The Twins don't have a participant in the 2012 Home Run Derby, which is by and large a good thing. As fun as it's been watching Josh Willingham launch pain-filled baseballs, and as much fun as it's been watching Trevor Plouffe launch surprised-filled baseballs (the balls have personalities now, did nobody tell you?), I'm content to let other players from other teams put that kind of strain on their bodies.
But Minnesota has seen some of its best participate in the Derby over the years; the Derby which has taken so many different formats over the years. This morning we refresh your memory on a little history, going back to the closest incarnation of the Derby as we know it: 1985.
Tom Brunansky, 1985
At this time the event was set as two five-out innings, with the combined score declaring the winner. It wasn't necessarily the best system for people who wanted a guaranteed winner (there wasn't a tie-breaker if two or more players finished with the same total), but let's be philosophical. How much is perfect the first time around?
Brunansky had hit 20 homers as a 21-year old with the Twins in 1982. He followed that up with 28 in '83 and 32 in '84, leading up to having 19 heading into the break in '85. My dad still thinks the Derby messed up Brunansky's swing (he hit .213/.269/.374 with eight homers in the second half), but of course that's just not true. Bruno just had trouble making contact sometimes.
At any rate, our own Bruno bashed a whopping four home runs combined. Which sounds terrible until you see that he tied for second place with four other guys. Dave Parker hit six, making him the undisputed winner. For the record, Brunansky hit 55 homers in the next two seasons. His power loss wasn't permanent.
Gary Gaetti, 1989
While Bruno hit 48 homers between '82 and '83, Gaetti bashed 46. The Twins had some young power. From '86 through '88 The Rat averaged 31 homers a year, earning him a well-earned reputation for hitting balls out of the yard. At the break in '89 he'd knocked out 16.
He'd hit only three more all year, giving my dad even more ammunition for the screwed-up-his-swing argument. Maybe it was a confidence thing, since he didn't hit a single homer in the Derby.
To be fair, Ruben Sierra and Eric Davis hit three. Nobody else hit more than that.
Torii Hunter, 2002
Spiderman was 26 when he exploded onto the National baseball scene in '02, hitting .306/.347/.564 going into the break with a whopping 20 bombs to match some incredible defensive ability. We all remember him robbing Barry Bonds of a homer in the actual All-Star game. I think we probably try to forget the Derby.
By 2002 the Derby format had changed a few times, and currently saw a field of eight contestants narrowed to four after round one. Those four then entered a bracket, with the winners facing each other for the trophy. Torii hit three, which was more than Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Lanced Berkman...but not enough to get into the second round. It showed. So many of those guys made it look effortless (Jason Giambi and Sammy Sosa faced off in the finals, so of course it looked effortless), but Hunter just wasn't in that class. Which is probably a good thing in retrospect.
Hunter would hit four more homers in the second half of July but only nine total the rest of the season, leaving him one short of the 30-homer plateau that Twins fans were cheering for.
Justin Morneau, 2007
Justin's first Derby appearance came on the heels of his '06 MVP campaign, where he'd crushed 34 homers to become (along with Torii, who hit 31) the first Twins hitters to cross the 30-homer plateau in 19 years. In '07 Justin hit the break with 24 homers and was looking like another MVP candidate, doing things the voters loved like driving in runs and hitting those homers. It wasn't unfathomable to think that Morneau would finish the season with 40 bombs; even 50, according to some of us who had taken on the Canadian Kool-Aid.
In the intervening five years the Derby changed formats again, to the one we're still using now. Vladimir Guerrero, Alex Rios, and Matt Holliday led the pack after round one with five homers apiece, but Justin tied with Albert Pujols. Pujols topped Morneau in a swing-off, two homers to one.
Morneau's second half was brutal, particularly September, and he'd hit only seven more home runs the rest of the year. My dad continued to believe the Derby messed with swings. And I couldn't blame him.
Justin Morneau, 2008
The home run totals dropped off in '08, but it was easy to look at Justin's numbers and see that he was becoming a more complete hitter. At the break his triple slash was an impressive .323/.391/.512, and his 14 bombs were enough to get him invited back to the Derby for a second year in a row. He'd hit eight in round one, which was good enough to move him on to round two, but we all remember how Josh Hamilton somehow hit 28 home runs.
In round one.
It's the thing of legend now, but at the time it was just as tiring as it was impressive. By home run number 13 we all knew he was through to the second round, but the balls just kept arcing into the night. It was overkill. It was incredible. It was too much. Hamilton faded to four homers in round two, where Justin hit nine, and when the two squared off in the final round Morneau launched five balls into the seats. Hamilton hit just three, and looked gassed.
Justin won, to the disbelief of everyone not in Minnesota, including this person who decided to call him Jason. He'd hit nine more home runs in the second half of the season.
Joe Mauer, 2009
After missing the first month of the year, Mauer arrived on the scene May 1 and launched a home run in his first at-bat. He hit 11 homers in May. While he'd hit only four more going into the break, after play on the last day of the first half Joe was batting .373/.447/.622.
Mauer's five homers in round one of the Derby tied him for fourth with Albert Pujols and Carlos Pena, sending all three into a swing-off to see which one would advance into round two. Pena hit one, Pujols smacked a pair, but Mauer didn't hit any.
Joe would hit 13 more homers in the second half of the year, eight in August. 19 of his 28 home runs that season came in two very hot months, where a good deal of the bombs were line drives that cleared the wall in left field. But that home run total still changed our perception of what kind of hitter he could be.
There isn't much to put here. The Home Run Derby is pure spectacle, a showcase for baseball's one socially acceptable moment to gloat. And for one night, that moment is put center stage. Will we see something spectacular tonight? The field includes favorites Jose Bautista and Prince Fielder, a member of the old guard in Carlos Beltran, plus parts of a fresh generation in Carlos Gonzalez, Mark Trumbo, and Andrew McCutchen.
It's just glitter, but it can be fun to watch. And just like Nascar, where you watch for the wrecks, you watch baseball's Home Run Derby to see the fireworks. Here's hoping for something we've never seen before.