The Top 5 Home Run Derby Moments in Recent Memory
Editor’s Note: I was hoping there’d be a lot of great videos for this story, but the MLB seems to have YouTube on lockdown. So you’ll just have to imagine these homers in your minds.
In the life of a sports fan, summer is the worst time of the year. Football, basketball, and hockey are all out of commission, and the astonishingly dull grind of the 162-game baseball season is in full swing. Twice every four years, we get spared with a one-month reprieve from sports hell in the form of the World Cup or the Summer Olympics, but the lull between those spectacles and NFL Training Camp is still brutal. With all that being said, the MLB Home Run Derby usually serves as the most exciting event of the sports summer. During the Derby, we get to see a bunch of juiced-up millionaires crank homers at such rates that it can often throw off a player’s swinging groove for the rest of the season (the Yankees pulled Robinson Cano, an early committed participant this year, for just that reason; Nick Swisher has taken his place). In honor of the true midsummer classic — let’s be honest the actual All-Star Game is unwatchable too — here are the five most memorable performances in Derby history.
5. Sammy Sosa, Turner Field (2000)
Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire were eternally linked by their 1998 homerun race that people at the time claimed “saved the game of baseball.” Of course we now know that they were both liars and cheaters (who actually may have helped destroy baseball), but in 2000 they were still considered heroes. McGwire put on a clinic in the 1999 Derby (see further down on the list), while Sosa was embarrassingly dwarfed with only one homer. He went Joe Namath on the 2000 competition, and promised to redeem himself by putting on a show. Sosa ended up living up to his guarantee, rocking 26 balls out of Turner Field, including a 508-foot blast into straight-away center field that flew over the TV cameras.
4. Bobby Abreu, Comerica Park (2005)
In the 2005 contest, Abreu showcased Derby endurance that has yet to be matched by anyone who participated either before or after him. En route to smacking a Homerun Derby record 41 homers, Abreu (then a member of the Phillies) dazzled fans with a number of moon shots, including a 517-foot blast that landed in the Montgomery Inn restaurant. The iconic moment of Abreu’s showcase came when he was wrapped in his native Venezuelan flag by other Venezuelan All-Stars.
3. Mark McGwire, Fenway Park (1999)
Nobody came into a Home Run Derby with more legitimate pressure to perform than McGwire did in ’99. One year removed from breaking baseball’s most esteemed record — Roger Maris’ 37-year-old record for most homers in a single season — McGwire had to prove to baseball old-timers that he deserved the title of “home run king.” In the iconic Fenway Park, Big Mac crushed a then-record 13 homers in the first round, and did so by smacking most of them over baseball’s most famous obstacle: The Green Monster. The image of Big Mac sending balls flying over Landsdowne Street (he actually sent one flying over the street and a parking garage that eventually hit a billboard) is engrained in the minds of baseball fans forever.
2. Ken Griffey Jr., Coors Field (1998)
The man with the sweetest swing baseball may have ever seen was in his prime in the 1998 season. The league’s leading vote-getter for the All-Star game, Griffey had made well known his intentions to skip the Home Run Derby. However, he was met by a chorus of boos from fans at a pre-All-Star warmup, and unprecedentedly changed his mind, becoming a late entry into the contest. In Denver’s Coors Field, the best hitter’s park in the league, the nation’s eyes turned to Junior and he didn’t disappoint. Griffey held off Jim Thome in the final round to take the championship, and quipped as he held the trophy in hand that “I don’t like to get booed.”
1. Josh Hamilton, Yankee Stadium (2008)
With all due respect to the other four guys on this list, Hamilton’s 2008 performance is the best of the best, no matter how you look at it. Forget the fact that this was the last season that the old Yankee Stadium would be in operation; it’s Hamilton’s story that made this night so memorable. As you probably know by now, Hamilton was once the top prospect in baseball before intense drug addiction derailed his career — not to mention his life — and knocked him out of the league entirely. In 2008 he was in the midst of enjoying his incredible comeback year, a story that had already taken over national headlines before the Home Run Derby. Then, with the entire country, both baseball fans and casual observers, watching him and only him, Hamilton put on the best show in Derby history, cranking 28 Home Runs in 38 swings in Round 1. Before that, only Abreu in 2005 had ever hit 28 in the entire Derby! Hamilton hit 13 homers in a row at one point, and 22 out of 25. He may not have won the competition (endurance eventually got the best of him and he gave way to Justin Morneau), but the show he put on in Yankee Stadium remains the unquestioned most iconic moment that we’ve ever seen in the Home Run Derby.