The 25 Most Memorable Home Run Derby Moments of All Time
Some of the great home run moments in MLB history have come in an exhibition event: the Home Run Derby.
The popularity of the long ball is not a new phenomenon. Former New York Yankees manager Miller Huggins knew a thing or two about baseball. He also understood the significance of home runs.
In fact, Huggins once said of one his more famous players, Babe Ruth (h/t thehitters.com), "They all flock to see him," because the American fan "likes the fellow who carries the wallop."
Some 90-plus years later, the average American fan still loves the guys who pack the most punch.
On Monday, July 15, ESPN will have live coverage of the Home Run Derby. Started as an afterthought back in 1985, the event has become nearly as popular as the MLB All-Star Game itself. In 2008, the Home Run Derby was the most-watched event on cable television.
This year's derby participants (Robinson Cano, Prince Fielder, Chris Davis, Yoenis Cespedes, David Wright, Michael Cuddyer, Bryce Harper, Pedro Alvarez) will have a lot to live up to, as some of the greatest sluggers of the past 30 years have put on incredible displays of power in the showcase event.
Here are the 25 most memorable moments in Home Run Derby history.
Note: These selections are not presented in a ranked format.
1985 Home Run Derby: Metrodome, Minneapolis
When MLB's original Home Run Derby was held in 1985, it was an event that few actually knew about. It wouldn't become a televised event until eight years later, in fact.
Even in the early broadcasts, it wasn't a live event. ESPN offered a same-day telecast from 1993 to 1997, finally offering it up as a live broadcast in 1998.
In that first event held in the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Dave Parker of the Cincinnati Reds took home the inaugural prize by swatting six home runs total.
That overall number was tiny in comparison to future events, but it set the stage all the same.
1989 Home Run Derby: Gary Gaetti Becomes the First
Gary Gaetti was an outstanding third baseman early in his career with the Minnesota Twins. He captured four Gold Glove awards in a row from 1986 to 1989 and had put together three outstanding offensive seasons heading in the 1989 season as well.
Named to the American League Home Run Derby team in 1989, Gaetti became the first player to walk away with a bagel in Home Run Derby competition.
He wouldn't be alone for long—the 1990 Home Run Derby set a record for futility.
1990 Home Run Derby: 5 Sluggers Put Up Bagels
The 1990 Home Run Derby was memorable in a way that was more embarrassing for the players involved.
Darryl Strawberry, Bobby Bonilla, Cecil Fielder, Jose Canseco and Ken Griffey Jr. represented the best sluggers of their generation. Between them, they would combine to hit 2,033 career home runs.
Fielder would go on to hit a whopping 51 home runs to lead the majors in 1990.
Yet none of them were able to go deep in the Home Run Derby.
Not even once.
2007 Home Run Derby: McCovey Cove Sees No Action
When it came time for the Home Run Derby in 2007, hundreds of kayakers flocked to McCovey Cove at AT&T Park in San Francisco, hoping for the chance to catch one of the coveted home runs that were sure to be hit there.
Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard and Justin Morneau were the featured left-handed hitters participating in the derby that year. Howard hit 58 bombs the year before and had 21 by the All-Star break in 2007. Fielder was on his way to a 50-home run season as well.
Alas, the kayakers came up empty. While Howard, Fielder and Morneau combined for 10 home runs, none of them got wet, leaving the McCovey Cove crowd of kayakers disappointed.
1990 Home Run Derby: Ryne Sandberg Delights the Hometown Crowd
One would have thought that Wrigley Field would be a great place to host the Home Run Derby. Known as a hitter's park, it seemed that the venerable ivy-clad landmark on the north side would see balls flying out in 1990.
However, five of the eight contestants put up zeroes when it came to crunch time. But the hometown hero—Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg—made sure the crowd wouldn't leave disappointed.
