Ever since the powers that be at the Worldwide Leader began televising the Home Run Derby in 1993, the events surrounding the All-Star Game have been just about as huge as the game itself.
From Josh Hamilton’s moment in the Home Run Derby to Ashanti’s appearance in the 2012 Legends/Celebrity game, the last 20 years have provided us with a plethora of memorable moments. Here are my favorite of the past 20 years.
1. The Josh Hamilton Show (2008 Home Run Derby)
Four times in its history, Yankee Stadium played host to the Midsummer Classic, playing host at the pre-renovated stadium in 1939 and 1960 and twice at the renovated stadium in 1976 and 2008.
To honor the stadium’s final season, Major League Baseball decided on holding the Midsummer Classic in the Bronx. And while there’s very little to write about when it comes to the 2008 edition of the game, the 2008 Home Run Derby is a different story.
The year before, Josh Hamilton broke into the majors as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. After the 2007 season, however, Hamilton would be sent to the Texas Rangers, where he quickly became a fan favorite and one of the best players in the American League, earning a spot on the American League roster for the 2008 Home Run Derby.
In what was deemed a tribute to Babe Ruth, in the house that he built, Hamilton put on a home run display for the ages, belting 28 HRs in the first round of the event. And while Justin Morneau eventually won the HR Derby 5-3, Hamilton’s performance that night ranks among one of the all-time moments in Yankee Stadium history.
2. Cal Ripken’s HR (2001 All-Star Game)
Holder of the record for most All-Star appearances as a shortstop, Cal Ripken, who won the 1991 All-Star Game MVP when it was played in Toronto, gave baseball fans of all ages one more memory for the scrapbook in the 2001 event.
In the third inning of the game, with no score, Ripken deposited a pitch from Chan Ho Park into the left field bleachers to put the American League on top, a lead that fortunately, was never forfeited by the AL All-Stars as they won 4-1 in what would be the last All-Star Game this country would watch in pre-9/11 innocence.
3. Ken Griffey Jr. hits the Warehouse (1993 Home Run Derby)
When Camden Yards opened in 1992, the architects decided to preserve the old Baltimore and Ohio Warehouse, currently used as Orioles offices. Up until the 1993 All-Star Weekend in Baltimore, no player had hit a batted ball off the Warehouse.
That is, until the 1993 HR Derby.
In the event, ironically the first HR Derby televised on ESPN, Ken Griffey Jr. became the first player to hit a batted ball off the B&O Warehouse. And while Juan Gonzalez ended up winning the HR Derby, Griffey’s HR remains part of Home Run Derby lore. As of 2014, Griffey’s HR is the only one to ever reach the Warehouse.
4. Ted Williams and the All-Century Team honored at Fenway (1999 All-Star Game)
Let’s be honest, the 1999 All-Star uniforms were atrocious. But despite the ugliness of the uniforms, the 1999 All-Star Game will forever be remembered for Ted Williams’ appearance with the All-Century Team. To see the current all-stars gather around Williams is something I will never forget.
5. Steinbrenner’s tearful farewell at Yankee Stadium (2008)
Hating George Steinbrenner and the Yankees was the in thing to do if you were a baseball fan during the ’90s. Whether it was because of the Yankees’ dominance during the latter part of the decade or the fact that George Steinbrenner at times could be a douchebag, non-Yankee fans had no problems hating The Boss.
But in the final All-Star Game to be played at the House That Ruth Built, Steinbrenner, in what would be his final public appearance before his death in 2010, gave baseball fans a tearful goodbye during a lengthy pregame ceremony, a goodbye that showed his human side to the public.
6. Robinson Cano’s dad helps him win the Home Run Derby (2011 Home Run Derby)
Aside from the Josh Hamilton display in 2008, this moment during the 2011 Derby was the most thrilling and moving. With the help of his dad, Robinson Cano hit a finals-record 12 home runs to beat Adrian Gonzalez to clinch his first HR Derby crown.
7. Kate Upton, Erin Andrews, Jordin Sparks, and Jennie Finch in the 2011 Celebrity/Legends Softball Game (2011)
Back in 1934, New York Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell in succession struck out Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and Joe Cronin during the All-Star Game at the Polo Grounds. Seventy-seven years later, America got a chance to see Kate Upton throw a softball, Jordin Sparks play the outfield, Jennie Finch striking out your favorite childhood hero, and Erin Andrews being Erin Andrews.
I’m pretty sure Hubbell would have had trouble getting the ball over the plate if he pitched to these ladies.
8. Barry Bonds vs. Mark McGwire (1996)
One of the great battles in Home Run Derby history, Mark McGwire, who was still with the Oakland A’s, battled Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants in the 1996 Home Run Derby. McGwire, who would hit 52 home runs that year, was bested by Bonds in the event but it set the foundation for a long battle over tainted records.
9. Chipper’s speech before final All-Star Game (2012)
Make no mistake, I hate the Braves. I always despised their fans, that god-awful tomahawk chop, and the fact that they beat the Cardinals in the 1996 NLCS.
Despite the hate for the fraudulent America’s Team, I always had respect for guys like Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, Bobby Cox, and John Smoltz. I always believed that the Braves Way, as much as their fans don’t want to admit, was patterned after the Cardinal Way.
So when cameras were on Chipper Jones delivering a speech to the National League All-Stars before the 2012 affair in Kansas City, it increased my respect for what I believe will be a surefire, first-ballot Hall of Famer.
10. Bobby Abreu’s HR display (2005)
Forty years ago at Tiger Stadium, Reggie Jackson hit one of the most memorable homers in All-Star Game history, a blast that reached the famous right-field roof. In 2005, the Motor City was once again home to the All-Star Game and unlike the 1974 affair, this one had a HR Derby. Making his debut in the HR Derby in 2005, Philadelphia Phillies slugger put on a show for the ages, blasting 41 home runs, still a HR Derby record.