Home Run Derby (TV series)

"Home Run Derby" was a 1959 television show held at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles pitting the top sluggers of Major League Baseball against each other in 9-inning home run contests. The show was produced and hosted by actor and Hollywood Stars broadcaster Mark Scott [ [http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0779542/ Mark Scott (I) ] ] .

The rules were similar to modern home run derbies, with one notable exception. The show's rules were that if a batter did not swing at a pitch that was in the strike zone, that also constituted an out, although this rarely happened. Nine future Hall of Famers would eventually participate in the series. Art Passarella, a major league umpire who would go on to a TV acting career, served as the plate umpire. There were also umpires in the outfield to help judge fly balls that were close calls.

This TV series helped inspire the Home Run Derby event that is now held the day before the annual Major League Baseball All-Star Game and is televised on ESPN.

Participants

*Hank Aaron
*Bob Allison
*Ernie Banks
*Ken Boyer
*Bob Cerv
*Rocky Colavito
*Gil Hodges
*Jackie Jensen
*Al Kaline
*Jim Lemon
*Harmon Killebrew
*Mickey Mantle
*Eddie Mathews
*Willie Mays
*Wally Post
*Frank Robinson
*Duke Snider
*Dick Stuart
*Gus Triandos
*Tom Saffell -- pitcherNevada State Journal, July, 1960, p. 9]
*John Van Ornum -- catcherN]

Venue choice

Scott noted that Wrigley Field in Los Angeles (the name of the stadium was never mentioned) was chosen to host the event because its fence distances were symmetrical and favored neither right-handed or left-handed hitters (although the left field wall was a few feet higher than the right field fence). It was also the only "true" baseball stadium in Los Angeles at the time that was available for offseason tapings. The Los Angeles Dodgers played at the Memorial Coliseum during 1958-1961, a site that, even if available, would have given an unfair advantage to right-handed batters.

how rules

Batters were given three outs per inning, and the player with the most home runs after nine innings won. The defending champion had the advantage of batting last, and the challenger thus would bat first. Any ball not hit for a home run was an out. The player did not have to swing at every pitch, but if he did not swing at it, and the pitch was in the strike zone, that also constituted an out, as well as a swing and a miss, but these rarely happened, as the pitcher was supposed to be giving the batters good balls to hit. If the players were tied after nine, the derby would go into extra innings as per regular baseball.

While one player was taking his turn at bat, the other player would be at the host's booth and would have a brief conversation, typically unrehearsed "small-talk" about the contest itself or the player's performance for that season. Willie Mays, who was a champion later in the run (after losing in the initial contest to Mantle), joked with host Scott during his run that the host should be quiet while he batted and Scott took him up on it, speaking into the mike "sotto voce", like a bowling or golf announcer, whenever Mays would step up to the plate. Sometimes when the batter would hit a ball in the deep outfield, the player in the booth would sometimes comment that it could've went for extra bases in a real game, which Scott replies that on "Home Run Derby" it's nothing but an out.

Prizes

The winner received $2,000 and was invited back for the next week's episode against a new opponent. The runner-up received $1,000. If a batter hit three home runs in a row, he would receive a $500 bonus. A fourth home run in a row would be worth another $500 bonus. Any consecutive home runs hit beyond that would each be worth $1,000. Each show would end with the host presenting each player with their prize checks (beginning with the loser), and would award separate checks for consecutive home run bonuses. These were the real checks, not the jumbo "display" checks typically used today. For example, if the winner hit three homers in a row, they would receive one check for $2000 and another for $500 instead of one check for $2500. Also, as an incentive for throwing good home run hitting balls, the pitcher who threw the most pitches for home runs also received a bonus, according to the host.

Unlike more modern home run derbies, which usually award prizes in the form of charity donations to a player's choice of charity, the economic realities of the era meant that the cash prizes earned by the players on the show were a substantial income supplement.

Records

Hank Aaron held the record for most money won on "Home Run Derby", winning $13,500. His run of 6 consecutive wins was ended by Wally Post, who was defeated in his next outing by Dick Stuart.

Jackie Jensen was the only player to hit 4 and 5 home runs in a row in the final Home Run Derby contest (#26); a loss to Mickey Mantle, 13-10.

Eddie Mathews and Duke Snider were the only left-handed batters to compete. Switch-hitter Mantle batted right-handed in the contests; he hit his legendary 565-foot home run in 1953 against the Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium from the right side. Mantle hit 372 homers left-handed in his career, and only 164 right-handed, presumably due to facing far more right-handed than left-handed pitchers. He chose to bat exclusively right-handed for this series, reiterating in the first episode that his longest home runs had come right-handed.

Demise of show

Scott's straightforward play-by-play and interviewing style was described by ESPN's Chris Berman as "dry", but his style was not very different from many of the announcers of that era, straightforward and upbeat. He died in 1960 from a heart attack, at the age of 45.

Once Scott died, the producers decided not to replace him and the show was cancelled. However, the show has been rerun occasionally since, in syndication, on Fox Sports Net, and on ESPN Classic. ESPN Classic last ran the program in 2005, and it has not been seen on U.S. television since. In later years, the intro, as well as some comments at the close of the show, were narrated by former Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Ross Porter.

2000s revival

In 2003 and 2004, the Major League Baseball Players Association held similar contests at Cashman Field in Las Vegas, Nevada. The contests were held just before spring training, consisted of eight-man elimination tournaments, and were televised on ESPN. José Canseco won the first of the events. Low television ratings and an increased wariness toward home-run hitters resulting from suspected widespread use of steroids by athletes like Canseco led to the demise of the competition.

DVDs of the original show

In the summer of 2007, MGM Home Entertainment (with distribution by 20th Century Fox, which is owned by the same company that owns the current over-the-air home of the MLB, the Fox Broadcasting Company) began to release the television series on three DVDs. [Diane Werts, [http://weblogs.newsday.com/entertainment/tv/blog/2007/06/tv_on_dvd_home_run_derby_hits.html "TV ON DVD: ‘Home Run Derby’ hits a triple"] , "Newsday", June 18, 2007] The first DVD was released on July 10, the second was issued on August 14, and the third came out on September 25.

Episodes are also available via the iTunes Store.

The entire series was released as a DVD set in March 2008.

References

External links

*imdb title|id=0135729|name=Home Run Derby
* [http://www.jumptheshark.com/topic/Home-Run-Derby/Home-Run-Derby-General-Comments/930 Jump The Shark » Forums » Shark Discussions » TV Shows: A - Z » H » Home Run Derby]
* [http://www.bpi1.com/hrderby.html 1959 Home Run Derby Scores, Stats, Conspiracies, and Games]


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