Sandberg only hit three home runs, but that would be all he would need in walking away with the Home Run Derby title for the first and only time in his career. It was the last time Sandberg would participate in the event before retiring in 1997.
1991 Home Run Derby: Cal Ripken Jr. Pulls off a First of His Own
In 1991, the SkyDome in Toronto was host to the All-Star Game festivities. American League starting shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. was a participant in the Home Run Derby for the first time that year as well.
Ripken completely stole the show, swatting 12 long balls to walk away with an easy victory. He more than doubled the output of second-place finisher Paul O'Neill of the Cincinnati Reds.
Ripken also went on to homer in the All-Star Game, becoming the first of only three players who have ever won the derby and homered in the All-Star Game in the same year.
1993 Home Run Derby: Ken Griffey Jr. and Juan Gonzalez Duke It Out
When Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened its doors in 1992, it was greeted with wide praise and would serve as an example for which future ballparks would be designed and built.
Camden Yards also served as the host for the 1993 Home Run Derby, and because of two of its participants—Juan Gonzalez and Ken Griffey Jr.—it became an instant classic.
The two young sluggers duked it out, with both reaching the finals. Griffey hit a bomb that caromed off the bottom of the warehouse behind the right field bleachers, the first player ever to achieve that feat.
Not to be outdone, Gonzalez ripped a shot to an area in left field that had never previously been reached. He would nip Griffey in a playoff, but the two put on a display that was not soon forgotten.
1998 Home Run Derby: Ken Griffey Jr. Is a Two-Timing Slugger
When it comes to the grand stage, Ken Griffey Jr. had already shown he was a big-time performer before the 1998 Home Run Derby came around.
The winner of the event in 1994 and a two-time runner-up, Griffey again participated at the event held at Coors Field in Denver.
With its high altitude, balls were sure to be flying out of the park on that day, and Griffey certainly did his part to partake in the long-ball explosion.
Griffey breezed through the first two rounds and edged past Cleveland Indians slugger Jim Thome to take home the trophy, the first player to be crowned home run king more than once.
1999 Home Run Derby: Ken Griffey Jr. Steals Mark McGwire's Thunder
The 1999 All-Star Game was held at Fenway Park, and for right-handed sluggers like Mark McGwire, Fenway offered a golden opportunity to show off their skills.
But a lefty would ultimately walk away with the prize.
McGwire put on an impressive show, putting 13 balls over the Green Monster in the first round. He easily outdistanced all participants, more than doubling the amount of home runs hit by Jeromy Burnitz of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Ken Griffey Jr., the defending Home Run Derby champion, barely made it into the second round with just three home runs.
But he was just warming up.
Griffey pounded out 10 homers in the second round while McGwire totaled just three. Griffey went on to defeat Burnitz in the finals to capture his second straight crown and third overall.
2000 Home Run Derby: Sammy Sosa Walks Away with New Mark
In 2000, Chicago Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa was in the midst of putting together his third straight season with at least 50 home runs, only the second player in MLB history to achieve the feat.
He paused in the middle of the season to compete in the Home Run Derby, and he continued his power-hitting ways.
Sosa set a new mark by swatting 26 long balls to easily walk away as the winner, thwarting Ken Griffey Jr.'s attempt to win the Home Run Derby three times in a row.
1994 Home Run Derby: Frank Thomas Etches a Star on Three Rivers Stadium
Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas was known for hitting prodigious blasts. But in the 1994 Home Run Derby, he hit a blast that warranted a star.
While MLB and the Players Union were mired in a squabble that would ultimately end the season, Thomas gave fans and players something else to think about.
He hit a blast that landed some 519 feet away in left-center field. It was the longest recorded home run in the history of Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium.
The Pirates honored Thomas' shot by putting a star on the seat where the ball finally came to rest.
2003 Home Run Derby: Albert Pujols Puts on Show in Second Round
The famous saying "never wake a sleeping giant" could certainly be applied to St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols in the 2003 Home Run Derby.
