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If you are looking for the glitz and glamor of Today's HOME RUN hitting
contests, then you better look elsewhere. This charming little series
is nothing more than two guys hitting baseballs on a summer day, trying
to best the other guy. It's relaxed, and relaxing. Although the
competition is serious, and for serious (well, serious for the day!)
cash, no one seems to take it too seriously. It's all in the spirit of
good clean fun. It's baseball the way baseball was meant to be.
The rules of the game are simple. Step up to the plate, and hit the ball out of the park. If it doesn't go out of the park, it's an out. 3 outs per inning, 9 innings per game. Score more Home Runs than the other fella, and win some money. When you are not batting, talk baseball with the host while the other takes his licks.
Not a lot of exciting on the edge of your seat action, just good, clean fun. It is strangely interesting, and nothing but pure baseball entertainment. I can just imagine watching this on Saturday mornings before listening to Vin Scully and the GAME OF THE WEEK. It takes us back to a simpler time when baseball was a game, and not the big business is today.
I think that I may have found a new favorite show-- "Home Run Derby"
from 1959-60. Why, you might ask? Several reasons, as a matter of fact.
--First, it was the thrill of seeing some of the greatest players hitting homers without all the "styling" of today's Derbies.
--Secondly, it was the fact that the game was played in a compact, easy- to-enjoy half-hour format, unlike today's Derbies, where one batter can stay up at the plate for at least that long or much longer than that, so long as he keeps hitting homers.
--Third, very simple rules: one, that any ball not hit as a homer was an out (of which each player got three per inning, just as in real ball; a swing and a miss, or a pitch that was taken in the strike zone, also was an out), and for a string of three homers, there was a $500 bonus; the same for a fourth, and every home run after that got an additional $1000. The winner got $2000, and the runner-up $1000. The pitcher who threw the most homers also got a bonus (don't know how much it was).
--Finally, it was the inherent feeling of sportsmanship; the two players shook hands before the start of the game, and again afterward, as well as shaking hands with presenter/announcer Mark Scott (sadly deceased).
In short, all these reasons are why I enjoy looking at "Home Run Derby," and why I think you will too, whether you see it on ESPN Classic, or get one or all of the DVD releases.
If you watch ESPN classic, you may have seen this blast from the past,
"Home Run Derby". I watched a couple of episodes and immediately became
a fan. For someone like me who was too young to see Mantle and Ernie
Banks in their primes and only a little of Willie Mays and Hank Aaron
at the end of their careers, it was a real treat to see them in their
heyday blasting pitches out of the park in a home run hitting contest.
To keep the action moving along, anything other than a home run
(including a called strike) was considered an out. The batter had three
"outs" per inning and it was a 9-inning affair. The "home" batter was
the returning champion from the previous week.
This contest had a home plate umpire (in mask and full uniform) who would call any pitch not swung at by the batter as a ball or strike. They even had umpires out along the foul lines. The winner of the contest received $2000 and the chance to return the following week and defend their title. The loser got $1000 and if either batter slugged three straight homers without an "out", they got an extra $500.
Mark Scott was emcee of the show; he introduced us each week to the contestants and would make small talk with them while the other competitor was at bat. Sometimes, the conversations would be a bit forced or trite but he had a lot of time to fill up in 9 innings. Overall, Scott did a good job keeping things going- especially when the baseballs started flying over the fence.
I agree with bmasters1 that the sportsmanship shown by the contestants was refreshing to watch. No posing or trash talking- they shook hands and showed respect for each other and were complimentary of their opponents. I wondered why this show was on only one season until I found out that Mark Scott sadly passed away at the young age of 45 and rather than replace him, the producers decided to cancel the show.
"Home Run Derby" is a little-known gem from the past that's worth a watch by all fans who like to see the long ball. 8 stars out of 10.
We can well remember that day, July 20, 1969.Four days earlier, Appollo
11 had "blasted off" from good old Planet Earth on its historical
mission. While Astronaut Collins held down the fort in the orbit Lunar
Command Module, Astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin landed and did that
"one small step for Man, one giant step for Mankind!"
For once, there was something truly worth while on the tube to justifying staying home to watch. Well just about everybody stayed home, 'cept faw some friends, who chose to go to a Church Carnival that night!
