07/06/2004 6:57 PM ET
Giambi joins 500-homer Derby field
Yankees slugger excited to reunite with McGwire
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- A day back in the Yankees lineup but not quite yet back in the swing, all Jason Giambi needs to feel better and stronger is to think ahead to next Monday.
|Jason Giambi prevailed as the Home Run Derby champion in 2002. (Ann Heisenfelt/AP)
Giambi will participate in the Century 21 All-Star Home Run Derby, the Mt. Rushmore of Home Run Derbies, the day before the 75th All-Star Game in Houston's Minute Maid Park.
"Yeah, it's going to be unbelievably exciting. Having all those 500-homer guys there ... it'll be a lot of fun," Giambi said prior to Tuesday night's game here against Detroit.
With plans for the four active members of the 500-homer club to be joined by the 10 other living members of the exclusive fraternity, Houston will host an unprecedented gathering of sluggers.
But there is no question who Giambi is most looking forward to hanging out with: Mark McGwire, his former Oakland "chaperone."
"He's the guy who took me under his wing when I first started out," Giambi said. "I usually see him a couple of times in the offseason, and we have a good time.
"But this will be a little different. We're best friends to this day. It should be a lot of fun for everyone there, especially in that park. It's going to be pretty exciting."
Giambi took over as the Athletics' first baseman following McGwire's mid-1997 trade to St. Louis, where the next season he smashed Roger Maris' 37-year-old single-season homer record.
Plans are for McGwire, forced by injury to retire in 2001 with 583 career homers, to be joined by Hank Aaron (755 homers), Willie Mays (660), Frank Robinson (586), Harmon Killebrew (573), Reggie Jackson (563), Mike Schmidt (548), Willie McCovey (521), Ernie Banks (512) and Eddie Murray (504) for festivities surrounding the Home Run Derby.
This reunion was triggered by the unprecedented possible participation of four active 500-homer men in the Derby, an occasion so unique that for the first time a non-All-Star has been invited to swing for the fences -- Rafael Palmeiro of the Orioles.
Although Barry Bonds has yet to confirm that he will participate, two others -- Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa -- are already down as part of Giambi's NL competition.
This may seem to be heady company for someone who entered Tuesday night's game in a month-long homer drought.
Giambi's last homer had come on June 6. For the past couple of weeks, he has been recovering from a parasitical viral attack, and he still is weakened.
"But he's still a homer hitter," Yankees and AL All-Star manager Joe Torre said of Giambi's inclusion in the Derby. "And the fact is, he's just getting stronger all the time."
Torre, who didn't have a role in filling the Home Run Derby field, will have stars in his eyes, just like the fans.
"That will be a big treat, having the best players in the game together on one field," Torre said. "Having all those 500-homer people together will be a heck of a thing."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.