The 2002 Home Run Derby at Milwaukee’s Miller Park had, for all intents and purposes, seemed to be a celebration of Sammy Sosa’s long-ball prowess. Just 89 miles from where Sosa regularly pumped balls onto Chicago’s Waveland Avenue, the Cubs' slugger was forcing the jovial mascot Bernie Brewer to scamper for cover in his own house.
Yet the final record shows that it was Jason Giambi, not Sosa, who departed that evening with honors as that year’s Derby champion. Then in his first season representing the Yankees, Giambi out-mashed Sosa in the final round.
“He's the best of the best,” Giambi said of Sosa at the time. “When it comes down to it, it's exciting to have that opportunity to go up against him. Walking away with the trophy is unbelievable.”
Sosa wowed the crowd with 12 first-round homers, including two that sailed completely out of the park, though Giambi put on a display of his own by clearing the fences 11 times. With Yankees coach Willie Randolph tossing batting-practice fastballs, Giambi cracked six homers to advance past Paul Konerko of the White Sox in the semifinals.
"Willie Randolph was unbelievable,” Giambi said. “Even in the last round, he came up to me and said, ‘I'm going to throw them a little bit slower.’ I was gassed. It was hot out there; it was like hitting in a sauna.”
When Sosa edged the Brewers’ Richie Sexson in his branch of the semifinals, a final showdown between Giambi and Sosa was set. Giambi powered seven balls out of the yard, and a fatigued Sosa managed just one deep drive, waving to Giambi after he popped up weakly on the final pitch he saw.
Still, Giambi heaped praise upon his vanquished opponent, calling Sosa a “manimal.”
"I don’t think anything can hold him,” Giambi said, “except Yellowstone.”
Torii Hunter of the Twins (3), Alex Rodriguez of the Rangers (2), Barry Bonds of the Giants (2) and Lance Berkman of the Astros (1) were eliminated in the first round.
“These events are fun because you can just swing from your shoe tops and get the ball up in the air and swing as hard as you can,” Giambi said then. “Definitely, I would not try to do that in the ballgame. I would not even actually be here if I tried to do that during the season.”