Home Run Derby: Power shows turn into drawing power

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 12, 2014 - 11:58 PM
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Then-Twin Justin Morneau won the 2008 Home Run Derby at the old Yankee Stadium, and he’s back, from Colorado, for another swing at it this summer.

Photo: Associated Press file,

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On the day before the 1985 All-Star Game at the Metrodome, baseball’s decision-makers took a chance. Peter Ueberroth, the commissioner then, had been brainstorming ways to trumpet the sport, and in prior years the annual All-Star workout day had been relatively ho-hum.

Instead of simply holding batting practice, officials dusted off an old concept from the 1960 TV series “Home Run Derby,” featuring sluggers like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Harmon Killebrew. That show had been so simple, so understated, and still so fun.

The 1985 Home Run Derby was a contest between the National League and American League, featuring five sluggers a side. The thought of televising it probably would have drawn laughs. Organizers invited the public and charged $2 admission. Nobody was sure who’d come, but the Monday crowd swelled to 46,000.

“We’ve had some dramatic home run derbies over the years,” said Laurel Prieb, who helped coordinate those All-Star events for the Twins. “But I make the case that ’85 was the most dramatic of all.”

The NL led 16-14 as the final hitter strolled to the plate — Twins right fielder Tom Brunansky. With Tom Kelly pitching, Brunansky took a while to find his groove, but he pulled three homers into the left field seats, giving the AL the win.

Suddenly, baseball had its answer to the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. The Home Run Derby has since taken on a life of its own, and there’s nothing understated about it. Now in its 30th year, the event arrives at Target Field on Monday night with a new four-round bracket format, 10 sluggers and Chris Berman’s repeated shouts of “Back! Back! Back! … Gone!”

It’s become nearly as popular as the All-Star Game itself. In 2008, when Josh Hamilton hit a record 28 home runs in the first round — only to be defeated later by Justin Morneau — more than 9.1 million viewers watched. For comparison, about 11 million viewers watched last year’s All-Star Game.

On Friday, the cheapest available ticket for the Home Run Derby on stubhub.com was $176, and that was for standing room only. There was nothing available in the bottom two levels of the left-field bleachers for less than $270.

“It’s turned into an unbelievably spectacular event,” Brunansky said.

Low-key show

The original TV series wasn’t spectacular, but that has been part of its enduring charm. After the 1959 season, the show’s producers invited 19 hitters to compete in one-on-one contests at Los Angeles’ Wrigley Field, the one-time home of the Pacific Coast League’s Hollywood Stars.

On each episode of “Home Run Derby,” the winning slugger received $2,000, the loser received $1,000, and the contestants could earn a $500 bonus for hitting three homers in a row. That wasn’t small change. Killebrew had made just $9,000 from the Washington Senators the previous year and worked in a men’s clothing store during the offseason to help pay his bills.

In the first episode, Mays opened an 8-2 lead over Mickey Mantle.

“It was in December,” Mays recalled this spring. “I had been home, not doing much. My hands were tender, from not swinging a bat in three months, and they started bleeding. I didn’t hit another home run, and Mick beat me [9-8].

“After that, I went and put resin on my hands, and pickle juice, to toughen them up. I beat your guys from Minnesota [eventual Twins Bob Allison, Killebrew and Jim Lemon]. About then, the sponsor came to me and said, ‘Willie, we’re running out of money. We can’t pay you what we’re supposed to.’ That didn’t sound too good to me. I wound up losing to [Gil Hodges].”

Aaron finished with the best record (6-1) and the most prize money — $13,500. The 26 episodes aired from January to July 1960. Mark Scott, who calmly interviewed the contestants between their at-bats, died of a heart attack that same summer at age 45. Rather than replace him, the producers canceled the show, but it lived on during rain delays for years and can still be found on iTunes.

“I remember watching ‘Home Run Derby’ with Killer and Hank Aaron and all those guys, and that was pretty fun as a kid, growing up,” Brunansky said. “But we’d never really done [home run contests] much. You’d have your rounds where you’d do it during batting practice, but the concept was relatively new [in 1985].”

