Heavy hitters invade Comerica

Heavy hitters invade Comerica Park

It is Ken Griffey Jr. winning back-to-back; Mark McGwire drawing the kind of oohs and aahs at Fenway Park normally reserved for fireworks' grand finales; Sammy Sosa running away from the pack in Atlanta; and Cal Ripken Jr. and Garret Anderson just getting warmed up for MVP performances the next night.

It is Luis Gonzalez winning in the finals at Safeco Field in those innocent days just before 9/11 -- a flash of brilliance before he went on to hit the game-winner months later in a World Series that helped a nation begin to heal. It is Miguel Tejada sending pitch after pitch into the Houston night beyond an open-roof Minute Maid Park last summer, winning the title while David Ortiz fanned him with a towel.

It is sluggers like Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Harmon Killebrew and Rocky Colavito going head-to-head in that 1959 black-and-white series -- a very different TV time but a very similar love for the longball. "Wow," announcer Mark Scott would say, "he got ahold of that one!"

The Century 21 All-Star Home Run Derby is now unquestionably the event before the event during All-Star Week, and on July 11 it comes to Comerica Park in Detroit. The Motor City is about to get perhaps the most power it has seen since six future Hall of Famers went deep in the last All-Star Game at Tigers Stadium in 1971.

"The Home Run Derby kind of personifies what an All-Star Game is," Hall of Famer Joe Morgan wrote last summer. "Home run contests happen every day at the ballpark during batting practice. When I played in Cincinnati, I would challenge Pete Rose or Tony Perez would challenge Johnny Bench during the last round of batting practice."

There is a special twist to the 2005 Home Run Derby as well. This marks the 20th anniversary of the event's addition as a regular All-Star attraction. There were 10 sluggers then, and each invitee had one round to do his damage. Dave Parker did the most, with six, becoming the first Derby champ.

It was a nice little testament to the Cobra's power back then. Now if you win, it is a happening.

Eight of the game's top power hitters will be at Comerica this time for a three-round event, with half of the field winnowed after each round. It is an event that inevitably leaves spectators agape and brings a surprise.

"The Century 21 All-Star Home Run Derby has become one of the highlights of All-Star Week each year," said Brian O'Gara, senior director of special events for Major League Baseball. "From Mark McGwire's mammoth home runs at Fenway Park in 1999, to great performances in recent years by Sammy Sosa, Jason Giambi, Albert Pujols and [2003] champion, Garret Anderson, baseball's best sluggers have put on a great show for the fans in the ballpark and the millions who tune in on ESPN."

Part of the suspense is always in the selection of the sluggers themselves. Take a good look at the home run tote board right now, because there will be some folks around the top who suit up to slug while other All-Stars lounge around near the on-deck areas and playfully cheer on their leagues' representatives.

"If you get the opportunity, you want to hit as many home runs as you can," Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols said after his stunning 2003 display at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field, where he fell just short of Derby winner and All-Star Game MVP Anderson. "You never know. That's the idea. In the Home Run Derby, you never know."

Much has changed in the years since the Home Run Derby began -- the live ESPN commentary is now heard by both the ballpark crowd as well and the viewing audience -- but the event is still a pure, breathtaking display of the best power hitters playing the national pastime.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.