2014 has not been a good year to be a Phillies fan. But at least the memories of the great 2007-2011 run are still relatively fresh in our minds. If ever we get too depressed about the current team, we can always pop in our 2008 World Series DVD to re-live the good times.
In July 2006, the Phillies were almost as bad as they are now, and we didn’t even have the pleasant memories to fall back on. At the All-Star break of that season, the Phillies were 40-47 and 12 games out of first place. Worse, the team was dealing with fallout from pitcher Brett Myers “altercation” with his wife.
2006 would mark the 13th straight year that the team would miss the playoffs. Back then, we didn’t know that the great years were ahead of us. All we knew was that the Phillies kept missing the playoffs, and that run didn’t look like it was going to end any time soon.
Phillies fans were presented with one brief glimmer of happiness during that gloomy time: For the second straight year, a member of the Phillies won the All-Star Game’s Home Run Derby.
Bobby Abreu was never known as a masher. He was more of a good hitter who would sometimes hit home runs. In the first half of 2005, that suddenly changed. He hit 18 homers before the break, including an insane stretch in May when he crushed nine home runs in ten days.
As a result, he was invited to compete in the Derby. In the first round, Abreu quickly found a groove and hit a Derby-record 24 first round home runs. He used that big first round to easily outpace the field, ending up with 41 total homers on the night. That was more than double his closest competitor.
Unfortunately, Abreu’s power stroke abandoned him in the second half of the season. He hit only six homers after the break, and many critics point to him as a prime example of how the Derby can ruin a hitter’s swing.
Honestly, I don’t think the Derby had anything to do with the cool-off. The first half was simply an abnormally hot power stretch that he never replicated at any point in his career. Besides, he didn’t come into the Derby especially hot either. He had only two home runs in the month leading up to the break.
In 2006, Abreu wasn’t named to the All-Star team, so it would be up to his teammate to bring the crown back to Philly.
Ryan Howard was facing a lot of pressure heading into 2006. After his Rookie of the Year season in 2005, he was being asked to replace the popular and productive Jim Thome as the team’s regular first baseman. Howard didn’t disappoint, and earned his first All-Star berth and a spot in the 2006 Home Run Derby.
Unlike Abreu, Howard started off slowly. His eight first round homers barely got him into the second round. But once he advanced, he began to heat up. He hit ten home runs in the second round, and then used a 5-4 advantage in the finals to surpass David Wright by one.
The good news was that Howard’s power didn’t disappear in the second half. He hit 30 homers after the break, giving him a franchise-record 58 on the season, and earned him the National League’s MVP Award.
The back-to-back Derby titles made a minor celebrity out of Phillies bullpen coach Ramon Henderson who served as the pitcher for both men.
Unfortunately, even with the help of Henderson, Howard couldn’t replicate his Derby success the following year. He only hit four homers in the first round and failed to advance.
Sadly, Phillies fans don’t have any potential moments like that to look forward to in tonight’s Derby. The team’s lone All-Star (Chase Utley) only has eight home runs and will not be a participant in the Derby. And oddly enough, the team’s notorious “home run hitting machine” Ben Revere was not invited to participate in the game either.