MLB: The Home Run Derby's 10 Greatest Performances of All-Time
Twenty-five years ago, Dave Parker was the first Home Run Derby champion, belting six home runs to defeat a field that included Jim Rice and future Hall of Famers Eddie Murray, Carlton Fisk, Cal Ripken Jr., and Ryne Sandberg at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
Since 1985, the Home Run Derby has provided some of the greatest moments in baseball history. If I write about all of them now, you will not have anything to read about.
Everyone has their favorite moment, or at least their favorite home run derby duel.
Since the installment of the derby, some derbies have provided unforgettable drama, while other derby performances have been nothing but boring, lacking the excitement fans want.
However, the performances that you are about to read about, have been deemed the 10 greatest performances of all time.
But before I begin, who does everyone like this year to take home the title in Anaheim next week?
Call me biased, but I'm selecting Robinson Cano to win the 2010 Home Run Derby.
That's right. Go Yanks.
10. The Dawning of a New Era
The 2006 Home Run Derby at PNC Park in Pittsburgh will always be remembered as the new generation of young home run hitters—Ryan Howard, David Wright, and Miguel Cabrera took the stage hopefully putting an "end" to the Steroid Era.
While all three put on a great show, Wright's 16 home runs in the first round, the third highest total in any one round in the history of the Home Run Derby, created fireworks as the city of Pittsburgh celebrated its new ball park—and he didn't even win the derby.
Howard eventually defeated Wright, winning the final 5-4, but Wright continued to display his home run prowess by hitting a home run in his first All-Star game at-bat the following night.
Even if this derby was not the most memorable, or the greatest in recent memory, it allowed baseball to move away from the Steroid Era, as these young sluggers showed that it was possible to launch mesmerizing home-runs without the help of performance-enhancing drugs.
But for Wright, who was making his All-Star Home Run Derby debut, this night was certainly a memorable one for him.
9. Cal Wins the Trophy, but Cecil's Power is the True Winner
At the 1991 Home Run Derby at the Skydome in Toronto, Cal Ripken Jr. made history.
I am obviously not referring to Ripken breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played record, but Ripken became the first player to hit 12 home runs in a round in Derby history.
That's great and all, but what people should take away from this derby were the moon shots Cecil Fielder was hitting into the upper deck levels of the Skydome.
He only hit four home runs, but there is no doubt that these were some of the most unforgettable four home runs in Derby history.
I only wish I was there to witness his performance in person.
8. Surprise, Surprise, Tejada Wins
The night began with the 14 living members of the 500 home run club honored on the field just before the 2004 Home Run Derby began.
Miguel Tejada wasn't even scheduled to participate. He was a last-minute addition, replacing former teammate Jason Giambi who did not participate in the competition because of a lingering sickness.
So, with 500 Home Run Club members Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, and Sammy Sosa all participating in the derby, it was Tejada, who had only 171 career home runs at the time, that was able to bring the championship trophy back to Baltimore.
Tejada defeated the hometown favorite, Lance Berkman, 5-4 in the final round, but his most impressive performance came in the second round when he recorded 15 home runs en route to setting a new Derby record.
Tejada's night ended with 27 home runs, which included three blasts that not only reached more than 430 feet, but his final two home runs of his brilliant second round performance left the stadium, with his last second round home run measuring 497 feet.
On this night, there were no 20-home run rounds or a 600 foot moon shot. There was no problem in Houston, as the deserving slugger won the Derby.
That was Tejada.
7. Off The Warehouse
The American League won the competition in a 21-12 win over the National League, as Juan Gonzalez needed two playoffs to capture the 1993 Home Run Derby championship.
But, Ken Griffey Jr. had the "performance" of the night by becoming the first player to hit a home run off the warehouse across the street from Camden Yards.
6. Slammin' Sammy's 2000 Home Run Derby
Entering the All-Star break, Mark McGwire led the MLB with 30 home runs.
But, with McGwire's bat absent from the Home Run Derby, the spotlight was shining bright on Sammy Sosa, who stole the show at Turner Field in Atlanta.
Looking back on this magnificent performance, despite the steroid use allegations and the hearings in front of congress, there is no denying that Sosa put on one of the greatest displays in Home Run Derby history, hitting more home runs combined than runner-up (Ken Griffey Jr.) and third place finisher (Carl Everett) in the competition.
Sosa hit 26 balls out of the park during the three rounds of the derby, including a couple of 500-foot-plus bombs off the upper deck, defeating Griffey Jr. 9-2 in the final round.
Sosa's performance had the fans on their feet as he launched one extraordinary home run after another. Although I wasn't at Turner Field attending the derby, I was on my feet in my living room watching at home, cheering as I was in awe of Sosa.
I thought he was clean. I thought these home runs were legit. I thought I was watching history.
Well, I was wrong, but at least for one night during the season, I found myself rooting for a steroid user.
Can you blame me?
5. McGwire's Moon Shots
Veteran Stadium was the sight of arguably the greatest Home Run Derby of all-time.
It featured Barry Bonds versus Mark McGwire.
