07/12/2004 11:00 AM ET
Plenty of fresh faces in Derby
By Jim Molony / MLB.com
The Century 21 Home Run Derby is a whole new ballgame.
|Lance Berkman (Alan Diaz/AP)
The field for tonight's event will feature eight players who weren't entered in the Home Run Derby last year. After Baltimore's Miguel Tejada replaced Jason Giambi of the New York Yankees on Monday, the number of players who will be participating for the first time swelled to three.
Giambi, the only player in the field who participated last year in Chicago, withdrew as a result of weakness from his recent bout with an intestinal parasite.
On Sunday, Houston outfielder Lance Berkman was named to replace Cincinnati's Ken Griffey Jr., who left Saturday night's game with a partially torn hamstring and will be unable to participate. The Reds slugger was to join a Home Run Derby lineup featuring the other three active players who have hit at least 500 career home runs -- Baltimore's Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs and the Giants' Barry Bonds.
"I heard that last night and it breaks my heart," Sosa said of Griffey's injury. "We're human. One year, one week you can hit seven home runs and the next week you're out."
Sosa, Bonds and Philadelphia's Jim Thome, who hit his 400th career homer earlier this season and leads the Majors with 28 home runs, comprise the rest of the National League team at the popular event -- which will be televised live from Minute Maid Park on ESPN and broadcast on MLB.com Radio -- which begins at 8 p.m. ET.
The American League quartet includes Palmeiro, Hank Blalock of the Texas Rangers, Boston's David Ortiz and Tejada, the 2002 American League Most Valuable Player. Tejada has hit 171 home runs including 15 this season.
Berkman is a switch-hitter. Tejada and Sosa are the only right-handed hitters scheduled to compete in a park that favors right-handed hitters. This year's event could see a considerable number of homers hit. Minute Maid Park is hitter friendly, especially down the lines (315 feet to left and 326 to right) and the ball carries well to the left center gap when the roof is open. The right field fence is farther away than left, but the fence in right field is only seven feet high where it is 19 in left and 26 in the gap.
In addition to Tejada, Ortiz and Blalock will be appearing in the event for the first time.
Sosa will making his fifth Home Run Derby appearance in the last six years. He did not participate last year, but he won the event in 2000 at Turner Field in Atlanta when he defeated Griffey, 9-2, in the final round. Bonds won it in 1996.
Major League Baseball has invited the 10 former players still living who hit at least 500 home runs during their careers, including all-time home run leader Hank Aaron (755), Willie Mays (660), Frank Robinson (586), Mark McGwire (583), Harmon Killebrew (573), Reggie Jackson (563), Mike Schmidt (548), Willie McCovey (521), Ernie Banks (512) and Eddie Murray (504), to attend the Derby.
The rules for the Century 21 Home Run Derby are the same as last year. Each player gets 10 outs per at-bat to hit as many home runs as possible. An out is registered when a player swings at a pitch and does not hit a home run.
The top four players from the first round, regardless of league affiliation, advance to the semifinals, and the top two players from the semis proceed to the championship. The two finalists get 10 outs to hit as many home runs as they can with the player with the most homers in that round declared the winner. Home run totals do not carry over from one round to the next.
Garret Anderson of Anaheim won last year after edging the Cardinals' Albert Pujols 9-8, in the finals at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. The next day, Anderson went on to win the Ted Williams Most Valuable Player Award in the All-Star Game.
"If they pitch to Bonds in the Home Run Derby, he'll win it," said Joe Buck, FOX Sports play-by-play broadcaster, during an appearance on ESPN's Pardon The Interruption on Monday.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.