Cleveland — Recency bias is a tough thing sometimes, especially for me. Whenever I witness something great — whether it’s in sports or a TV show or a movie — I have a tendency to go crazy and highly “rank” it in my mind. I admit it’s a flaw occasionally.
With that being said, I really do think the 2019 Home Run Derby is gonna go down in the books as one of the best in the event’s history.
“I mean, it was special,” said champion Pete Alonso afterward. “There’s so many guys that just put on a show, like Joc, he was amazing, Vladdy, they did such a good job. Everybody. I don’t want to leave anybody out. Everybody did such an amazing job just going out there and showing their stuff and showcasing young talent in the game. I thought it was awesome. Everyone went out there and put on a show. I thought it was really entertaining to watch and sit on the sidelines for it.”
We’ll get to Joc [Pederson] and Vladdy [Vladimir Guerrero Jr] and the rest. For now, let’s look back.
The short list for the best Derby, I think, looks something like:
- 2008: Josh Hamilton hit 28 home runs in Yankee Stadium in the first round but then lost in the finals to Justin “Don’t call me Jason” Morneau.
- 2015: The first year with this new format that saved the Derby, Todd Frazier wins in the finals in front of Reds faithful in walk-off fashion.
- 2018: Bryce Harper wins in what was somewhat of a swan song moment in front of the Nationals‘ home crowd.
Obviously there were lots of other moments in those three worth mention and some might be partial to some other Derby years. The show Giancarlo Stanton put on in San Diego in 2016 was incredible and remember Bobby Abreu’s run in Detroit in 2005? There were some excellent past moments involving power hitting icons like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, too.
To reiterate a point from above, however, the Derby had become a bit of a bore for me until the new format. The taking of pitches had gotten to an excessive point. There was just way too much dead time between swings and there wasn’t near as much drama when it came to seeing who was going to advance. The clock and a head-to-head format made this an absolute must-see event for those who love fun, baseball-related events involving.
For a while, it felt like this Derby was solely going to be the Vladimir Guerrero Jr. show. He set a record in the first round and then tied it in his next turn. Through his second round at-bat, there had really only been one close matchup. But then Joc Pederson came along and tied the record, forcing a one-minute tiebreaker. And they tied again. Then they tied again. Guerrero finally won, as Pederson’s 39 home runs in the second round were not enough to advance to the finals.
It was the best head-to-head matchup in the history of the Home Run Derby and I’m not sure anything else is even in the same ballpark.
“That was elite hitting,” Alonso said. “That was the best — some of the best rounds of BP I’ve ever watched. That was up there with — I think that was even better than the Josh Hamilton round, because both of them going back and forth, and clawing back the way that Joc did, he had his work cut out for him. But the way he came back, that’s just mental fortitude right there. That was a hell of a shot. I don’t know if we’re ever going to see that again. That was special. So definitely going to remember that one, for sure.”
Then came what appeared to be baseball’s version of wrestling’s “cool down” match, which is a lesser match between two main event-type battles. Instead, Alonso topped Ronald Acuna with his 20th homer at the buzzer. Yes, Alonso had 30 seconds of bonus time coming due to hitting at least two homers of 440 feet (one tweak they might need to make is increasing the threshold here, since almost every player got the bonus, but I’m not gonna complain if they don’t). The way the crowd reacted, it didn’t matter. It was electric for the finish in Progressive Field. Plus, it’s always cool to see a buzzer beater like that.
And then the finals. Vlad Jr. looked gassed and still mustered a whopping 22 blasts, giving him. The previous high was Stanton’s aforementioned 2016 performance at 61. Yes, the kid broke the record by 30.
It just wasn’t enough, as Alonso again walked off.
Guerrero broke two records — one of them twice — Pederson tied that record, we had a triple tiebreaker, Alonso had three walk-off wins including a buzzer beater and you’re gonna tell me a different year was better?
On top of that, MLB flexed its muscle when it came to the incredible young talent in the game with Alonso (24 years old), Acuna (21) and Guerrero (20) as the stars of the show. I fall victim to recency bias at times, but this was not one of those times.
This was the best Derby ever.