Consider The Dinger: Why We Love Home Runs Just So Dang Much

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Home runs are great. Almost everything about them is perfect, really. They even have a great nickname: dingers. That’s just a fun word to say. Go ahead, say it out loud now, wherever you are, even if people are around. They’ll probably just look at you and say “Hell, yeah!” anyway because, again, home runs are great. We should talk about them more. In fact, let’s do that. Let us all do that right now.

Let’s consider the dinger.

1. As with all things related to baseball, there’s something nostalgic about home runs. The crack of the bat. The “ooooo” and “ahhhh” of the crowd as the ball flies through the air. The cheering and organ music and peanuts and parents bonding with children and all the other slightly corny (but also very sweet) stuff that goes hand-in-hand with the sport. You know what I mean. You’ve seen Ken Burns movies.

2. There’s also something very primal and savage about home runs. One man throws a ball as hard as he can. Just over 60 feet away, another man holds a huge stick. When the ball gets close enough, the second man whacks it and sends it flying through the air and over a fence. That’s it. Throw ball, whack ball with stick, ball go so far no one get it. Cavemen could have invented the sport if they’d had more free time.

3. The only thing I can think of that gets close to that level of sports-related personal dominance is getting dunked on during a basketball game. There’s an added level of intimacy to that because it involves going directly over and on top of another person in close proximity. But after you do that — and pause for maybe a second or two to pose in a much-deserved flex — the game picks right back up. With a home run, the umpire literally stops the game so you can jog in a league-sanctioned circle around the person whose spirit you just crumpled up and discarded. For a sport that sometimes trips over itself about unwritten rules and not showing up opponents, this codified humiliation is kind of hilarious.

4. I think my last two points can be summed up best by watching this video of Albert Pujols hitting a home run off of Brad Lidge in the 2005 National League Championship Series. On second thought, watch it twice. The first time, watch Pujols as he cranks the ball into oblivion. Watch him stare at it as he starts marching toward first base, with the bat still in his hand, like maybe he’s toying with the idea of carrying it with him all the way around the bases. Watch the ball as it screams toward the brick arches above the left field fence in Houston’s stadium. Those arches are the sole reason why that ball is not still in the air today, circling the globe like an accidental satellite.

Then, the second time, watch Lidge’s reaction. Sports are dynamic and fun but also cruel in ways that hurt to watch.

5. You could make an argument that all of this — the suddenness of it, the ball flying through the air, the celebration — makes the home run the coolest play in sports. I mean, what’s close? Touchdowns are great and some of them are very cool (punt returns are the coolest), but others are decidedly not. No one ever stands around in their backyard dreaming of grunting through a pile of sweaty lineman for a one-yard goal-line dive, you know?

Alley-oops are cool, too. There’s an artistry to them that a home run can’t quite match, in part because of the teamwork at play. They’re almost like a scheme more than a play because there’s a level of sneakiness to it, with one team planning it all out and the other getting blindsided by it. But again, the game just continues. The moment of glory is a little too fleeting, I think.

Maybe the closest you can get is something like a penalty kick in soccer. You get the one-on-one aspect of the home run and the free reign to celebrate while the game pauses to reset, plus you get the added bonus of soccer announcers calling the action, which should not be overlooked because, as a collective, soccer announcers eat baseball announcers’ lunch. But kicking something isn’t quite as cool as mashing it with a stick. This is an objective fact that can’t be ignored.

Yeah, I’ve convinced myself. Home runs are the coolest play in sports.

6. Which is really saying something because baseball is definitely not the coolest sport. Basketball is the coolest sport and it’s not particularly close. Baseball spends way too much time tearing itself apart over bat flips and playing the game The Right Way to be in that conversation. Kind of a shame, really.

7. It should also be noted, though, that dingers are somewhat problematic, at least in the way anything can become a little problematic if you look at it too closely. It’s the steroids business. After the huge McGwire-Sosa-Bonds power surge of the late 1990s and early 2000s, it’s hard to watch a giant man smash a ball into the cosmos without a tiny, questioning voice pop in your head. I’m of two minds about it all: on one hand, I feel bad for the marginal baseball players who feel pressured to bend the rules and pump glowing ooze into their bodies because everyone else is doing it and if they don’t they’ll be out of a job. On the other hand, I … I really like watching giant men smash balls into the cosmos.

8. Palate cleanser after the PED stuff: Did you know there’s a Korean movie called Mr. Go that is about a circus gorilla who is so good at hitting home runs that he starts playing professionally? Because there is. I swear to God. I’ve seen it. Here, look:

(I have a lot of GIFs from this movie on my computer.)

9. Two notes about the Home Run Derby:

  • The Home Run Derby is very awesome again now that the format has been changed to feature a running clock. In hindsight, combining dingers and buzzer-beaters seems so obvious. It’s insane that it took us this long to figure that out. We should all be a little ashamed of ourselves.
  • The Home Run Derby is so great that every sport should hold one during their All-Star festivities. One with basketball players during All-Star weekend, one with football players at the Pro Bowl, etc. Especially the football one. God, that would be fun.

I want to see big, fat NFL linemen mashing dingers so bad.

10. You know what the best home run is? I’ll tell you: the walk-off home run. That’s one thing baseball has over every sport. Buzzer-beaters are a blast, especially during March Madness and especially if a double-digit seed is upsetting a top-ranked team, but there’s something so unpredictable and definitive about a game just ending in the middle of an inning because some guy hit a ball real far. And again, he then gets to circle the bases, trotting around and between all the players whose hearts he just shattered, while the crowd screams and his teammates wait for him at home plate. There’s a lot going on there. It’s all very good.

Just like dingers.