seeing great heroes collide in new and otherwise impossible combinations was significant enough.
Where else would you see an American League Cy Young winner pitch against a National League batting champion, unless it was in the World Series?
Hey, for the sports-obsessed kid I used to be in the barren world before cable TV, it was like watching Godzilla vs. King Kong fight it out to see who was toughest. Not in Tokyo, though, or in the jungle, but on a neutral field.
The old-timers talk about the 1934 All-Star game as the classic match of power on power. Carl Hubbell of the New York Giants struck out Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin that day. All Hall of Famers and all five in a row.
Well, I’m an old goat, too, it seems, or at least I’m going to sound like one by saying my favorite All-Star Game was in 1971.
Home runs were hit that night at the old Tiger Stadium by the following players – Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson, Johnny Bench and Reggie Jackson. Oh, and Reggie’s moonball struck a light standard on the roof of the stadium or else it might still be going.
The score (AL won 6-4) didn’t matter to me but the game sure did.
Baseball has tinkered with this format so many times. There even was a period from 1959-1962 when two All-Star games were played each summer. Watered the competition down, of course, just like going to interleague play during the regular season eliminated most of the mystique.
I’ll be watching Tuesday night, though, for at least the first three innings.
Takes me back to baseball’s heyday, which must have been mine, too. Sure was fun pretending to be Vida Blue or Carl Yastrzemski with the other neighborhood kids.
Don’t let anybody try to tell you this Home Run Derby stuff is new, either. We used to play it from dawn until dusk, or until the mosquitoes chased us in. Only needed two players, too, if the others wimped out.
We leaned an old refrigerator door up against a tree. If a pitch got past a batter and hit the door, anywhere at all, the loud clang signaled an undisputed strike. (The neighbors must have loved that.) You struck out and drew walks like that, with imaginary runners taking their places on imaginary bases.
A home run was anything over the power line in left field, or across the street in center, or over the house in right, with the TV antenna on the roof serving as the foul pole. Anything else was an out.
Keep it simple and you’re better off. The guys who run baseball should know that if they don’t know anything else.