2008 was the best Home Run Derby I've ever seen. That was the year Josh Hamilton took 38 swings in the first round, and finished with an astonishing 28 homers. It was at the apex of his comeback story, and it took place in the old Yankee Stadium during it's final season. I'm not sure it'll ever be topped.
Not surprisingly, '08 came in at #1 in my Top 4 Home Run Derbies from the past 20 years, which I wrote last year around this time. Also on that list was 1999 (Fenway Park, height of the steroid era), 2015 (Todd Frazier walk-off, first year of new format), and 2005 (Bobby Abreu then record 41 homers). If I were re-doing this list now I would add in 2016 (Giancarlo Stanton hitting a new record of 61 homers).
It's no coincidence that each of the past two tournaments have rated so highly. Prior to 2015 MLB changed the format, which was a decision that drew positive reviews. The old system was that each player would receive 10 "outs" to hit as many homers as they could. Some, like Hamilton, wound up belting 28. Others, like Brandon Inge, once hit zero. The top four would move on. Then there was the finals, which reset the count. Hence why Hamilton didn't end up winning in '08, which was bullshit (I'm still bitter because I had bet on Hamilton with a buddy of mine).
The new format is much better for a number of reasons. There are still eight contestants, but they face off in timed head to head rounds. The first year was five minutes, which was too long. So MLB shortened it to four minutes last year. The time limit helps prevent the event from dragging and also presents another opportunity for players to implement strategy. Should they swing their hardest right away? Save some energy for later? They also get one break during their rounds that stops the clock, which they can use to either rest or fix their swing. Overall the change has kept the event moving at a better pace.
So anyways, the reason the HR Derby is in the news right now is because the defending champ Giancarlo Stanton is the first player this year to commit to the event. It's a cool spot for Stanton, being the defending champ and having the derby take place in his home ballpark. Only two players have ever won in their own stadium before, and Stanton figures to be the Vegas favorite this year. In 2017 he is batting .274/.357/.551 with 20 homers.
PS here is my dream field for the tournament: Stanton, Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger, Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant, Miguel San, Joey Gallo, Mark Trumbo