These days, of course, the Home Run Derby is a multi-round beast that takes place the Monday before the All-Star Game every summer and has become one of the most popular events of the whole break.
In between were 24 years of Derby void, followed by a modest revival starting in 1985, smack dab in the middle of the baseball card boom.
What follows is a list of 1980s Home Run Derby winners, along with one of their cards from the year they won.
1985 – Dave Parker (Minneapolis)
Dave Parker rose to prominence as a sweet-swinging, fleet-footed, big-armed rightfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the mid-1970s. By the time the “We Are Family” Bucs won the World Series in 1979, Parker already had the 1978 MVP award under his belt and was one of the most fearsome players in the game.
But the early 1980s were not kind to The Cobra or his teammates. Performances began to slip, Parker’s speed was sapped by injuries and an expanding waistline, and rumors of drug use in the Pittsburgh clubhouse mushroomed throughout baseball.
When Parker became a free agent after the 1983 season, the Pirates let him walk, and he landed with his hometown Cincinnati Reds.
Those 1984 Reds were pretty terrible, and Parker was the lone bright spot until Pete Rose also found his way home as player-manager in August.
Parker was a completely different guy on the Riverfront than he had been at Three Rivers: the menacing beard was gone, the body was rounder, the legs were slower.
He managed only 16 homers and 11 stolen bases in 21 tries that summer, but he brought a big-name feel to the Reds when they were otherwise as boring as infield dirt.
Wally Joyner” width=”364″ height=”500″ />The next season was a different story, though, as Parker began to get comfortable in his new digs and the young Reds took to Rose’s firebrand style of play and management.
By the end of 1985, Parker had recorded career highs in home runs (34) and RBI (125), while batting .312 with 42 doubles. He finished second in the NL MVP vote, won a Silver Slugger, and made the NL All-Star team as a reserve along the way.
It was there at the Metrodome that Parker helped to amp up the modern Home Run Derby in the middle of July by besting the likes of Dale Murphy, Eddie Murray, and Jim Rice. Parker outdistanced his closest competitor by a tally of six homers to four.
1986 – Wally Joyner and Darryl Strawberry (Houston)
Wally Joyner spent the first half of the 1986 season battling Jose Canseco for supremacy among a new crop of slugging rookies. Every week, it seemed like one or the other of them was destined to: 1) break Wally Berger‘s rookie home run record, 2) break Roger Maris‘ single-season home run record, or 3) skip all the formalities and gain induction into Cooperstown before his first season was over.
As it turned out, Joyner slowed down and finished with “only” 22 home runs, while Canseco’s 33 earned him AL Rookie of the Year honors.
In between the grand opening of Wally World and the post-season hardware, both youngsters stopped off in Houston for the All-Star Game … and the Home Run Derby. In that contest, it was all Joyner, as his four dingers easily outdistanced Jesse Barfield‘s two, and Canseco’s measly one.
Meanwhile in the National League, Darryl Strawberry spent the first half of the season helping his New York Mets distance themselves from the rest of the National League East. Though he entered the break with just 13 home runs it was little surprise to anyone that Strawberry, one of the game’s biggest superstars at age 24, edged out Parker, four homers to three.
1987 – Andre Dawson (Oakland)
For most kids of the time, 1987 was the first season we heard about juiced baseballs and conspiracies to inflate offensive production. Almost from the first cold pitches in April, it seemed as if balls were flying out of yards more frequently and farther than ever before.
Even light-hitting middle infielders were constant power threats as the temperatures warmed up.
By the All-Star break, it was already apparent that Andre Dawson would be one of the biggest boppers of all that season. This was the same Andre Dawson whom no one wanted during the off-season and who handed the Chicago Cubs a signed blank contract (so the legend goes) just to have a place to slug.
And slug he did.
With 24 homers at the break, Dawson stepped into the Derby batter’s box and smacked four more dingers to defeat all comers.
After the break, he added 25 more round-trippers and copped the NL MVP award despite toiling for a last-place team.
1988 – canceled due to rain
After two years in domed stadiums, the All-Star Game — and the Home Run Derby — moved to the open-air Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati.
Alas, the Derby was rained out and never rescheduled.
We’ll never know who might have reigned supreme that summer, but we all know who reigned supreme during rain delays.
Rick Dempsey may hold the most unbreakable record of all — best-ever reason to stick around during a baseball rain delay.
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1989 – Eric Davis and Ruben Sierra (Anaheim)
By the middle of 1989, we already knew a lot about Eric Davis …
We knew he was an incredible blend of power and speed.
We knew that his slight frame seemed to make him fragile and that he had a hard time staying on the field for extended periods of time.
And we also knew that, at age 27, he was up to more of the same — he had 16 home runs at the All-Star break but had played in only 66 games.
He was healthy enough to travel to Anaheim, though, where he slugged three homers to top all National Leaguers.
Meanwhile, Ruben Sierra of the Texas Rangers entered the break as one of the most exciting players in the Major Leagues and in the midst of what would turn out to be his greatest statistical season.