The first modern Home Run Derby was held before the 1985 All-Star Game at the Metrodome in Minnesota. Each batter was allowed five outs an inning in a two-inning game. Any hit that didn't clear a fence in fair territory was an out. The participants in the first Home Run Derby included Hall of Famers Ryne Sandberg, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr. and Carlton Fisk. The American League sluggers won 17-16, with Oakland's Dave Parker leading the way with a Home Run Derby winning 6 home runs.
A Rules Change
The Home Run Derby format was changed in 1991 to three innings or rounds and each player was allowed ten outs an inning. The rules have varied slightly but the objective remains the same - which player can hit the most home runs? In 2005, as a prelude to the World Baseball Classic, eight players participated, with each representing his own country instead of his league. Venezuela's Bobby Abreu, a then member of the Philadelphia Phillies, was the winner.
The Top Five Home Run Derbies
The top five Home Run Derbies were the aforementioned 1985, plus 1994, 1997, 2005, and 1959. In the 1994 event, 24 year old Ken Griffey Jr. demonstrated his great power as he won with 7 home runs in a field that included future Hall of Famers Mike Piazza, Frank Thomas, and Jeff Bagwell. In 1997, Tino Martinez beat Larry Walker in the finals in one of the most memorable two man contests, and in 2005, Bobby Abreu set a record by belting incredible 41 home runs.
The 1959 Home Run Derby: Mickey and Willie
To veteran fans, the 1959 Home Run Derby, which inspired the modern contest, was held in the off season at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. The most meaningful battle was between two of the greatest center fielders in baseball history, Mickey Mantle vs. Willie Mays. From about 1954 until the Giants and Dodgers abandoned New York after the 1957 season, fans argued about Mickey, Willie, and the Duke. The Home Run Derby Contest between Mickey and Willie added fuel to the fire as the switch hitting Mickey, batting right handed, came from behind to beat Willie.
Some Players Claim Their Swing is Affected
Some players eschew participating in the Home Run Derby, claiming it affects their swing, but Lance Berkman, who is having an outstanding season and who will participate in the 2008 Home Run Derby, disagrees. "I think that when you get to the Major Leagues and you spend so much time taking swings the right way, if you take 45 minutes or an hour trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark, I don't think it's going to permanently flaw your swing for the rest of the season."
The 2008 Home Run Derby
In 2008, Josh Hamilton, Evan Longoria, Justin Morneau, and Grady Sizemore will represent the American League, while Chase Utley, Ryan Braun, Dan Uggla, and Berkman will represent the senior circuit. Hamilton and Longoria are rookies, but each is having an outstanding season. Longoria has only 16 home runs, but he spent the early part of the season in the Minors. Utley leads the National League participants with 25 home runs. It is tempting to pick a winner, but experience confirms that it is an exercise in futility. With that in mind, the pick is Dan Uggla.