A home run is one of the most beautiful displays of power in sports.
The distinctive crack of the bat. The towering lift-off of the ball. The long stare of the batter. The pure joy of fans watching the batter circle the bases. Without a doubt, home runs are the emotional bedrock of baseball.
For the last 36 summers, baseball fans around the world have witnessed the spectacle of the MLB All-Star Home Run Derby. The Derby is the holy grail of exhibition – seeing the best long ball hitters in the game try to out-do each other is awe-inspiring.
From a backward-capped Ken Griffey Jr.’s unforgettable performance in 1998, to a seemingly never ending swing-off between Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Joc Pederson in 2019, the Derby has created countless moments that continue to inspire.
With the 2022 Derby less than a week away, let’s take a look at the Greatest Home Run Derby Performances of All-Time in chronological order.
Ripken Rips 12 Homers – 1991
The Derby was only a two-round contest before 1991. An extra round was added that year and players were now allowed 10 outs each round instead of five.
Cal Ripken Jr. blew away the competition, lighting up the Toronto SkyDome with 12 home runs, the first time double-digits was reached in the Derby. Twelve homers could easily be achieved in the first round by today’s power-hitters, but the legendary Orioles shortstop proved that he was worthy of being a Home Run Derby champion.
“The Kid” Wins with Swag and Strength at Coors – 1998
Ken Griffey Jr. was at the height of his powers in 1998. With his bright smile, youthful exuberance, and the sweetest swing in the game, “The Kid” was the most marketable star in baseball. Who could forget the image of Griffey in his backwards hat, carrying the joy of every young baseball fan as he launched homers into the Denver sky?
With 19 homers, Griffey became the first player to win multiple derbies at Coors Field and beat out a stacked field that included Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, Jim Thome, Chipper Jones, and Vinny Castilla. Baseball was certainly rocking in the ‘90s.
McGwire Mashes at Fenway – 1999
Fenway Park was the perfect backdrop for the 20th century’s last All-Star festivities. The game’s most hallowed grounds honored the game’s greatest players over the past 100 years as the All-Century Team was introduced. And as the greatest hitter who ever lived, Ted Williams, came out for a special tribute, baseball fans old and new were reminded once again of the promise of the National Pastime.
As for the Derby, Mark McGwire stole the show. He mashed 16 homers, effortlessly sending baseballs over the Green Monster and onto Lansdowne Street. Griffey ultimately won, but Big Mac turned in a legendary performance at a legendary venue.
Bobby Abreu Dominates in Detroit – 2005
Bobby Abreu was not known as a home run hitter before the 2005 Derby, only reaching 30 homers once in nine seasons. But that all changed when he mashed 41 long balls on a summer night in Detroit. He emerged victorious over Ivan Rodriguez and David Ortiz.
Hamilton Goes for 28 – 2008
Before Pete Alonso and Vladdy G, there was Josh Hamilton. Hamilton’s iconic performance at the 2008 Derby at the Old Yankee Stadium will live on forever. His 28 home runs in the first-round largely overshadow Abreu’s 24 in 2005, but Hamilton’s were different. The Rangers’ outfielder hit seven that went more than 500 feet, launched 13 straight, and in a video game-like effort, almost put one out of Yankee Stadium.
Stanton Stars in San Diego – 2016
Giancarlo Stanton could break a baseball if he wanted to. The big outfielder hit 61 homers and gave the newly minted StatCast a run for its money, averaging 446 feet per home run and having the 20 hardest-hit balls of the Derby.
Harper is a Hometown Hero in D.C. – 2018
Bryce Harper brought the power and the party to Washington. Donning a red, white, and blue arm sleeve, bandana, and shoes, the 2015 NL MVP turned in an energy-filled performance that showcased the emotional connection between Nationals fans in attendance and their hometown star. Kyle Schwarber hit the second most home runs in Derby history and still lost, which goes to show how awesome Harper’s effort was.
Vladdy G and Joc Rock the House in Cleveland – 2019
2019 could be the greatest Home Run Derby ever. Vladdy G and Joc Pederson battled it out in the semifinals, going to three tiebreakers in an absolutely outrageous duel. Toronto’s young superstar eventually prevailed 40-39, but Alonso cracked 53 homers and defeated him to win the Derby in his rookie season.
Alonso Goes Back-to-Back – 2021
The Mets’ slugger is the undisputed king of the Derby. The man hit 35 home runs in the first round and coasted to victory over the inspiring Trey Mancini, who made it to the final round one year after being diagnosed with colon cancer.
Read more about the 2021 Home Run Derby.