Mic'd up Gunnar announces he's set to join Home Run Derby

July 1st, 2024

BALTIMORE -- A day after his 23rd birthday, Gunnar Henderson delivered Texas-sized news on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.

The Orioles’ star shortstop will be taking part in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby on July 15 at Globe Life Field in Arlington on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET.

Henderson announced his upcoming Derby participation while mic’d up during the third inning in the O’s series finale vs. the Rangers at Camden Yards. He’s the first known home run hitter in the eight-slugger field, and it’ll be his first time competing in the marquee event.

"This will be my first competitive one ever, so I'm just looking to be competitive out there. I mean, obviously going to win it," Henderson said on the ESPN broadcast. "But yeah, as long as I can put up some competitive rounds, then I'll be happy."

It’s a well-deserved honor for Henderson, who has been among MLB’s top home run hitters during the first half of his stellar sophomore campaign.

Henderson’s 26 homers are tied for second in the Majors with the Dodgers’ Shohei Ohtani, behind only Yankees slugger Aaron Judge (31). Henderson’s power has taken a big step forward in 2024, as he came into the year with 32 home runs through his first 184 MLB games -- 28 of those long balls coming during his American League Rookie of the Year-winning ‘23 campaign.

Presented with the opportunity to compete in the Home Run Derby, Henderson didn’t have a tough decision to make.

“Watching it as a kid growing up, just obviously something that seemed like it’d be pretty cool, and to have that opportunity is pretty special,” Henderson said after the Orioles’ 11-2 loss to the Rangers on Sunday night. “So I’m looking forward to it.”

Henderson has not yet decided who he’ll choose to pitch to him in the Derby.

There’s a strong likelihood that Henderson will also be a first-time All-Star this year. He’s one of the two finalists at shortstop in the AL, along with Kansas City’s Bobby Witt Jr. (Phase 2 of voting is taking place now and runs until Wednesday at noon ET.)

This will mark the second straight year the Orioles have had a Home Run Derby participant. Last year, Adley Rutschman competed in the event at T-Mobile Park in Seattle, and although the Baltimore catcher put on a show -- slugging 27 homers split between both sides of the plate -- he lost his first-round matchup vs. White Sox outfielder Luis Robert Jr.

“We’ve had some good performances Orioles-wise since I’ve been here with [Trey] Mancini [the runner-up in 2021], and then Rutsch last year putting on a show,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “So hopefully Gunnar can do something similar.”

Two former O’s players have been Home Run Derby champions -- Cal Ripken Jr. (1991) and Miguel Tejada (2004), both among the top shortstops in Baltimore’s franchise history. They’re also the only shortstops who have previously won the event. So it’d only be fitting for Henderson to join them in the exclusive Derby-winning group.

Henderson also has the opportunity to become the youngest Home Run Derby winner, as he’ll be 23 years and 16 days old at the time of the event. The Rangers’ Juan Gonzalez holds the record for youngest champion -- 23 years, 265 days in 1993, at Camden Yards.

The event will follow a different format from previous years: The top four hitters from an eight-man pool will advance to the semifinals, which will be a bracket-style round determined by their Round 1 home run totals. The top two will then face off in the finals.

The first round and semifinals will be three minutes, with a maximum of 40 pitches thrown. Then, sluggers will get a bonus period that will go until three outs, with every pitch being either a home run or an out. A 425-foot homer in the bonus period unlocks a fourth out.

The finals will be a two-minute round, with a maximum of 27 pitches thrown. The same bonus rules apply. Hitters will also get one timeout in each round.

Although the event has slightly different rules, Henderson still plans to seek advice from Rutschman, now a Derby veteran.

“I’m going to see what he’s got,” Henderson said. “I’ll pick his brain a little bit.”