This is the third year that the Home Run Derby has been structured as a race down against the clock rather than a trek up to a swing count, and this derby only emphasized what the last two established—this is so, so, so much better than what we had before.
Rookie Yankees phenom Aaron Judge triumphed in a wild contest that saw multiple bouts decided by single dingers. The first round alone—by far the most exciting part of the evening—saw several intense showdowns, including reigning champ and no. 1 seed Giancarlo Stanton being upset by no. 8 Gary Sanchez in a 17-16 battle. Meanwhile, Cody Bellinger needed the glory of a buzzer-beater home run that reached the magic distance of 440 feet to unlock crucially-needed bonus time to beat Charlie Blackmon, 15-14. And Judge had perhaps the most exciting first round of them all, countering Justin Bour’s 22 home runs with a whopping 23.
Judge went on to beat Bellinger in the second round, with the longest home run of the night at 513 feet:
He followed that up with an easy final round, cruising to victory over the Twins’ Miguel Sano with more than a minute to spare.
The merits of the derby are especially clear when compared to the All-Star Game—which, for the first time in more than a decade, will not count for anything this year. After deciding World Series home-field advantage since 2003, the game will now mean exactly what it should, which is nothing. But the All-Star Game is a bloated “nothing,” one heavy not just with tradition but also with the structural obligations of a full nine-inning baseball game. It means nothing, and it makes us all painfully aware of that fact by virtue of just how hard it tries to mean something. The Home Run Derby means nothing, and it knows it. This is precisely what gives it space to be such a damn delight—to give us buzzer-beaters and special bonus time and moonshot after moonshot after moonshot. It’s fun because it can be, and why the hell shouldn’t it be?