Pujols barely got past the first round, qualifying with just four home runs. However, he came alive in the second round.
Pujols collected 14 home runs in just 20 swings, a record for any round at the time. It easily carried him into the finals, where he was narrowly defeated by Garret Anderson of the Los Angeles Angels.
Not too shabby for a first-time participant.
2003 Home Run Derby: Jason Giambi Wakes Up a Slumbering Derby
New York Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi only participated in three Home Run Derby contests, but he averaged nearly 23 long balls each year, the most of any active participant on an annual basis.
Giambi won the crown in 2002 and came back to defend the following year at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.
After the first seven contestants struggled by averaging about three home runs each, Giambi single-handedly saved the fans from sheer boredom.
Giambi closed out the first round with 10 home runs in his final 12 swings and 12 total, putting an end to the snooze fest.
Albert Pujols woke up the crowd even more in the second round, but credit Giambi for saving the 2003 Home Run Derby.
2005 Home Run Derby: David Ortiz's Best Isn't Quite Good Enough
Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz is not just a great ballplayer; he's an entertainer as well. Witness his love for the Home Run Derby: five derbies overall with 77 home runs and the 2010 title.
But in 2005, he put together the best round of his career, and the third-best round ever recorded in Home Run Derby history.
Representing the Dominican Republic in the derby that changed formats to help promote the upcoming 2006 World Baseball Classic, Ortiz swatted a whopping 17 home runs in the first round.
It wasn't even the best performance. Ortiz was upstaged by a guy from Venezuela—we'll get to him a little later.
1986 Home Run Derby: Darryl Strawberry Makes Sound with a Mighty Swat
In the second-ever Home Run Derby in 1986, only six players took part. One of them, young New York Mets slugger Darryl Strawberry, hit a blast that had everyone watching in complete awe.
At the Astrodome in Houston, Strawberry hit a towering shot deep into right-center field. He hit it so high that it clanked off a speaker located on the roof. The speaker was located 350 feet away from home plate and 140 feet in the air.
Only one other time in Astrodome history had a ball ever ricocheted off a speaker hanging from the roof.
2010 Home Run Derby: David Ortiz Schools Young Hanley Ramirez
At the 2010 Home Run Derby, Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz was 34 years old. Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins was only 26 years of age.
Big Papi proved that advanced age has nothing to do with the art of hitting home runs.
Ortiz gave Ramirez a lesson, winning the finals with 11 blasts to Ramirez's five. His 32 total that year are tied for the third most in derby history.
2009 Home Run Derby: Prince Fielder Outshines Father
Cecil Fielder participated in the Home Run Derby three times during his career but was never able to win despite leading the majors in homers twice during his career.
His son Prince, however, has absolutely shined in the contest and outdone his father in the process.
Fielder's first showing in the derby in 2007 wasn't a strong debut performance. He hit just three home runs and failed to get past the first round.
In 2009, Fielder got another chance, and this time he made sure to provide fans with a memorable performance.
Fielder hit 23 long balls overall, defeating Texas Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz in the finals to win his first derby crown.
Prince 1, Cecil 0.
2012 Home Run Derby: Prince Gets Crowned Once Again
In 2009, Prince Fielder became a king—of sorts.
His victory in the 2009 Home Run Derby was certainly special, but three years later, representing another team, Fielder was once again in the spotlight.
Representing his father Cecil's old team—the Detroit Tigers—Prince showed that he can win from either side, so to speak.
In 2012 at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Fielder put on a show, totaling 28 home runs and easily defeating Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays to win his second Home Run Derby title.
2006 Home Run Derby: David Wright Has the Right Stuff
New York Mets third baseman David Wright was in his third season when he made his first All-Star team in 2006. He also became a first-time participant in the Home Run Derby.
Going against the likes of Ryan Howard, Miguel Cabrera and Miguel Tejada, Wright was seemingly overmatched.
