Justin Morneau defeated Josh Hamilton 5-3 in the final round to win the 2008 Home Run Derby but Morneau seemed almost apologetic when he received the trophy--and for good reason: Hamilton put on a stunning show in the first round by blasting a Derby record 28 home runs, hitting 13 straight out of the park at one point. Hamilton hit so many home runs that he did not even need to take a second round swing to advance to the final round but he decided to take a few cuts to stay loose. By the final round, both players were clearly exhausted, taking full swings but only displaying warning track power for the most part. Hamilton finished with 35 home runs overall--even though he only used up four of his 10 outs in the second round--while Morneau had 22 home runs.
We have seen these kinds of anticlimactic finishes in several previous Home Run Derbys and the reason for this is obvious: the derby lasts too long and fatigue inevitably sets in, all but ensuring that the best slugger does not win because he wears himself out in the early rounds. It makes no sense that after carrying over the home runs from the first round to the second round the totals are reset before the final round; it's like we are supposed to imagine that we did not really watch Hamilton put on one of the most amazing exhibitions of batting practice power ever. Hamilton blasted several of the longest shots in Home Run Derby history, including a 518 foot rocket that is the third longest ever launched in the event, trailing only Sammy Sosa's 524 foot homer in 2002 and Frank Thomas' 519 foot homer in 1994.
Leave it to Major League Baseball to provide two hours of great entertainment and still find a way to end the night on a down note. I have nothing against Morneau, who performed well, but it was almost painful to watch he and Hamilton struggle to hit the ball out of the park in the final round. Instead of being dramatic, the final matchup was sloppy and unsatisfying. The Home Run Derby should either reduce the number of outs per round or, even better, simply eliminate one round entirely. That would lead to a much more high quality event and make it more likely that the best slugger on that night actually takes home the trophy.
The Home Run Derby is baseball's version of the Slam Dunk Contest and the two events will always fascinate and captivate young and old fans alike for a simple reason: the vast majority of people can neither dunk a basketball nor hit a pitch--even a grooved batting practice pitch--out of a baseball stadium. It is truly wondrous to see the greatest athletes in a sport put their talents on display. Watching Hamilton hit home runs or Dwight Howard dunk is seeing a perfect blending of talent, timing and explosive power.