Home Run Derby

He was just made for the game.

Prior to 1985, the All-Star Break was purely about the All-Star Game, and many of the festivities you see today weren’t there. But when the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota held the 1985 All-Star Game, it became the first stadium and All-Star Game to also have a Home Run Derby. However, this wasn’t the first time a Home Run Derby had occurred.

In 1960, Wrigley Field (in Los Angeles, not Chicago) held a series of contests throughout the season pitting the best sluggers in the game against each other. Its format was a bit different from today’s, and it more resembled an actual game. The two sluggers battled it out for 9 innings with each of them getting 3 outs an inning. The winner would be on the next show and would gain the benefit of batting last. It’s also worth noting that if a batter took a pitch that was a strike, he received an out. The show didn’t last long, and Chris Berman believes it was because the announcer was too dry (let’s not all start yelling just yet).

But in 1985, the new Home Run Derby was partly influenced by its predecessor. The format changed as did the number of batters. With eight batters, 9 innings per batter is a bit excessive, so each batter was given 5 outs, and the two best scores moved onto a final round. Dave Parker won the first ever Home Run Derby. Over the next two Derbies, the number of contestants went down to 6 and 4 but would go back up to 8 until 1996. Later in 1988, the Home Run Derby was cancelled due to rain, putting a slight smudge on Riverfront Stadium’s All-Star festivities, and it would be the only one that has been cancelled due to rain.

Starting in 1991, the number of outs (5 to 10) and rounds (2 to 3) increased to take advantage of the event. The top 4 moved on, and their home run counts were reset. In 1996, a new dimension was added when the home run distances were tracked for the first time, and the tie-breaker became the longest home run hit in Round 1. During the same game, 10 players were now chosen to hit in the Home Run Derby.

The year 2000 was another landmark year for the Home Run Derby. The number of contestants was brought down to 8 as more and more sluggers were refusing to be involved. That Home Run Derby also saw the change in the second round format. Before, it was a competition between all 4 batters in which the top 2 moved on to the final round, but in 2000, a match play came into effect. The player in first place after Round 1 played the one in fourth with the other two matched up, and the winners from those matches moved on to the final.

In 2005, a new wrinkle was added. Starting when the batter reached 9 outs, a gold ball was thrown to the hitter. If the hitter hit it out, Century 21 and Major League Baseball would donate $21,000 per home run to the Easter Seals and the Boys and Girls Club of America, respectively. A year later and in honor of the first World Baseball Classic, Derby contestants were not chosen based on the league in which they played, and instead, 8 different countries were represented.

Onto some trivia. Of course, Josh Hamilton set the single round record with 28 in last year’s first round. However, Bobby Abreu’s 2005 performance of 41 home runs bests Hamilton’s ultimate 35. As for the all-time leader, none other than Ken Griffey Jr., with 70, leads all contestants. Seattle and the Chicago Cubs are tied with 3 players each who have won Derbies. Seattle also leads with 12 contestants (Griffey 7 times), and Griffey leads with 8 all-time appearances.

What do I think of the Home Run Derby? Love the idea, hate the execution. You can pretty much look at Bill’s post earlier today for my feelings on the subject. In short, no Chris Berman (insert Matt Vasgersian and Scott Van Pelt because I love Van Pelt), no third round (just too long), the top 2 move on from the first round, and all home run totals count (no resets). But I like seeing the sluggers get out there and crank some home runs. As of right now, it’s the only time when you get to see these guys really having fun, and that’s what I like to see. Plus, fans get lots of souvenirs.

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