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MLB’s Home Run Derby: The Inside Story

The big event in the baseball world is tonight’s 2023 Home Run Derby. Curious how the Home Run Derby because a huge part of baseball culture? The roots go way back, detailed in Home Runs: Tales of Tonks, Taters, Contests and Derbies, by Andy Strasberg.

Author Strasberg was a key player in the derby world, bringing the event into the modern era during his tenure as a San Diego Padres front-office exec. Strasberg, author of the best-selling My 1961, begins with the story of the most famous home run derby competition—TV’s Home Run Derby—and focuses on memorable derbies and competitions through the years. Andy begins with a historical view of the home run over the years and how it’s become an integral part of how baseball is marketed, moving on to how home-run prodigies have been featured through the years. As the San Diego Padres exec who brought the home-run derby to the modern All-Star Game experience, Andy has an insider’s view of derbies and competitions throughout the years.

Home Runs: Tales of Tonks, Taters, Contests and Derbies focuses on three big stories:

  • The creation of the lodestone of all derbies: television’s Home Run Derby, where legends like Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle, Harmon Killebrew and Ernie Banks competed in a head-to-head competition.
  • The first full accounting of a post-1961 North Carolina derby tour by Roger MarisHarmon Killebrew and Jim Gentile. Arranged by Wilson Tobs owner Matt Boykin, the tour hit Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Wilson and Durham, with the three sluggers competing on the field and acting as ambassadors for the game off the field. Sharing their first-hand memories of the tour: Gentile and Jack McKeon, the manager of the Tobs in 1961, who pitched to the three participants. The chapter is highlighted by previously unpublished photos of the competition, misfiled in a public library file cabinet.
  • The evolution of MLB’s Home Run Derby, held in conjunction with the annual All-Star Game. While with the San Diego Padres, Strasberg had an inside view of how the event was created and evolved, beginning with the 1978 All-Star Game Workout (a precursor of sorts to the Home Run Derby), running through several Padres Old Timers games featuring notable derbies (including a memorable 1980 event with former teammates Henry Aaron and Warren Spahn) and culminating with the 1992 Home Run Derby, won by Mark McGwire in convincing fashion.

Home Runs: Tales of Tonks, Taters, Contests and Derbies ends with what we believe is the last interview with the late Arthur Hano, who discusses growing up a block from the Polo Grounds and witnessing the greatest home-run hitters of the game from his preferred bleachers, beginning with Babe Ruth in 1926 and running through Willie Mays, Dick Stuart, Roberto Clemente, Stan Musial and Dave Kingman.

You can order Home Runs: Tales of Tonks, Taters, Contests and Derbies directly from August Publications. It’s available as part of The Home Run Library: Tonks, Taters and My 1961, which combines this title with Andy’s My 1961. This book is also available in paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon. Bookstores: this title is carried by Ingram.

Andy Strasberg is author of the best-selling My 1961, his memoir/history of Roger Maris’s record-setting 1961 season and what it meant to a certain 13-year-old fan originally hailing from The Bronx. His working in and writing about the profession of baseball includes 22 years in marketing with the San Diego Padres and 18 years representing high-profile players, as well as consulting for Major League Baseball teams and the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Click below for more information about My 1961.

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