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  • Then-Twin Justin Morneau won the 2008 Home Run Derby at the old Yankee Stadium after watching Josh Hamilton smashed 28 in the first round before tiring.

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Los Angeles - WP: C. Kershaw 14 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - LP: E. Jackson 5
Boston - WP: J. Tazawa 5 FINAL
Baltimore - LP: D. O`Day 3
Milwaukee - LP: J. Broxton 2 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: J. Holdzkom 4
Toronto - LP: M. Buehrle 3 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: H. Kuroda 5
Washington - WP: D. Fister 3 FINAL
Miami - LP: T. Koehler 2
Chicago WSox - WP: J. Quintana 4 FINAL
Tampa Bay - LP: J. Hellickson 3
NY Mets - WP: Z. Wheeler 5 FINAL
Atlanta - LP: J. Teheran 0
Cleveland - LP: K. Crockett 4 FINAL
Minnesota - WP: J. Burton 5
Detroit - WP: J. Verlander 10 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Vargas 1
Seattle - WP: T. Walker 10 FINAL
Houston - LP: B. Peacock 5
Arizona - LP: C. Anderson 3 FINAL
Colorado - WP: J. Lyles 15
Cincinnati - LP: D. Holmberg 1 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: J. Lackey 2
Philadelphia - LP: D. Buchanan 1 FINAL
Oakland - WP: J. Lester 3
Texas - WP: L. Bonilla 12 FINAL
LA Angels - LP: H. Santiago 3
San Francisco - LP: T. Hudson 0 FINAL
San Diego - WP: O. Despaigne 5
San Diego 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Dallas 9/21/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Washington 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Houston 9/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Minnesota 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Tennessee 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Baltimore 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland
Green Bay 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Indianapolis 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Oakland 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New England
San Francisco 9/21/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Denver 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
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Miami
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Carolina
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NY Jets
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Washington
(5) Auburn 20 FINAL
(20) Kansas State 14
Connecticut 14 FINAL
So Florida 17
Old Dominion 11:00 AM
Rice
Troy 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Georgia Tech 11:00 AM
Virginia Tech
Eastern Mich 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Iowa 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
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(19) Wisconsin
Maryland 11:30 AM
Syracuse
Tulane 11:30 AM
Duke
Hawaii 1:00 PM
Colorado
Marshall 1:00 PM
Akron
North Carolina 2:30 PM
East Carolina
Army 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Virginia 2:30 PM
(21) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 2:30 PM
SMU
Rutgers 2:30 PM
Navy
Central Mich 2:30 PM
Kansas
Utah 2:30 PM
Michigan
Florida 2:30 PM
(3) Alabama
Louisville 2:30 PM
FIU
Fla Atlantic 3:00 PM
Wyoming
Indiana 3:00 PM
(18) Missouri
San Jose St 3:00 PM
Minnesota
Texas State 3:00 PM
Illinois
Massachusetts 3:00 PM
Penn State
Georgia State 5:00 PM
Washington
Appalachian St 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Miss State 6:00 PM
(8) LSU
Northern Ill 6:00 PM
Arkansas
Middle Tennessee 6:00 PM
Memphis
Utah State 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Miami-Ohio 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Idaho 6:00 PM
Ohio U
Ball State 6:00 PM
Toledo
(14) So Carolina 6:30 PM
Vanderbilt
(4) Oklahoma 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Ga Southern 6:30 PM
South Alabama
UNLV 7:00 PM
Houston
(22) Clemson 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State
Miami-Florida 7:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
New Mexico 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 9:00 PM
Arizona
Louisiana 9:30 PM
Boise State
(2) Oregon 9:30 PM
Washington St
San Diego St 9:30 PM
Oregon State
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(25) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(12) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:00 AM
NC State
Duke 9/27/14 2:00 AM
Miami-Florida
North Carolina 9/27/14 2:00 AM
(22) Clemson
Colorado 1 FINAL
Real Salt Lake 5
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Calgary 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Ottawa 9/21/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Montreal 9/26/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 9/26/14 9:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/27/14 5:30 PM
Winnipeg
Brt Columbia 9/27/14 8:30 PM
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