Wright, however, refused to wilt under the pressure. He walloped 16 home runs in the first round, the fourth-most long balls ever hit in any round.
Wright hit just two in Round 2 but still qualified with enough to go against Howard in the finals. While he didn't win, Wright still more than held his own.
2004 Home Run Derby: Miguel Tejada and Lance Berkman Out-Duel 500-HR Hitters
The 2004 Home Run Derby featured three active members of the 500-home run club (Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa) and another with over 400 home runs (Jim Thome).
Yet all of them were overshadowed by Lance Berkman and Miguel Tejada.
Berkman and Tejada easily outdistanced some of the greatest home run hitters of their generation and put on a show of their own in the semifinals, with Tejada nipping Berkman in the finals to capture the crown.
2006 Home Run Derby: Ryan Howard Becomes Second to Win Derby and MVP
In 1991, Cal Ripken Jr. became the first player in MLB history to win the Home Run Derby and an MVP Award in the same season.
Fifteen years later, that feat was duplicated.
Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard was on fire heading into the All-Star break with 28 home runs and 71 RBI. He didn't let up much in the derby, either.
Howard was tied with David Wright with 18 home runs heading into the final round. Howard hit his fifth bomb in the finals to narrowly defeat Wright and take home the crown. He would hit another 30 home runs in the second half to shatter the Phillies' single-season home run record set by Mike Schmidt in 1980.
1996 Home Run Derby: Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds Do Battle
At the 1996 Home Run Derby at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds put on a battle that's still considered one of the best in history.
Although Brady Anderson valiantly tried to keep up, McGwire and Bonds were simply too much as they kept up their bashing right through into the finals.
Bonds would eventually prevail, but not before McGwire unleashed two shots that made it all the way into almost uncharted territory—the 600 level of the upper deck at the old Vet.
2011 Home Run Derby: Robinson Cano and Dad Win an Emotional Derby
For New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, the 2011 Home Run Derby was eerily similar to playing ball in the backyard growing up with his father.
Cano, with his father pitching to him, slugged 20 home runs in the first two rounds and entered the final round tied with Boston Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
Cano set a final-round record by swatting 12 home runs — winning the crown by just one homer — and bringing back memories for fans who remembered those days in the backyard playing catch with their dad.
2005 Home Run Derby: Bobby Abreu Comes out of Nowhere to Set Record
Bobby Abreu totaled 287 home runs during his 17-year career—certainly not a huge number when compared to other sluggers of his generation.
But in 2005, Abreu put on a display that was admired by every slugger in attendance.
In the Home Run Derby at Comerica Park in Detroit, Abreu put on a show that wasn't just impressive; it had never been seen before.
By the time Abreu completed the first round, he had totaled an amazing 24 home runs. He wasn't quite done there, however. He put up another six bombs in the semifinals and then easily dispatched Ivan Rodriguez with a then-finals record of 11 homers for a grand total of 41 altogether.
That total still represents the all-time derby record.
2008 Home Run Derby: Josh Hamilton Outdoes Them All
In 2008, Josh Hamilton was in his first year with the Texas Rangers. He had already garnered much press despite only playing his second year in the majors.
Hamilton was the Tampa Bay Devils Rays' first overall pick in the 1999 MLB draft who famously flamed out due to a drug addiction that overtook his life and kept him out of baseball for three years.
Cleaning up his life and getting a second chance, Hamilton made the most of it, getting selected to his first All-Star team in 2008.
In the derby, Hamilton started hitting home runs and simply didn't stop. By the time he was finished in the first round, he had totaled 28 long balls, breaking the record set by Bobby Abreu in 2005.
Hamilton likely tired himself out, hitting just seven total homers in the next two rounds. But his exploits in the first round won't be forgotten.
Doug Mead is a featured columnist with Bleacher Report. His work has been featured in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, SF Gate, CBS Sports, the Los Angeles Times and the Houston Chronicle.
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