July 19, 2024


Exercise makes you strong

2021 MLB Home Run Derby proves again why the event is a must-see sports spectacle

DENVER — It is in this very space that, on occasion, I will lament something Major League Baseball is doing that isn’t good for the game. To be fair, when the league gets something right, I need to point that out as well. And, man, has MLB ever made the Home Run Derby a sight to behold. 

Year in, year out, the event is one of the biggest must-see things the league has to offer. There was still a noticeable buzz in Coors Field about a half hour after Monday night’s spectacle was over and Pete Alonso won his second title in a row.

It wasn’t always this way, either. The Home Run Derby badly needed fixing less than a decade ago. 

By 2014, the derby was a slog. Far too many players watched far too many pitches. If I had to guess, I’d say the ratio of pitches to swings was around four or five to one. As such, it seemed like it took all night. I’ll even cop to leaving the 2014 Home Run Derby before it was over. It wasn’t exciting at all.

Heading to the 2015 All-Star break in Cincinnati, MLB announced a new format. It included a clock. And it turned the event into the gem it has been ever since. I remember all of these Home Run Derbies off the top of my head:

  • We had the 2015 Derby, that saw Reds third baseman Todd Frazier dramatically walk things off with the Cincy fans going nuts. 
  • In 2016, Giancarlo Stanton put on an absolute show in Petco Park. 
  • In 2017, Marlins slugger Justin Bour pleased the Miami crowd with 22 homers in the first round, only to see Aaron Judge storm through the gates with 23. 
  • In 2018, Bryce Harper walked things off, much to the delight of the D.C. crowd. 
  • The 2019 event might’ve been the best of all-time. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. made history, had a three swing-off win over Joc Pederson but then Pete Alonso walked him off in the finals. 

And that brings us to Monday night in beautiful Coors Field. What can we even say about how fun this event was? 

I think we can start with this: Shohei Ohtani was eliminated in the first round and the entire event was still as thrilling as it has ever  been. We saw Juan Soto put up a big number and Ohtani struggle early in his turn, only to flip the switch and get hot enough to force a swing off. Then there was another swing off and he was taken out with Soto going three for three. 

Trey Mancini was fighting cancer with chemotherapy last year at this time. He took down Matt Olson and then Trevor Story to make a run to the finals. He almost won, too, putting up 22 in the final round — and that’s with a minute less time than the first two rounds. 

But Alonso was seemingly made for this event. After putting on a show in the first round with a record 35 homers, he almost made it look easy in the finals. He trailed Mancini by five homers while looking at a minute of bonus time. He then only needed 25 seconds to hit his six and go home as the repeat champ. 

This isn’t even mentioning the first two matchups were decided by just one home run with the second batter chasing a big number and coming up just shy. Olson even hit one home run distance but missed foul by a few feet. It would’ve tied things up at the buzzer. Story took down one of the favorites in Joey Gallo, who got hot late but came up one homer short. We saw two walk-offs in the semi-finals. 

And then it was onto the finals with the defending champion against the feel-good story. Alonso showed that this is his event until someone proves otherwise. He joins Ken Griffey Jr. and Yoenis Cespedes as the only repeat winners, but I’d argue it’s a lot more difficult to pull it off in this hectic format. 

It was amazing theater. 

In fact, this is the best event of its type in the professional sports world. There’s nothing the NBA, NFL or NHL can do to compete. The slam dunk contest used to be this fun, but there are only so many dunks that can be done. Whoever decided that throwing a clock on a baseball event saved the Home Run Derby and it seems to get better and better each time. 

Kudos to Major League Baseball for this and, specifically in 2021, thank you to Pete Alonso, Trey Mancini, Juan Soto, Trevor Story, Matt Olson, Joey Gallo, Salvador Perez and Shohei Ohtani. Not one of them disappointed on this gorgeous Monday night in Denver.