Anyone who watched the Home Run Derby last year remembers Josh Hamilton. Baseball’s comeback story of the year sent the old Yankee Stadium out in style as he used his heavily tattooed arms to lift home run after home run over the centerfield wall. What a lot of people don’t remember however, is that after Hamilton’s first-round outburst, he fizzled out, managing to hit only seven home runs over the last two rounds. While Hamilton’s mark on the home run derby may have been indelible in the court of public opinion, Justin Morneau is ultimately the one in the record books.
Thus the question has to be begged: Do you go for broke and hit as many home runs in a round as you can or do you leave a little in the tank so that can take home the trophy? In this writer’s humble opinion, the answer is easy–why lighten up?
Take Bobby Abreu for example. Known more for his ability to get on base than to knock the ball out of the park, Abreu blew the competition away in 2005 when he launched 24 first-round home runs (it doesn’t hurt when the competition is comprised of Hee-Seop Choi either). Like a freight-train heading downhill, Abreu never let up, winning the competition easily and tallying 41 total dingers; a record to this day. No doubt Abreu’s first round momentum helped carry him through.
The format instituted in 2006 makes it even more advantageous for hitters to swing like there is no tomorrow. Starting in 2006, the players with the most home runs in the first two rounds advance to the championship round. A direct beneficiary being David Wright, whose 16 home run outburst in the first-round helped catapult him to the championship round. You strike while the iron is hot, because had Wright let up in the first-round, he may have been videotaping the Derby championship from the first-base line.
Lastly, you always hit as many balls out of the park as you can because who cares if you actually win the Derby. Take for example the latest commercial advertising the 2009 Derby. It features recent winners Ryan Howard and Vlad Guerrero, but not Morneau. In his place is that same tattooed basher who burnt himself out by hitting too many home runs in the first-round.
So while Hamilton didn’t bring home a trophy or win someone a house, he gave us all a memory we won’t forget anytime soon. And isn’t that what the all-star festivities are about anyways?