When the story was related to our Dad, Clem Ryan(1914-74). He chuckled and related a story of his school days. "When we were kids in 8th grade at St. Gabriel School, the German Airship, the Graf Zeppelin, was paying a visit to Chicago. On the day it was here(circa 1927), our Nun allowed 2 of us at a time up in the Church's Bell Tower. There we saw it closer. Now they have a chance to be witness to History and they go out! The World must be really changing!"
Dad sure made a point, as it looked as if the more coverage we had of something, the less awe we have for anything. This leads us in to HOME RUN DERBY.(A nearly perfect segue-way!)
When this TV Series debuted In The Year of Our Lord 1959, we had more like occasional TV coverage of our National Pastime. The Radio took the daily coverage with names like Allen, Barber, Brickhouse, Caray, Elson and Harwell doing the job of our eyes and ears. We had 3 TV Networks, some Independants and a fledging Public Broadcasting System. UHF stations were about 5 years or so away from being an everyday reality.
Unlike today. when we have maybe 8 or 10 regular broadcast stations in a market and literally hundreds of Cable/Satellite Dish stations available to us. Sure, there are no more Newsreels at the Cinema*, but the on the spot, nearly instant, immediate coverage of the Cable/Dish News Networks rendered much of these old line irrelevant, unnecessary and hence, extinct.
And so it is to this World of 1959 that we transport you, dear reader. General Dwight D. Eisenhower is President, with his youthful side kick, Richard M."Dick" Nixon as his V.P. A bloodthirsty Lawyer and former Minor League Baseball Player, Fidel Castro had taken over in Cuba, pledging to the Cuban People and the World that he had no interest in keeping the Power for himself. Le's see now, Fidel; it's now been 48 years. Think it's time for your temporary regime to peacefully step aside?
There were 2 Major Leagues with 8 National League and 8 American League Teams. Those of us who cared would spend the Winters (roughly November thru April's Opening Day) engaging in what has come to be called "the Hot Stove League"; that is, discussing and rehashing what were some likely or even possible trades that could take place over the Winter and how such Deals could effect our teams.
Well, one day somebody got the bright Idea that the baseball fan needed some relief from the long stretch between seasons. They wanted to come up with a Baseball related program, that would not only Showcase Top Talent from "The Bigs", but provide some method of showing off their talents, with $ome prize money for the participants-if only to make it a little more interesting.
And just imagine, from ZIV Television Productions, the same company that brought us HIGHWAY PATROL, SCIENCE FICTION THEATRE and SEA HUNT, we got HOME RUN DERBY! What we saw in HRD was a filmed competition between a National League slugger vs. an American League powerhouse. They would get 9 innings to get all the homers they can. And much like a kids' schoolyard game of "3 Outs" or "Piggy Move-up", each drive they had was either a Home Run or an out. Between at-bats, we were privy to the conversations held by Emcee Mark Scott and the non batting Competitor. The program notes informed us that the producers let the cameras roll and tried for a "Real Time" look. Hence we were treated to such verbal wit as; Mark Scott: "That sure is tough, eh Mickey?" Mickey Mantle: "Sure is!"
The series was filmed,cut and edited (not unlike YOU BET YOUR LIFE), and the top sluggers were seen in competitions, lasting as in a single elimination tournament. Therefore, we were treated to the likes of Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Duke Snider(Willie, Mickey and the Duke!), Henry Aaron, Harmon Killebrew, Ernie Banks, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Eddie Matthews, Frank Malzone, Rocky Colavito and Ted Kluzewski, et al, all 'showing off' their stuff. The prize money seemed a bit trifle; but remember, your DOLLAR$ were worth more then in the age of Pre-Free Agency!
As our "American Pastime", Baseball has picked up a lot of traditions that we know of today, gradually along the years. (the 7th Inning Stretch, Throwing Out the 1st Pitch, Singing "The STAR SPANGLED BANNER" and "Take Me Out To The Ballgame", etc.)
And so it is that this little, filmed and syndicated Baseball's answer to WHAT's MY LINE? or BEAT THE CLOCK; staged and recorded for posterity at "beautiful Wrigley Field"(in LA, not Chicago); has left its mark on history. For even though the original series had slipped into obscurity(until its being brought back by ESPN Classic Sports), the idea of a HOME RUN DERBY, albeit on a Grand Scale, has now become a part of our annual All-Star Game break. And how important it is, especially in a year of a dull All-Star Game!
* The newsreel had been getting less and less important. The last one that we saw was in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin as a part of the playbill, along with CASINO ROYALE(the original theatrical film). That was in Summer, 1967!
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