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Swinging for the Fences! MLB Welcomes Back the Home Run Derby

Swinging for the Fences! MLB Welcomes Back the Home Run Derby

No one wants to remember 2020 and how the pandemic changed everything in our lives, including sports. Baseball managed to get in a shortened 60-game season and playoffs—the most we could hope for, and all we got.

We didn’t have an All-Star Game in 2020, nor did we have a Home Run Derby, which is a major highlight of the annual ASG festivities.

This year’s Home Run Derby will take place on Monday, July 12th, and it is sure to be a packed house at Coors Field in Denver, Colorado. Here’s a look at some All-Star Game trivia that will get you ready for this exciting swing-off.

Who’s going to be in this year’s Derby?

The Derby participants and brackets will be officially announced on July 7th, but as of July 5th, only six participants had named:

Matt Olson Oakland A’s

Salvador Perez Kansas City Royals

Pete Alonso New York Mets

Shohei Ohtani Los Angeles Angels

Trevor Story Colorado Rockies

Trey Mancini Baltimore Orioles

Trevor Story is eager to be in the contest: “Can’t wait to compete in the 2021 Home Run Derby!” he said. “Denver, let’s gooo!”

There are five names that definitely won’t be in the 2021 Derby though...

Who’s NOT going to be in this year’s Derby?

There are a number of top home run hitters that everyone wanted to see in this year’s Derby who have decided NOT to participate, despite their home run totals as of July 5th:

Fernando Tatís Jr. 27 San Diego Padres

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 27 Toronto Blue Jays

Aaron Judge 19 New York Yankees

Gary Sanchez 14 New York Yankees

Kyle Schwarber 25 Washington Nationals

Tatís cited injury concerns as a reason to skip the contest (he’s already missed games due to injuries in 2021.) Guerrero said he’s choosing to use the break to rest up for the second half of the season.

Schwarber, who has been on one of the hottest home run streaks in baseball history, didn’t want to tax his body. “The biggest thing is you’re going to get sore, after the fact,” he said. “You’re taking almost 13–15 minutes of full swings. You never do that…in your daily routine in baseball. That’s just torturing yourself. It’s definitely taxing on the body.” And then on July 2nd, he pulled his hamstring and ended up on the IL anyway.

When was the first MLB Home Run Derby and who won?

Beginning in 1985, MLB has held a Home Run Derby on the Monday before the All-Star Game, which is always on a Tuesday. The very first winner was Dave Parker, who was playing for the Cincinnati Reds that season. He beat out future Hall of Famers Jim Rice, Eddie Murray, Carlton Fisk, Ryne Sandberg and Cal Ripken Jr.

What was the format for the first HR Derby?

Each hitter was given two “innings” to belt as many homers as possible before reaching five outs (per inning). An out was determined by any swing that didn’t result in a homer! Whoever had the most home runs after the two innings won, and Parker had a grand total of six. That was the Derby format for the first five years.

Has a rookie ever won the Home Run Derby?

A rookie has been crowned the Derby winner three times. In 2019, the Mets’ Pete Alonso defeated Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (also a rookie) of the Toronto Blue Jays in one of the most exciting Home Run Derby duels ever. In 2017, Aaron Judge of the Yankees, who was having a monster rookie season, took home the Derby crown, hitting four home runs that traveled more than 500 feet.

That other rookie? Wally Joyner of the Anaheim Angels. In the second-ever HR Derby (1986), he tied for first with Darryl Strawberry of the New York Mets. Strawberry was the only Mets player to win the Derby until Pete Alonso did it in 2019.

Does the Home Run Derby affect second-half performance?

There has been some talk of a “Home Run Derby curse,” the idea that a player’s production could go down after the contest. Pete Alonso went into the 2019 Derby with 30 home runs, the second highest in history. He ended his season with 53 dingers, a new rookie record, breaking Judge’s record. But Bobby Abreu, who won the Home Run Derby in 2005, hit 18 homers before the break and just six afterward, a 67% drop.

The Society for American Baseball Research (the sabermetrics people) did an extensive study to examine that question. Their conclusion: The Home Run Derby does not have any effect on players’ second-half performances.

What Home Run Derby is the most memorable?

Josh Hamilton, with the Texas Rangers at the time, created the most exciting single-person performance, in the 2008 Derby. He had been a top young prospect and was named Minor League Player of the Year in 2000, but drug problems plagued him, and he was banned from playing for several years. He made it to the Majors in 2007 with the Cincinnati Reds. In 2008, he made the All-Star team as a Texas Ranger and was invited to participate in the Home Run Derby in New York at the old Yankee Stadium (in its final year).

No one was ready for what happened that night. Hamilton’s pitcher was 71-year-old Clay Council, a friend from his childhood. In the first round, Josh Hamilton launched 28 home runs, breaking the old record by four. His 28 included 13-straight home runs on 13 consecutive swings. Seven of the 13 went farther than 500 feet, the longest 518. Unfortunately, he lost the Derby in the final round to Justin Morneau of the Twins—but no one recalls Morneau’s performance, only Hamilton’s.

Afterward, Hamilton said that he’d had a dream, before he got back into baseball, of being in Yankee Stadium and participating in the Home Run Derby. “This was like living the dream out,” he said afterward, “because, like I’ve said, I didn’t know the ending to that dream.”