Tonight marks the 26th anniversary of Major League Baseball's Home Run Derby, easily the most exciting part of the All-Star break. While the game itself is widely considered to be the most competitive and enthralling All-Star game out of the four major sports, the Home Run Derby is a classic exhibition of power and endurance that has produced some pretty dramatic performances over the years. Often times, the most eye popping performances came from guys that didn't even end up winning the competition. Here is my list of the top three:
#3 - Jason Giambi, 2003, U.S. Cellular Field
In the early 2000's, Giambi was a staple of the Home Run Derby, finishing third in 2001 and winning the whole thing in 2002. However, his performance at the 2003 Home Run Derby at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago may have been his best of all time. Giambi blew away the competition in the first round by hitting 12 home runs, five more than eventual champion Garret Anderson who closed out the round with seven. Most players who put together big totals in the first round tend to get tired and fall off in the later rounds, but not Giambi who went on to blast 11 more HR's in the second round. However, MLB used a bracket system that year and Giambi was paired up against Albert Pujols who managed to hit 14 out of the park, thus eliminating Giambi.
#2 - Bobby Abreu, 2005, Comerica Park
There are so many things about Abreu's entry into the 2005 Home Run Derby that make it especially memorable. He has never hit more than 31 HR in any season in the big leagues and has often been known more for his speed than his power. That all changed on one summer night in Detroit when Bobby Abreu hit a then record 24 home runs in the opening round, besting the likes of David Ortiz, Mark Teixiera, Carlos Lee, and Jason Bay (who managed to finish with a whopping grand total of zero home runs). Abreu faced Ivan Rodriguez in the finals after managing to blast six more home runs in the semis. He wowed the crowd by launching 11 more long balls to take the crown with an astonishing Home Run Derby record of 41 total home runs.
#1 - Josh Hamilton, 2008, Yankee Stadium
Hamilton may not have won the 2008 Home Run Derby in The Bronx, but his first round performance was truly mind boggling. In his first All-Star appearance, Hamilton put 28 balls in the seats. That would be impressive in and of itself, but taking a closer look at those 28 tells an even great story. During the first round, Hamilton managed to rattle off a home run on thirteen consecutive swings at one point. He also had marks of 16 HR out of 17 swings, 20 out of 22, and 22 out of 25. Three of his home runs landed more than 500 feet from home plate, including a 518 foot whopper that still may be in Earth's orbit. An exhausted Hamilton bowed out of the second round with only four outs and four home runs and Justin Morneau would go on to win the overall competition. However, Hamilton's performance will always be remembered as the greatest Home Run Derby output to date, during the final season of the old Yankee Stadium