All this summer excitement about the Pirates, and all of a sudden ... we have to take a break?
Yeah, for those of us in Pittsburgh who haven't been paying attention to baseball for the past -- oh, I don't know, say 19 STINKING YEARS? -- we might have forgotten that every July, in the middle of the season, professional baseball takes time off for its annual All-Star Game.
In the old days, it was a fairly straight-forward three-day breather. But it left a gaping hole in the sports world that television -- and the beer advertisers -- had to fill.
So baseball introduced the Home Run Derby, an exhibition of clobbering power that has become a tradition, even if the rules and records are pretty much unknown. It's essentially competitive batting practice.
The rules, actually, have changed numerous times over the years and are too convoluted and unimportant to dwell on. Besides, the announcers of the Derby tonight at 8 p.m. on ESPN will walk you through them.
Let's have some fun with the history. (Courtesy of Wikipedia and other Internet sites.)
• The Derby is held (it isn't really "played") the day before the All-Star Game in the same venue with many of the same players. In the beginning, it was staged during the teams' batting practice and was not televised. Today, it provides ESPN the highest-rated cable-television event of the summer.
• The first Home Run Derby was in Minnesota's Metrodome in 1985. In a five-versus-five forum, the American League won, 17-16, even though Cincinnati's Dave Parker hit the most home runs with six.
• The 1986 Derby was three-versus-three in Houston's Astrodome. The National League won, 8-7.
• The 1988 Derby was rained out. (See what happens when you don't do it in a dome?)
• The 1990 Derby was four-versus-four at Chicago's Wrigley Field and featured the Pirates' first participant: Bobby Bonilla. Check out this statistic: Final score, National League wins, 4-1. Bonilla, Ken Griffey Jr., Jose Canseco, Cecil Fielder and Darryl Strawberry all failed to hit ANY homers. Mark McGwire hit one! In ... Wrigley ... Field!
• The 1992 Derby in San Diego featured the Bucs' Barry Bonds in a four-versus four, and the ball was once again JUICED! The American League won, 27-13.
• The 1993 Derby, which took place in Baltimore's Camden Yards during the afternoon, was first televised in the evening by ESPN on a tape-delay basis with all the boring moments edited out.
• Three Rivers Stadium hosted the 1994 Derby (which I attended). No Pirates participated and the American League, led by Griffey, won, 17-11. Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox blasted a pitch from Pirates coach Rich Donnelly into the upper deck, the likes of which mortal human beings had never seen. The ball traveled an estimated 519 feet, making it the longest shot ever launched in Three Rivers.
• 1996, Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. Eight players, but it came down to Giants' Bonds versus Oakland's McGwire. Bonds won the head-to-head competition, 17-15, but the American League won the contest, 36-23.
• The 1998 Derby in Denver's Coors Field is the first to be televised live on ESPN.
• In 2000 at Atlanta's Turner Field, the format was changed from league-versus-league and team-versus-team to players-versus-players in an elimination structure. Sammy Sosa won.
• The 2005 Derby in Detroit's Comerica Park featured Jason Bay, the first Pirates player to participate in 13 years. Bay failed to hit a homer.
• The 2006 Derby returned to Pittsburgh, this time at PNC Park. Fifteen baseballs reached the river -- where I was reporting from a rubber raft. The Phillies' Ryan Howard, who hit six of them, two on the fly, was the champ.
• 2012 -- Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium. Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen is tapped as a replacement, making him the fourth Bucco to take part. Only two teams -- the Royals and the Rays -- have had fewer players involved (two each), but those guys managed to hit more home runs than the Pittsburgh players. (Three Pirates = two home runs.)
• Next year's contest will be in New York's Citi Field.