History of the Home Run Derby

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From humble beginnings and inspiration from a TV show, the Home Run Derby has become an integral part of the MLB calendar and is an exhibition in which the league’s biggest hitters amaze their fans with their displays of power.

MLB baseball

Origins

A 1960 TV series that pitted the top home run hitters from Major League Baseball against each other in nine-inning home run hitting contests was the inspiration for MLB’s adoption of the Home Run Derby. 

Hank Aaron won on six of his seven appearances on the show, although the most home runs hit was by fellow Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle, who managed 44 across his five appearances.

The format was streamlined by the MLB when they adopted it as part of the All Star festivities in 1985.

Early years 

In the early years of the contest, between four and 10 players from both the American and National League were picked to take part. 

Each player was given two innings of five outs to reach the most home runs. The winner was the hitter with the most over homers over the two innings. Dave Parker of the Cincinnati Reds took home the inaugural contest.

However this format meant that players could tie, as happened in 1986 with Wally Joyner and Darryl Strawberry and in 1989 with Eric Davis and Ruben Sierra. As a result the format was changed in 1991. 

New format helps competition thrive

From the 1991 edition, the format became a three round contest in which eight to 10 players hit as many home runs as possible before making 10 outs in each round. The number reset for each round and the top four advanced to a semi-final before a showdown between the final two to decide the victor.

In this period Ken Griffey Jr became the first repeat winner, taking home the title in 1994, 1998 and 1999. He remains the only player to win the competition three times.

The most popular year in terms of viewing figures and one of the most memorable Home Run Derby performances took place in 2008 with Justin Morneau coming out on top.

However the story of the contest was Josh Hamilton hitting 28 home runs in the first round.

Due to the rest however they didn’t count in the final where he was edged out 5-3.

More format changes

The format was changed once more in 2014 with players facing each other in a bracket with each player getting seven outs. Then over three rounds the players were knocked out before an American and National League winner were crowned and the pair then faced off with the aim of becoming the overall winner.

In 2015, the outs were replaced with a time limit in an aim to speed up the contest. The New York Mets’ Pete Alonso has come to dominate the contest in recent years, winning two of the last three contests. Juan Soto is the reigning champion after beating Julio Rodriguez in the 2022 event.

A sports journalist for over 15 years, Aidan has been part of written and audio coverage on a wide-ranging number of events. Having played and coached at amateur level, he offers in-depth insight and opinion into the world of football in particular.
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