Home Run Derby (TV series): Wikis


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Home Run Derby
Format Game show
Presented by Mark Scott
Country of origin  United States
No. of episodes 26
Running time 30 minutes
Original channel Syndicated (weekly)
Original run April – October, 1960

Home Run Derby was a television show held at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles pitting the top sluggers of Major League Baseball against each other in nine-inning home run contests. The show was produced and hosted by actor/broadcaster Mark Scott.[1]

The series aired in syndication from April to October 1960 and helped inspire the Home Run Derby event that is now held the day before the annual Major League Baseball All-Star Game. ESPN staged a revival of the show in 2003.



The rules were similar to modern home run derbies, with two notable exceptions. If a batter did not swing at a pitch that was in the strike zone, that also constituted an out. Also, the contests were conducted in a more similar fashion to a baseball game than the modern home run derbies where a player has a set amount of outs before their turn is over.

Batters were given three outs per inning, and the player with the most home runs after nine innings won. The defending champion had the advantage of batting last, and the challenger thus would bat first. Any ball not hit for a home run was an out. The player did not have to swing at every pitch, but if he did not swing at it, and the pitch was in the strike zone, that also constituted an out, as well as a swing and a miss, but these rarely happened as the pitcher was supposed to be giving the batters good balls to hit. If the players were tied after nine, the derby would go into extra innings as per regular baseball.

When a left-handed hitter played, a special rule was put into place. At the time, Wrigley Field boasted an inner fence with palm trees and a brick wall located several feet behind it. In order for a pitch hit out that way to count for a home run, the ball had to clear the wall or hit the top of the trees that stuck out over the wall. This was done because the distance was shorter to right field with the inner fence and would therefore give a lefty an unfair advantage as he would only have to hit the ball over the inner fence to get a home run while a righty would have to hit over the deeper left field wall. (The distances were only slightly different once the wall was factored in, but at 339 feet vs. 340 feet the difference was negligible.)

While one player was taking his turn at bat, the other player would be at the host's booth and would have a brief conversation, typically unrehearsed "small-talk" about the contest itself or the player's performance for that season. Willie Mays, who was a champion later in the run (after losing in the initial contest to Mantle), joked with host Scott during his run that the host should be quiet while he batted for his 3rd home run in a row, for which Mays would receive a $500 bonus, and Scott took him up on it, speaking into the mike sotto voce, like a bowling or golf announcer, whenever Mays would step up to the plate. Sometimes when the batter would hit a ball in the deep outfield, the player in the booth would sometimes comment that it could have gone for extra bases in a real game, which Scott replies that on Home Run Derby it's nothing but an out.


Nineteen players[2], including nine future Hall of Famers, participated in the series, "almost all the power hitters of the era."[2]

The pitcher for the show was former major-leaguer Tom Saffell and the catcher was minor leaguer John Van Ornum[3] Art Passarella, a major-league umpire who would go on to a TV acting career, served as the plate umpire. There were also umpires in the outfield to help judge fly balls that were close calls.


Venue choice

Scott noted that Wrigley Field in Los Angeles (the name of the stadium was never mentioned) was chosen to host the event because its fence distances were symmetrical and favored neither right-handed or left-handed hitters (although the left field wall was a few feet higher than the right field fence). It was also the only "true" baseball stadium in Los Angeles at the time that was available for off-season tapings. The Los Angeles Dodgers played at the Memorial Coliseum during 1958-1961, a site that, even if available, would have given an unfair advantage to right-handed batters.


The winner received a check for $2,000 and was invited back for the next week's episode against a new opponent; the runner-up received a check for $1,000.[2] If a batter hit three home runs in a row, he would receive a $500 bonus check. A fourth home run in a row would be worth another $500 bonus check. Any consecutive home runs hit beyond that would each be worth $1,000. Each show would end with the host presenting each player with their prize checks (beginning with the loser), and would award separate checks for consecutive home run bonuses. These were actual bank checks, not the jumbo "display" checks typically used today. For example, if the winner hit three homers in a row, they would receive one check for $2000 and another for $500 instead of one check for $2500. Also, as an incentive for throwing good home run hitting balls, the pitcher who threw the most pitches for home runs also received a bonus, according to the host.

Unlike more modern home run derbies, which usually award prizes in the form of charity donations to a player's choice of charity, the economic realities of the era meant that the cash prizes earned by the players on the show were a substantial income supplement.


Hank Aaron held the record for most money won on Home Run Derby, winning $13,500. His run of 6 consecutive wins was ended by Wally Post, who was defeated in his next outing by Dick Stuart.

Jackie Jensen was the only player to hit 4 and 5 home runs in a row in the final episode. However, he lost that day 13-10 to Mickey Mantle. Mantle became the first former champion of Home Run Derby to return and win, although he was not the only player to play more than once.

Eddie Mathews and Duke Snider were the only left-handed batters to compete. Switch-hitter Mantle batted right-handed in the contests; he hit his legendary 565-foot home run in 1953 against the Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium from the right side. Mantle hit 372 homers left-handed in his career, and only 164 right-handed, presumably due to facing far more right-handed than left-handed pitchers. He chose to bat exclusively right-handed for this series, reiterating in the first episode that his longest home runs had come right-handed.


Scott's straightforward play-by-play and interviewing style was described by ESPN's Chris Berman as "dry", but his style was not very different from many of the announcers of that era, straightforward and upbeat. Scott died on July 13, 1960 from a heart attack at the age of 45, after which the producers decided not to replace him and the show was cancelled.

Episode status

The original series is intact, having been rerun on ESPN from December 17 to 28, 1988 and July 10 to October 28, 1989. The series proved popular and was credited in part with the establishment of a classic sports network which would eventually become ESPN Classic.

ESPN Classic has run the program in September and November of 2009 after a 2-year hiatus. In later years the intro, as well as some comments at the close of the show, were narrated by former Los Angeles Dodgers announcer Ross Porter.

In Summer 2007, MGM Home Entertainment (with distribution by 20th Century Fox, which is owned by the same company that owns the current over-the-air home of the MLB, the Fox Broadcasting Company) began to release the 1960 series on three DVDs.[4] The first DVD was released on July 10, the second was issued on August 14, and the third came out on September 25.

Episodes are also available via the iTunes Store. The entire 1960 series was re-released as a DVD set in March 2008.

ESPN revival

In 2003 and 2004, the Major League Baseball Players Association held similar contests at Cashman Field in Las Vegas, Nevada. The contests were held just before spring training, consisted of eight-man elimination tournaments, and were televised on ESPN. Instead of nine innings as in the original, contests lasted for only five innings. José Canseco won the first of the events. Low ratings led to the demise of the competition.


  1. ^ Mark Scott from the Internet Movie Database
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i 25 Things We Miss In Baseball from the Sports Illustrated/CNN website
  3. ^ Nevada State Journal, July, 1960, p. 9
  4. ^ Diane Werts, "TV ON DVD: "Home Run Derby" hits a triple", Newsday, June 18, 2007

External links


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