Home run derby brings plenty of fun — and fatigue: ‘It takes a toll on your body’

Dodgers slugger Max Muncy is congratulated after competing in the home run derby on July 16, 2018, in Washington.
Dodgers slugger Max Muncy is congratulated by Kenley Jansen and Matt Kemp (phone in hand) after competing in the MLB All-Star Home Run Derby on July 16, 2018, in Washington. Competing in the home run derby isn’t as easy as it might look.
(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

Max Muncy was midway through the second round of his first home run derby in 2018 when the Dodgers slugger hit a wall.

Whether it was a lack of sleep after an overnight cross-country flight from Los Angeles, or a long Monday filled with All-Star Game festivities or the hot and humid weather in Washington’s Nationals Park, Muncy’s bat suddenly went limp in a loss to eventual derby champion Bryce Harper.

Muncy’s legs were sore. His forearms tightened up. His hands were so numb he wasn’t sure whether he was “gripping the bat or if it’s falling out of your hands,” he said that night.


After hitting 17 homers in a first-round win over Javier Baez, Muncy mustered only 12 in the second round.

“It’s way more grueling than people realize,” Muncy said after a recent Dodgers game. “I mean, it’s just a lot of swings — you’re taking 50 to 60 swings in two minutes. In a normal batting practice session, you get about 25 to 30 swings in 15 minutes. On top of that, you’re trying to lift the ball to hit a home run.

Former Angels and Dodgers slugger Albert Pujols is one of eight players set to the compete in the MLB All-Star home run derby at Dodger Stadium.

July 14, 2022

“It takes a toll on your body. I was drained emotionally and physically. I remember being exhausted for a week or two after that.”

That fatigue contributed to Muncy hitting .178 with a .669 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, two homers and seven RBIs in 13 games after the break that season. He had hit .271 with a 1.013 OPS, 22 homers and 41 RBIs in 74 first-half games.

Muncy recovered from his late-July lull to finish 2018 with a .263 average, .973 OPS, 35 homers and 79 RBIs, but some players have found it more difficult to cure their homer hangovers.


Bobby Abreu, then with the Philadelphia Phillies, mashed 41 homers, including 24 in the first round, to win the derby in 2005. But after hitting 18 homers in 397 plate appearances in the first half that season, he hit six homers in 322 plate appearances after the break.

Former New York Mets star David Wright, who lost to Ryan Howard in the finals of the 2006 derby, went from 20 homers in 386 plate appearances in the first half to six homers in 275 plate appearances after the break.

Former Angels slugger Mark Trumbo hit 22 homers in 313 plate appearances in the first half of 2012. After competing in the derby, he hit 10 homers in 273 plate appearances in the second half.

Angels star Mike Trout has resisted repeated requests to participate in the derby, not because it might lead to bad swing habits but because of the injury risk.

Angels star Mike Trout bats against the Philadelphia Phillies on June 4.
(Laurence Kesterson / Associated Press)

“A lot of guys I talked to in the past have said some things that raised some red flags,” Trout said. “I remember when Albert [Pujols] did it [in 2015]. He came in after a round and his whole arm was black. He got a cramp.

“It’s for the fans, and I understand they want me in it. But I always enjoy going to the derby and hanging out with my family.”

New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, who has a major league-high 33 homers, will not participate in Monday night’s derby in Dodger Stadium.

“No need,” Judge told the New York Post in June. “I already did it once. I’m all good with that.”

Judge won the 2017 derby in Miami, but in doing so, he aggravated a shoulder injury that he suffered crashing into a wall a few weeks earlier. He needed surgery on the shoulder after that season.

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July 16, 2022

Most derby participants emerge unscathed from the long-drive contest. Mets slugger Pete Alonso had a slight second-half power dip after winning the derby in 2019, but after repeating as derby champion in 2021, his OPS improved from .802 in the first half to .921 after the break.

Harper, now with the Phillies, hit .214 with an .833 OPS in the first half of 2018 for the Nationals. After winning the derby in his home stadium that summer, he hit .300 with a .972 OPS in the second half. Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton experienced a slight OPS dip, from .823 to .800, after winning the 2016 derby.

“I guess if I did have an opinion, I would say do it,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I think there’s been instances where guys have participated and struggled with the second half, and there’s just as many instances where guys have participated and had the same second half. So there’s nothing proven.”

Despite the potential pitfalls of the derby, most players jump at the chance to participate in an event that has produced plenty of memorable moments — Josh Hamilton’s 28-homer first round in Yankee Stadium in 2008, Stanton’s 510-foot blast in Minnesota in 2014, Harper, then a Nationals slugger, winning in his home stadium with his father, Ron, pitching to him in 2018.

Bryce Harper competes during the 2018 MLB All-Star home run derby in Washington.
(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

“We always talked about it growing up — ‘Yeah, if I ever do this, you’re gonna throw to me,’” Harper said in June. “We’ve done it so many times in the backyard, right? I think growing up with my dad throwing to me, it was normal. I was able to take that to a big stadium and have some fun and enjoy that with him.”

Harper and his father reached the finals of his first home run derby in 2013, losing to Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes in New York’s Citi Field.

The derby underwent a significant format change in 2015 when “outs” were replaced by a time limit. Players are now given three minutes per round with a timeout to hit as many homers as they can, a format that has added more excitement — and more physical demands — to the derby.

“I’ve done it with the new rules and old rules, and with the new rules, you have to pace yourself,” Stanton, who was eliminated in the semifinals in 2014, said in New York in June.

“You don’t want to poop out. Conserve your energy. Take your timeouts at a good time. Don’t try too hard. Make sure you have fun either way.”

As grueling as the 2018 event was, Harper, who will miss this year’s All-Star Game after undergoing thumb surgery in late June, had no regrets about doing it. The derby created a memory for the slugger and his father that will last a lifetime.

Steve Stone and J.R. Richard were the starting pitchers in the 1980 All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium. By the end of the 1981 season, their careers were over.

July 14, 2022

“Yeah, swinging a lot is tough,” Harper said. “I mean, your forearms get tired, your shoulders, your arms, your hands, everything. Especially in the middle of the summer in D.C., when it’s 100 degrees with 100% humidity.

“You just try to work through it as best you can, try to figure out your routine and not take too many swings inside the cage. You gotta go out there and try to swing as much as possible and hit as many homers as you can.”

Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman declined an invitation to this year’s derby, based in part on the experience he had in 2018, when the former Atlanta Braves slugger was eliminated in the first found by Harper.

“The home run derby is exhausting, especially when you make it past the first round — luckily, I lost to Bryce in the first round,” Freeman said with a laugh. “The year I did it, I think we moved to five-minute rounds, and it was extremely hard.

“And there’s more leading up to it. You have a bunch more media to do. The year I did it, I had half a piece of chicken. That’s all I ate. Then I did the derby. I got to the hotel room afterward, and I was, like, sitting on the floor, I was so exhausted.”