07/01/2004 11:08 AM ET
Home Run Derby always a highlight
By Mark Newman / MLB.com
|Garret Anderson edged out Albert Pujols to win the 2003 Home Run Derby. (Mark Duncan/AP)
2004 Century 21 All-Star Home Run Derby: July 12, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
2003 Home Run Derby coverage
All-time Home Run Derby results
It is Ken Griffey Jr. winning back-to-back; Mark McGwire drawing the kind of oohs and aahs at Fenway Park normally reserved for fireworks' grand finales; Sammy Sosa running away from the pack in Atlanta; and Cal Ripken Jr. and Garret Anderson just getting warmed up for MVP performances the next night.
It is Luis Gonzalez winning in the finals at Safeco Field in those innocent days just before 9/11 -- a flash of brilliance before he went on to hit the game-winner months later in a World Series that helped a nation begin to heal.
It is even Hank Aaron, Harmon Killebrew and Rocky Colavito slugging against one another in those immortal black-and-white episodes of an earlier TV era. Maybe you remember: "Wow, he got ahold of that one!"
The Century 21 All-Star Home Run Derby became a regular attraction, with 10 sluggers, in 1985, and is now the event before the event.
Back in 1985, each invitee had one round to do his damage. Dave Parker did the most, with six, in the revival of the popular event.
Eight of the game's top power hitters will be on the field the night of July 12 at Houston's Minute Maid Park, for the rounds that inevitably leave spectators agape and always bring a surprise.
"The Century 21 All-Star Home Run Derby has become one of the highlights of All-Star Week each year," said Brian O'Gara, senior director of special events for Major League Baseball. "From Mark McGwire's mammoth home runs at Fenway Park in 1999, to great performances in recent years by Sammy Sosa, Jason Giambi, Albert Pujols and last year's champion, Garret Anderson, baseball's best sluggers have put on a great show for the fans in the ballpark and the millions who tune in on ESPN."
Part of the suspense is always in the selection of the sluggers themselves, and this year has an added element of suspense in regard to the setting itself. The retractable roof normally would be closed for a game in the midsummer months, but a decision on that will wait until the event draws nearer, according to MLB officials.
That is important to note, because when the roof is open, the occasional monster shot will go over the left-field concourse and completely out of the park. Should that happen it could bring to mind those dramatic All-Star days when the likes of Reggie Jackson were hitting balls onto the roof of the old Tiger Stadium.
Anderson, the defending Home Run Derby champion, edged the Cardinals' Pujols by the slimmest of margins, 9-8, in last year's Finals at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. Pujols had been the star of the show, hitting a spectacular 14 in the second round and sending one ball 478 feet, the longest of the night.
Anaheim outfielder Anderson went on to win the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award the following night after the All-Star Game.
Pujols perhaps summarized the event best after his three rounds last year: "If you get the opportunity, you want to hit as many home runs as you can. You never know. That's the idea. In the Home Run Derby, you never know."
Much has changed in the years since the Home Run Derby began -- the live ESPN commentary is now heard by both the ballpark crowd as well as the viewing audience -- but the event is still a pure, breathtaking display of the best power hitters playing the national pastime.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.