Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Home Run Derby: Chicken Soup For The Baseball Soul

Hey, does anyone remember Home Run Derby?

I'm not talking about the ham-handed version that occurs during All-Star week. I'm referring to a TV show from the early 1960's (or late 1950's) that was videotaped at old Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, where the Angels used to play before moving into the Big A in Anaheim.

I can't recall the name of the host (I think it was Mark Something), but he would sit at a table in the dugout, interviewing each contestant between at-bats. Basically, the player would join Mark in the dugout, and they'd chat briefly while the other slugger played out his half of the inning.

Here's how it worked:

The "game" consisted of nine innings, and there was a batting practice-type pitcher, and he'd toss the gopher balls. There was also a catcher and a home plate umpire. Any pitch not swung at that was called a strike was an "out." Any batted ball that was NOT a homerun was also an "out." Three outs and your half inning was done. The game continued like this through nine innings -- ten or more if the game was tied.

Some of the players I remember seeing on ESPN's replays a few years ago were Harmon Killebrew, Jim Lemon, Norm Siebern, Hank Bauer, Al Kaline, and Ernie Banks, to name several. It was a cozy, comfortable show with little fanfare or high production values. Each "game" lasted about as long as a half hour, so it was neatly packaged for TV, too.

I wonder if the old episodes of Home Run Derby have been put onto DVD and boxed.

That would make for some relaxing viewing this summer.

Starting pitchers

10. Bret Saberhagen (Kansas City). From the time he stymied the '84 Tigers early in his rookie season to the day he retired, Sabes was a wonderfully reliable, efficient pitcher. Had that almost-sidearm delivery that was rough on righthanded hitters.
9. Phil Niekro (Atlanta/NY Yanks/Cleveland). Mr. Longevity. Pitched into his late-40's, and effectively. The old knuckleballer never tried to be anything else, and for 20+ years, hitters couldn't really figure him out.
8. Bert Blyleven (Minnesota/Pittsburgh). One of the best curve balls of his time. Blyleven gave up a ton of dingers, but he was still one of the best because he was durable and made hitters swing at HIS pitch.
7. Tom Seaver (NY Mets/ Cincinnati). Tom Terrific excelled for nearly 20 years, and won over 300 games. Powerful legwork made his pitches jump and rise. Nasty breaking ball.
6. Ron Guidry (NY Yankees). Louisiana Lightning. Guidry was brilliant in 1978, going 25-3 with an ERA under 2.00. Didn't have a very big window of high performance years, but when he did, he was dominant.
5. Jack Morris (Detroit/Minnesota). Winningest pitcher of the 1980's, and a legendary performance in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series: 10 innings of shutout ball -- in the Metrodome. Snarly attitude, mean split-fingered fastball. I saw him pitch a one-hitter in 1990 and not walk anyone. His only hit -- a first-inning single -- was erased on a DP, so he faced the minimum 27 hitters.
4. Greg Maddux (Atlanta). Maddux was so unassuming, and had such a simple windup, but his placement and command was almost matchless. Authored an incredible run in the mid-1990's and into the 2000's.
3. Roger Clemens (Boston/Yankees/Houston). Clemens struck out 20 Mariners in a game in 1986, and 20 Tigers ten years later. Now, ten years after THAT, he's still doing it. Wonderfully simple windup, menacingly explosive fastball.
2. Randy Johnson (Seattle/Arizona). The lefthanded Nolan Ryan -- in both style and longevity. Hard to imagine any pitcher being more intimidating than the 6'10" Johnson -- in the history of the game. Explosive fastball, and his awkward leg kick and motion made him even MORE difficult to handle.
1. Nolan Ryan (Houston/Texas/Calif). He's #1 because of the skill level he maintained well into his 40's. Plus, all those no-hitters didn't hurt. Ryan was a freak of nature, let's face it, but he was as dominant as any pitcher I've seen.


Blogger Ian C. said...

ESPN ran Home Run Derby reruns in the late 80s-early 90s before SportsCenter came on, and I loved watching it while eating dinner.

There was something so whimsical about it, like a piece of a different time. That'd be a cool DVD set.

12:06 PM  
Blogger Lee Panas said...

I also enjoyed watching those re-runs . It was completely different from the Hollywood style all-star homerun derby of today. The player's were much more low key. I know it's all perception but the players came off more like regular guys.

7:49 PM  
Blogger Greg Eno said...

Lee, you're right: players WERE more like regular guys, with a certain humility. Of course, their salaries weren't spiraling out of control, either. Many of them worked second jobs in the offseason. Remember Richie "I dig graves " Hebner?

Thanks for the visit -- and the comment!

11:16 PM  
Blogger Ozz said...

Little known fact about Morris. In all of the World Series games that Sparky managed, only one pitcher threw a complete game: Morris, who did it twice in '84.

9:30 PM  
Blogger Greg Eno said...

Cool fact...thanks, Ozz!

10:35 PM  

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