Pete Alonso & Ken Griffey Jr. Delivered Some of the Top Home Run Derby Performances
You might be surprised that the Home Run Derby has been around since 1985 when Cincinnati Reds slugger Dave Parker won the inaugural event in Minnesota. Since the year Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” was tearing up the charts, a young Mr. T was leading The A-Team, and the Kansas City Royals won the World Series, a lot has changed for the Derby.
Unlike The A-Team, the early incarnations of the contest were not televised, gave hitters only five outs, and did not have an elimination format with multiple rounds.
By the early 90s, the Derby was taped for later broadcast and by 1998 broadcasted live in real-time. It became a mainstay on ESPN and one of its most popular events.
Format and rules for the contest have changed throughout the years, but the meat of it all has remained the same – Fans dig the long ball.
And we loved these performances the most at the annual Sluggers Soiree:
Pete Alonso defends his Title in Style (2021)
No one has hit more home runs in an opening round than Pete Alonso did at Coors Field last year. The Polar Bear mauled the competition to the tune of a record-setting 35 first-round long balls en route to his second straight title.
Alonso was already walking tall into the Mile High City as the defending Derby champ and the reigning 2019 regular-season home run king after belting 53 in his rookie campaign. Don’t forget the pandemic shortened the season and eliminated 2020 festivities.
Vlad Impales, Alonso Outlasts (2019)
While Vladimir Guerrero Jr. may have stolen the show with dramatics, the Mets first baseman proved slow and steady wins the race.
Junior came out sizzling with a then-record 29 homers in the opening round. He seemed poised to do what his pops, Vladimir Guerrero Sr., accomplished in 2007 when he bested Blue Jay Alex Rios for the crown.
Guerrero Jr. went swing-for-swing with Joc Pederson in the second round, needing triple overtime to hit his 40th, one more than Pederson. The mark is the Derby record for the most ding-dongs in any round.
The pair of rookies went head-to-head in the final, and Alonso showed his fellow first baseman his clutch was too much. After advancing on walk-offs in Rounds 1 and 2, Alonso saved his best for last and launched his 23rd with 18 seconds on the clock after watching Vladdy clobber 22 before him.
While Guerrero may have won the battle with a record 94 total home runs, Alonso won the war, claiming his first of back-to-back titles.
Hamilton on Broadway (2008)
And the award for best performance in a 2008 Home Run Derby goes to…Justin Morneau, no wait, make that Josh Hamilton. No, this isn’t a 2017 Oscars Best Picture mixup, and while Morneau won the ’08 Derby, Hamilton put on a Tony-award-worthy performance in a swan song of sorts in New York.
Old Yankee Stadium was the stage for the Rangers slugger’s breakout performance in its last year of existence. Hamilton launched a then-record 28 round-trippers in the House that Ruth Built.
His shining moment came with a 518-foot no-doubter, one of seven that traveled over 500 feet. Yankee Stadium was closed that Fall and demolished in 2009, but Hamilton certainly did his part to crack the foundation that magical July night.
Harper’s Hometown Comeback (2018)
It looked like a nice two-round run would be all she wrote for Bryce Harper in 2018. In front of his Nationals faithful, Harper trailed after Kyle Schwarber hit 18 in the final.
Blasting only half of Schwarber’s total with 50 seconds remaining, the now Phillies masher went on a frantic run. Harper quickly nailed seven to trail by one and hit his contest-tying dinger as the buzzer sounded. With his second swing in the bonus round, the Las Vegas lefty won it in overtime. The hometown crowd went wild as the stars and stripes clad Harper raised the trophy in the Nation’s Capital.
The Kid is Alright (1994, 1998, 1999)
What can you say about Ken Griffey Jr. that hasn’t already been said. The man hit 630 home runs, excluding his Derby damage, was a 13-time All-Star, seven-time Silver Slugger, four-time regular season HR champ, and first ballot Hall of Famer.
Griffey is also the only three-time Derby king and one of just three players to go back-to-back. In ’99, he bested legends Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in a stacked field to become the first multiple-time champ.
The back-to-back title was almost impossible as the Mariners masher was set to skip the ’98 contest. Griffey changed his mind after being talked into competing by Hall of Famers Frank Robinson and Joe Morgan. Guess that was motivation enough to be in it to win it.
Even when Junior didn’t take the contest, he made headlines. In 1993 he became the only player to launch a ball out of Camden Yards that traveled far enough to hit B&O Warehouse across the street.
2022 Home Run Derby
Now Pete Alonso can do something Griffey and no other major league player was able to do in the history of the Derby – threepeat. He will have his work cut out for him, facing a collection of rising stars and tested vets.
Despite being a leadoff man, don’t let his place in the order fool you as Ronald Acuna Jr. leads the bigs in average home run distance this year.
Juan Soto hit a record-setting 520-foot shot in last year’s contest and will be swinging for the fences again in LA this year.
Kyle Schwarber will be looking for payback after it appeared he had the 2018 title wrapped up before Bryce Harper pulled off that wild comeback.
Perhaps most surprising is one of the best hitters of his generation. Albert Pujols makes his return to the Derby for the first time in seven years. After ten seasons with the Angels and playing with the Dodgers last year, a Hollywood ending at Dodger Stadium seems fitting for the 42-year-old before he retires at the end of the year. This will be Pujols fifth Derby, and with 684 home runs to his name, the fifth-most of all time, he will fit in just fine.
Balls start flying on Monday, July 18, at 8 p.m. ET.