Web Analytics and Web Statistics by NextSTAT The Boston Sports Nut: Home Run Derby - Original TV Series

Monday, July 7, 2008

Home Run Derby - Original TV Series

I remember when I was 8 years old and watching Home Run Derby every week. Home Run Derby was a 1959 television show held at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles pitting the top sluggers of Major League Baseball against each other in 9-inning home run contests. The show was produced and hosted by actor and Hollywood Stars broadcaster Mark Scott.

The rules were similar to modern home run derbies, with one notable exception. The show's rules were that if a batter did not swing at a pitch that was in the strike zone, that also constituted an out, although this rarely happened. Nine future Hall of Famers would eventually participate in the series. 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. This TV series helped inspire the Home Run Derby event this is now held the day before the annual Major League Baseball All-Star Game and is televised on ESPN.

This TV show was enjoyable back then and every once in awhile pops on one of the channels. Haven't seen it in quite awhile and I would imagine that ratings would be low. However, there are three volumes of Home Run Derby available on DVD. Just checked NETFLIX and they have all three available.

There were 26 episodes in Season One, pitting contests between such notables as Mays vs Mantle, Rocky Colavito vs Jackie Jensen, Eddie Mathews vs Hank Aaron, etc. Please click here for a link to an episode listing.

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 offseason 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 $2,000 and was invited back for the next week's episode against a new opponent. The runner-up received $1,000. If a batter hit three home runs in a row, he would receive a $500 bonus. A fourth home run in a row would be worth another $500 bonus. 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 the real 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.

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