The Home Run Derby has long been one of the marquee events of Major League Baseball’s All-Star Week. Originally a contest between the American and National league in 1985, the derby has changed format almost as many times as the event has been held. Last year — following four seasons where captains were selected in an effort to get bigger-named players to take part — the Home Run Derby was turned into a head-to-head bracket-style format with an American League slugger paired against one from the National League.
There were a ton of reasons why the format shouldn’t have worked, including a five-minute clock on each participant with bonus time given for long homers. But the threat of weather shortened each round and the performance by Cincinnati’s hometown slugger (and Toms River, NJ native) Todd Frazier and youngster Joc Pederson, who each hit 39 dingers in the contest, made the event a huge success.
Frazier, now a member of the White Sox, is back in 2016 to defend his crown, facing Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez in the first round. The winner of that head-to-head will face the victor between Reds slugger Adam Duvall and hometown hitter Wil Myers of San Diego. Top seed Mark Trumbo of Baltimore will face Corey Seager of the Dodgers, while the most (only?) marquee match-up in the first round will have Seattle’s Robinson Cano against Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins.
Again, for the seventh straight season, no member of the Phillies is in the Home Run Derby.
Maikel Franco hit the All-Star break tied for 28th in the league in homers, and tied for 13th in the National League, but despite having more dingers than Seager, the Phillies slugger has hit six of his 18 homers in his last 12 games, hot too late to be considered for inclusion this year’s event.
It’s odd: A member of the Phillies appeared in six-consecutive HR Derby competitions from 2004 through 2009, but never before and never since. Here is a look at the Phillies’ history with the Home Run Derby, from first-round exits to championship swings.
2007 – AT&T Park, San Francisco – Ryan Howard
Ryan Howard’s second of three appearances in the derby was his worst. Howard hit just three homers in the first round, failing to reach the semifinals in a park ostensibly created to cater to left-handed power hitters. Toronto’s Alex Rios and the Angels’ Vlad Guerrero made it to the finals that year, where Guerrero took home the trophy.
2004 – Minute Maid Park, Houston – Jim Thome
Jim Thome was the first Phillies player to ever enter a Home Run Derby, taking part in the star-studded — and one might say drug-induced — event in 2004 that featured Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro and Miguel Tejada, the eventual winner. Astros star Lance Berkman made it to the finals against Tejada, then with Baltimore, besting Palmeiro and Bonds in the semifinals, while Thome hit just four homers in the event.
Thome did go into the event with a derby-best 28 homers, including his 400th career bomb a month prior.
2008 – Yankee Stadium, New York – Chase Utley
Chase Utley would end 2008 on a high note (perhaps literally) but his only appearance in the Home Run Derby was unremarkable. Utley hit five homers in the first round of the 2008 derby at Yankee Stadium, failing to get out of the first round. Minnesota’s Justin Morneau technically won the event that year, which is remarkable considering Texas slugger Josh Hamilton belted a record 28 homers in the first round before running out of steam and losing in the finals.
It’s one of the most memorable derbies ever, but Utley was just a footnote.
2009 – Busch Stadium, St. Louis – Ryan Howard
Howard’s final appearance in the Home Run Derby was the last time any Phillies player has participated. He had a decent showing in his hometown, hitting 15 homers in two rounds, but failed to reach the finals, eliminated in the second round along with St. Louis star Albert Pujols despite hitting the most homers in that round. Prince Fielder went on to win the event over Nelson Cruz.
Howard, of course, helped lead the Phillies back to the World Series that season, hitting 45 homers; the last season he had more than 33.
1996 – Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia – Barry Bonds vs. Mark McGwire
Looking back at footage of the 1996 Home Run Derby is fascinating, as the event featured Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds in the finals, held during daylight hours at Veterans Stadium in front of a crowd that wasn’t even at capacity. Think about that happening today. Simpler times.
There was no Phillies participant the year Philadelphia hosted the All-Star Game, but any time Bonds and McGwire are against each other in a home run competition, it’s surely something to remember.
2006 – PNC Park, Pittsburgh – Ryan Howard (Champion)
Howard had the fourth-most home runs in the first round in 2006 at PNC Park, but hit 10 in the semifinals to qualify for the finals where he beat David Wright of the New York Mets to take home the Phillies back-to-back championships in walk-off fashion.
The 2006 season was the start of something special in Philly, as that was the year Howard won the MVP with a career best 58 homers, hitting 30 after the All-Star break. The Phillies failed to make the playoffs in 2006, but won the NL East division each of the next five seasons.
2005 – Comerica Park, Detroit – Bobby Abreu (Champion)
In the history of the Home Run Derby, through all its iterations and unnecessary format changes, no one has hit more home runs than Bobby Abreu in 2005, smashing 41 bombs en route to the title.
Abreu hit 24 in the first round — a record until Hamilton broke it three years later — then hit six in the semifinals to stand at 30 before the finals. To that time no player had ever hit more than nine homers in any final round, but Abreu belted 11, breaking an MLB record that still stands today.
Abreu came into the derby that year with 18 homers, but hit just six more the rest of the 2005 season, then just eight in 2006 for the Phillies before he was traded to the Yankees. At a time when players had it in their heads that participating in the derby ruins their swing the rest of the season, Abreu was the posterboy for that, hitting .307 with a .955 OPS and 18 homers in the first half of 2005, while hitting just .260 with a .787 OPS and six homers in the second half that included a July in which he hit just .214 at the plate.
Still, that night in Detroit was pretty memorable, and was the best Phillies Home Run Derby moment ever.