07/06/2004 7:33 PM ET
Griffey to slug it out in HR Derby
Sosa, Palmeiro to participate in contest
By Pete Wickham / Special to MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- Cincinnati Reds' slugger Ken Griffey Jr. will be part of a historic group in this year's Century 21 All-Star Home Run Derby.
|Ken Griffey won the Home Run Derby three times while playing for the Mariners. (Frank Franklin II/AP)
Griffey will join at least two other members of the 500-home run club in the competition next Monday, a day before the 2004 All-Star Game in Houston's Minute Maid Park.
Griffey, who became the 20th member of the 500-homer club earlier this month, will be in the contest along with Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa (553 homers) and Baltimore's Rafael Palmeiro (539). Other commitments have been received from Jim Thome of the Philadelphia Phillies and Jason Giambi of the New York Yankees. Barry Bonds, currently at 680 home runs, has been invited, but has not yet said if he would participate.
But Griffey, a three-time winner of the competition (1994, 1998 and 1999) insists that the number of home runs -- even in the competition -- doesn't matter as much as the distance each shot covers in the contest.
"I won the contest in 1998, but nobody remembers that," Griffey said with a smile. "They remember those four home runs Mark McGwire put off the building across the street from Fenway Park.
"It's how long you hit the home runs, not how many that gets the fans going, and that's fine," Griffey said. "Everybody goes to have fun."
With that in mind, Griffey might have his new buddy, Mark Crummley of Mt. Carmel, Ill., do him a favor during the Home Run Derby.
Crummley, a Southern Illinois University-Carbondale student, caught Griffey's 500th home run ball and returned it to him, no strings attached. As a thank you, Griffey gave Crummley a VIP trip for four to the All-Star festivities, and arranged to have him shag flies in the outfield during the Home Run Derby.
"What I'm thinking of doing is placing Mark strategically about 40 rows up in the stands," Griffey said with a laugh.
Griffey is in the middle of a three-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, where he hit his 500th home run on June 20 off Matt Morris. He has not hit one since (though he pulled a Jason Isringhausen pitch just foul in the ninth inning of Monday's 4-1 loss to the Cardinals).
"It's a different time. When my father was playing, the big hitters, guys like Frank Howard, were going out just to get their hits," Griffey said. "If they got home runs it was great. But it was about wins. Now everyone makes a big deal about how many home runs you hit."
In fact, much has been made about the fact that Griffey will be starting in the National League outfield with Sosa and Bonds -- a trio with a staggering 1,733 homers between them.
"It's the luck of the draw, really," Griffey said of his first NL All-Star appearance, and his first trip to the game since 1999, when he was still with Seattle. He has missed much of the last two years with injuries.
"It's a great honor, and what means most to me is that, after all the things that have happened and all the work I've gone through to get healthy, the fans see enough to vote for me. That feels good," he said.
As for comparing himself with Sosa and Bonds, Griffey said: "Hey, in this group, I'm the little guy."
Pete Wickham is a contributor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.