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MLB.com Columnist

Bernie Pleskoff

Derby has roots in weekly 1960s TV show

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Derby has roots in weekly 1960s TV show play video for Derby has roots in weekly 1960s TV show

MLB.com Columnist

Bernie Pleskoff

I remember watching the competition week after week as if it happened yesterday. But 54 years have passed since announcer Mark Scott hosted the original Home Run Derby, a home run-hitting competition filmed in black and white and shown on television beginning in April 1960.

Home Run Derby was a weekly competition between the game's greatest sluggers at the time. Twenty-six contests were completed in the series, all produced within a three-week period beginning in January 1960 at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. Two episodes were filmed each day. A National League player faced an American League player each week, and every Major League club was represented on the show with the exception of the Chicago White Sox, who did not have a player with the benchmark 25 home runs during the previous season, 1959.

HOME RUN DERBY
Episode Winner, score Loser, score
1 Mickey Mantle, 9 Willie Mays, 8
2 Mickey Mantle, 5 Ernie Banks, 3
3 Mickey Mantle, 9 Jackie Jensen, 2
4 Harmon Killebrew, 9 Mickey Mantle, 8
5 Harmon Killebrew, 6 Rocky Colavito, 5
6 Ken Boyer, 3 Harmon Killebrew, 2
7 Hank Aaron, 9 Ken Boyer, 6
8 Hank Aaron, 6 Jim Lemon, 4
9 Hank Aaron, 4 Eddie Matthews, 3
10 Hank Aaron, 5 Al Kaline, 1
11 Hank Aaron, 3 Dick Stuart, 1
12 Hank Aaron, 3 Bob Allison, 2
13 Wally Post, 7 Hank Aaron, 4
14 Dick Stuart, 11 Wally Post, 9
15 Dick Stuart, 7 Gus Triandos, 1
16 Frank Robinson, 6 Dick Stuart, 3
17 Bob Cerv, 8 Frank Robinson, 7
18 Bob Allison, 4 Bob Cerv, 3
19 Willie Mays, 11 Bob Allison, 3
20 Willie Mays, 7 Harmon Killebrew, 6
21 Willie Mays, 6 Jim Lemon, 3
22 Gil Hodges, 6 Willie Mays, 3
23 Ernie Banks, 11 Gil Hodges, 7
24 Jackie Jensen, 14 Ernie Banks, 11
25 Jackie Jensen, 3 Rocky Colavito, 2
26 Mickey Mantle, 13 Jackie Jensen, 10

A total of 20 sluggers met the Derby standard. Four of the qualified players never appeared. They included Joe Adcock, Orlando Cepeda, Woodie Held and Charlie Maxwell.

The prize money was considerable at the time. The winner received $2,000, the loser $1,000. A $500 bonus was offered to a player who hit three consecutive home runs without making an out.

Nine of the participants became Hall of Famers. They included Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks, Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Mickey Mantle, Eddie Mathews, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson and Duke Snider. What a list.

The original Derby counted a pitch taken in the strike zone as an out. Each hitter was given three outs an inning for nine innings. The player with the most home runs advanced to the following week.

The all-time leader of the competition was Aaron, who won six times.

Halfway through the airing of the series, Scott, the host, died of a heart attack at 45 years old. A second season was never produced.

Fast-forward to 2014. Fans still love to watch the competition between players and seeing the top sluggers hit majestic home runs.

In this year's Gillette Home Run Derby, to be held on Monday night at Minnesota's Target Field at 8 ET on ESPN and in Canada on Sportsnet, fans will have the opportunity to watch an AL team of Yoenis Cespedes, Adam Jones, Brian Dozier, Josh Donaldson and captain Jose Bautista take on the NL sluggers, including Yasiel Puig, Giancarlo Stanton, Todd Frazier, Justin Morneau and captain Troy Tulowitzki. One of them will emerge the overall winner.

Taking their best power swings to the Home Run Derby, these modern-day sluggers are selective swinging at pitches, knowing that a foul ball, a swing and miss or anything struck other than a home run is an out. Unlike the original Home Run Derby, there is no penalty for taking a called strike.

Should a player advance beyond the initial round, the modern version of the Derby, featuring a bracket format for the first time, consists of several rounds of players swinging for the fences. Swing after swing is "all or nothing." It saps energy. It requires fitness and stamina. It isn't as simple as just swinging at a pitch. It's swinging over and over with the purpose of hitting the ball over the fence.

All five players from each league will bat in the opening round, each given seven outs. The player who hits the most homers in each league will receive a bye to the third round (semifinals). The next two players from each league with the most homers will square off against one another in a head-to-head matchup in the second round. The winners of these matchups will advance to the third round to compete against the league's top seed. The final round will feature the winners of the AL and NL semifinals going head to head to determine the winner of the event.

Any player in the competition can get into a rhythm and win the Derby. Any player can repeat his home run swing over and over and get on a roll. That's what makes the Derby so intriguing. Anyone entered can win.

We won't quite be seeing the 1960 version of Home Run Derby, but all of the excitement and competition among sluggers will be on display in Minneapolis. It's a great event and one not to be missed.

Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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