On this night, it didn't matter who was on steroids, or who was clean. On this night, these two sluggers went mono-e-mono, punch for punch, home run for home run.
After the first round, McGwire and Bonds were tied at four, but it was in the second round where the drama began.
McGwire led off by belting nine mammoth home runs, and Bonds followed suit by hitting 10, as both sluggers advanced to the finals.
In the finals, down to his final out and still trailing by two, Bonds belted three dramatic home runs in his final three swings to take home the championship, but no one is going to remember who the 1996 Home Run Derby winner was.
The record books will show Bonds won this competition, and many historians will agree.
But, I will always remember McGwire's two monstrous home runs into the second tier of the Upper Deck at the Vet—the first one was estimated at 459 feet, and the second was estimated at 460 feet. And, if that wasn't enough, McGwire blasted a home run that reached a few rows back of the 600 level.
Although Bonds became the derby champion, Big Mac proved to be the king of the night.
4. Sammy Sosa Makes Miller Park His Home
I was there, and what a performance I was treated to during the 2002 Home Run Derby at Miller Park in Milwaukee.
In the first round of the Derby, Sosa hit 12 home runs, tying for the third-biggest round in Derby history en route to averaging 477 feet per home run blast. He finished with 18 home runs on the night, but Sosa failed to capture the title.
It didn't matter.
One of his home runs made a dent in Bernie Brewer's slide. Another one of his blasts cleared the scoreboard in dead center, and three home runs sailed through the open windows in left. Seven of his home runs went 500 feet or more, nine went 490 feet or more, and 10 went 480 feet or more.
After watching Sosa's showcase, I certainly don't care that Jason Giambi "won" the 2002 Derby by defeating Sosa in the finals, 7-1.
Sosa stole the show, and no matter what the history books say, on that night, Sosa was the winner.
3. Big Mac Conquers The Green Monster
Fenway Park was the site of the 1999 Home Run Derby.
Ken Griffey Jr. was the winner.
But again, it was Mark McGwire who was the star.
One year after McGwire and Sammy Sosa captivated the hearts of Americans with a home run duel for the ages, McGwire found himself at the center of attention captivating the Fenway Park crowd, launching 13 bombs over the Green Monster that resulted in a single-round record.
Just as in 1998, when Sammy Sosa jetted in from right field to congratulate McGwire after he belted his 62nd home run of the season, Sosa was there rooting him on once again.
The fans were going crazy as each Big Mac blast was leaving the park. The eight longest shots all belonged to Big Mac, all of which were 450 feet or longer.
Although Griffey took home his third Derby title in Boston by hitting three homers to Jeromy Burnitz's two in the final round, the most memorable performance of this night belonged to McGwire.
2. Bobby Abreu Makes His Country Proud
In honor of the 2006 World Baseball Classic that was taking place the following year, Major League Baseball decided to add some international flavor to the 2005 Home Run Derby competition by featuring eight sluggers from eight different nations.
That is why the participants in this year's event weren't as memorable as some other years (Hee-Seop Choi from Korea), but this derby will always be special because of the performance by Venezuela's own Bobby Abreu.
Although Comerica Park had the reputation of being a pitcher's ball park, Abreu hit 24 homers in the first round, breaking the single-round record of 15 set by Miguel Tejada. He finished the derby with an astonishing 41 blasts, shattering Home Run Derby records, including the championship-round record of nine, which was previously held by Garrett Anderson.
Abreu would go onto defeat hometown hero of the Detroit Tigers, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, 11-5, in the final round. But, whether Abreu won or lost the derby, he mesmerized the crowd, and created memories for a lifetime.
After the competition was over, Abreu was swarmed by his fellow teammates and countrymen and was draped in the Venezuelan flag. He sure seemed proud that he was able to represent his country in such magnificent style—a moment that was well deserved.
1. A Star Is Reborn In The Bronx
Before the "House That Ruth Built" became a memory of the past, for one night in July, Josh Hamilton renamed Yankee Stadium "The House That Josh Built" with a Home Run Derby performance that can't even be put into words.
Well, I'm going to try.
The 2008 All-Star Game was played at Yankee Stadium, and the 2008 Home Run Derby was one of the most special events in baseball history.
There were no New York Yankees or Mets participating in the Derby, so the sold-out crowd at Yankee Stadium was searching for someone to cheer for.
Hamilton made it easy for them by providing an extraordinary show.
Hamilton hit a record 28 homers in the first round, totaling 12,458 feet, an average of 445 each, before getting beaten 5-3, by Minnesota's Justin Morneau in the finals.
Although Hamilton didn't leave the Stadium that night with the hardware, the night undoubtedly belonged to the first-time All-Star.
Whether the fans in attendance were cheering on one of the greatest comeback stories that sports has ever seen, as Hamilton turned his life around after succumbing to drugs and alcohol, or whether were they simply celebrating the incredible performance they were witnessing, it was miraculous nonetheless.
Whatever the reason for the cheering Josh received, it didn't matter because everybody was doing it.
I was cheering along with you.