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Griffey hits No. 600

Reds outfielder becomes only the sixth major league player to reach the home run milestone.

June 10, 2008|Michael Cunningham | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

MIAMI -- Certain privileges come along with Ken Griffey's stature in baseball, like pep talks from Hall of Fame players.

Griffey homered against Florida Marlins starter Mark Hendrickson on Monday night for his 600th home run in the Cincinnati Reds' 9-4 victory. He is only the sixth major league player to reach the milestone and did it after some encouraging words from two men ahead of him on the list.

"I got a call about 10 days ago from Willie [Mays]," Griffey said. "The next day I got one from Hank [Aaron]. They said, 'Hey, keep going, have some fun.' I think that helped me."

With Barry Bonds (762 home runs) and Sammy Sosa (609) unsigned this season, Griffey, in his 20th season, is the only active player with at least 600 home runs. The others on the list are Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Mays (660).

With the sparse crowd anticipating the moment, Griffey turned on Hendrickson's 3-and-1 pitch with his familiar, fluid swing. The ball traveled 413 feet into the right-field seats.

"I don't think I touched any of the bases because I just kind of floated around," Griffey said.

The crowd of 16,003 gave Griffey a standing ovation and continued showing its appreciation well after he disappeared into the visitors' dugout. Griffey reemerged to acknowledge the reception as Hendrickson respectfully waited behind the mound.

Former Reds player Ken Griffey Sr. was at the game along with Griffey Jr.'s wife, Melissa, and their three children.

Griffey, 38, was a clubhouse fixture during the Reds' famed Big Red Machine run in the 1970s.

"It's emotional to see the kid I saw running around with my sons in the clubhouse in Cincinnati hit his 600th home run," said Tony Perez, a player on those teams who now is a Marlins executive.

When Perez was the Reds' hitting coach in the late 1980s, one of his Big Red Machine teammates brought him a special assignment. Griffey Sr. wanted Perez to look at his son, then in high school, and give him a professional evaluation.

Perez took Griffey Jr. down to the batting cage in the bowels of Riverfront Stadium.

"I only threw him 10 pitches and told [Griffey Sr.], 'Take him, and make sure nobody touches him, because what he has is natural and the future he has is tremendous,' " Perez said.

Griffey Jr. has long since proved Perez and others who made similar forecasts correct. About all that's left to be determined are the final numbers to stamp on his Hall of Fame plaque.

Griffey reached 600 home runs in 2,439 games, the third-fewest all time. Ruth did it in 2,044 games and Bonds in 2,394.

If not for injuries, Griffey might have chased Ruth and Aaron's totals as Bonds did.

"If you start projecting where he would be, it takes away from where he's at," said Reds Manager Dusty Baker. "It's a great accomplishment."

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