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05/20/08 11:10 PM ET
Griffey's pursuit of 600 slows
Slugger in midst of homer drought as he nears milestone
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- Most buzz about Reds right fielder Ken Griffey's pursuit for the 600 homer milestone seems to have lately become a collective shrug. Part of that is Griffey's doing. The 38-year-old rarely, if ever, likes to talk about himself or his personal achievements with the media. He also entered Tuesday's game vs. the Dodgers without a homer since April 23 -- a span of 83 at-bats with him stuck at 597 career homers. Milestone saturation could also be playing a part. Last season, Barry Bonds passed Hank Aaron as the all-time home run leader. Sammy Sosa also reached 600 homers in 2007, while Frank Thomas and Alex Rodriguez crossed the 500-homer mark. This season, Manny Ramirez is closing in on 500 career homers. "Six hundred now appears to be where 500 used to be," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "You have to understand guys are playing longer than they used to play. Before, unless you were [Willie] Mays, Aaron, [Stan] Musial or Ted Williams, you didn't play past 35-36. Plus a lot of it has to do with back in the old days, you had to work during the offseason. "Now you make enough that you can dedicate your whole offseason time to trainers and conditioning. Also, there's modern medicine now that can heal your knee that would have finished you before." Griffey is in his 20th Major League season, his ninth with Cincinnati. Entering Tuesday, he was batting .250 with four homers and 20 RBIs. Thus far, Griffey has yet to take off with a sustained hot streak. His current homerless streak is the second-longest homerless streak of his career. From May 22-June 20, 1990, he went 101 at-bats without a home run. "I'm seeing him probably hit more balls on the ground," Baker said. "He's hitting a lot of hard ground balls to the right side. He's hit a couple of line drives, which is a positive sign that he's centering the ball. Most of the time, when you're up in the air, you're late. When you're on the ground, you're rolling over it or out in front." Not only has Baker managed Bonds and Sosa, he played with Aaron in Atlanta during his pursuit of the then all-time home run king Babe Ruth's No. 714. Baker also played against Mays. "I was around Barry when he was going for it. They were pitching Barry different," Baker said. "They seem to be pitching Junior about the same. They're challenging Junior more than they were challenging Barry when I was [in San Francisco]. They have different swings. Junior has more of a timing, long swing. Barry had a more short, compact swing. When Junior gets that timing, boy, he'll get locked in for a long time. I always believe when you get older, it takes longer to get locked in. But when you get locked in, you stay locked in longer than a young player."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.