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6/15/2008 8:37 PM

Brouhaha over Ken Griffey Jr.'s historic 600th HR still rages along

MIAMI — Justin Kimball says he never wanted 15 minutes of this kind of fame.

The 25-year-old aspiring musician bought a ticket - Section 130, Row 8, Seat 23 - for the Florida Marlins' game with the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night, hoping for that once-in-a-lifetime brush with history. He was in the right-field seats, envisioning that Ken Griffey Jr., one of his boyhood idols, would hit career home run No. 600 into his waiting hands.

Kimball says the miracle happened.

His lawyers have nine witnesses saying the same.

But the Marlins say his recollection isn't true, and video replays don't conclusively support the claim, either.

So here we go again: The rights to yet another historic baseball - like the one Barry Bonds hit for his 73rd home run in 2001 and Bonds' 762nd career homer last year - will likely be decided in a courtroom.

It's a bizarre tale of a singer and his wool hat, a man in a Sergio Mitre replica jersey who only goes by "Joe," grainy replays that seem to prove nothing, along with claims of foul, thievery and dishonesty.

"It's all really weird," Kimball said Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press. "It makes me sick to my stomach."

Kimball has filed suit in Miami-Dade County court, alleging, among other things, that "Joe" - identified as "John Doe, an individual a/k/a Joe and any party in control or possession of (the) Ken Griffey Jr. 600th home run baseball" - committed civil theft and civil battery against him.

Oh, and as if this all wasn't enough drama, the story got more odd Thursday: Kimball's side also says people - they weren't identified - at the stadium informed their office that the infamous "Joe" struck again Wednesday night, and wrestled Dan Uggla's game-ending grand slam away from a woman whose hands were on that ball, too.

"This guy is apparently a magnet," said Robert Zarco, one of the lawyers representing Kimball for free.

Marlins president David Samson said "Joe," who Samson said has authorized him to speak on his behalf, did not catch the Uggla ball.

But whether "Joe" caught it or not, Uggla left the stadium with his grand slam ball Wednesday.

Griffey - who wants his 600th - wasn't so lucky Monday, and Kimball wishes that wasn't the case.

"My client really wants to get Ken Griffey Jr. the baseball, his baseball, for free," Zarco said. "This isn't about money. I do not want any indication at all that there is any kind of desire or attempt that I'm a greedy lawyer looking for money. I am not."

Kimball says he isn't, either.

"It'd be dirty money," Kimball said.

The Miami-Dade court did not rule on Kimball's request for a temporary restraining order Thursday. The court could, in theory, block "Joe" from doing anything with the ball, but Samson said the man is not deterred by the legal issue.

"He did not indicate he is in any way concerned," Samson said. "When you're right and telling the truth, it's hard to be concerned."

Samson knows "Joe," whom he identified as a long-time season-ticket holder, from various team events. Samson has spoken with "Joe" at least three times about the man's options, most recently Thursday, when Samson provided the man with a frame-by-frame tape that purportedly shows "Joe" catching the ball.

Samson added that he wants the ball "somehow, someway to get back to Ken Griffey," and that his involvement is merely to help out a season-ticket holder. Earlier this week, Samson said anyone who claims "Joe" did not catch the ball is "misinformed and dishonest," an assertion that didn't sit well with Kimball.

"Calling me dishonest has really been eating at me," Kimball said. "There's a lot of people that saw me catch the ball. ... I wish this all would go away. I didn't want this. I just want it to be over with."

Kimball said he grew up in Minnesota a huge Twins fan. He remembers going to the Metrodome to see the Seattle Mariners, back when that lineup featured Griffey and Jay Buhner and Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson. And as a third-grader, he said he bought a book from his school's reading club about baseball - one with Griffey on the cover.

He has some Kirby Puckett memorabilia in his collection, some Dan Marino autographs and even a signed Mickey Mantle ball.

"But none of that is associated with any sort of milestone," Kimball said. "My intention with the ball is just to get it back to Griffey. I don't want any money. I don't want anything. And I don't understand how so much animosity can come toward me from my favourite baseball team, when all I want is what's best for the game."

Kimball cannot explain why video doesn't support his claim, that the ball was in his wool cap and "Joe" ripped it away, scratching his arms and legs in an ensuing scrum. He simply says that the video doesn't prove anything said by either side, calling it "all inconclusive."

His original court filing on Wednesday - it was slightly amended Thursday - asked a court to bar whomever has the 600th homer ball from selling it until the ownership issue can be resolved. Memorabilia experts say the ball could fetch $50,000 to $100,000 at auction.

"In reality, the ball should go to the guy who hit it, not the guy who caught it," Zarco said. "Shouldn't it?"

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6/15/2008 8:37 PM
06/12/2008 8:00 PM ET
Saga over Griffey 600 ball continues
Samson says video evidence proves Joe caught historic homer
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MIAMI -- A resolution regarding Ken Griffey Jr.'s 600th home run ball still has not been decided.

Marlins president David Samson, who has taken the role of advising the man who caught the historic ball in right field at Dolphin Stadium on Monday, said on Thursday that he met with the man who ended up with it, showed him a tape as evidence that revealed "beyond a reasonable doubt" that he caught the ball and will keep speaking to him in hopes of resolving the issue.

The man who ended up with the ball has refused to give any personal information about himself, other than the fact that his first name is Joe and he has been a Marlins season-ticket holder since 1993.

"I did speak with him today, I gave him the tape and he again told me to meet again or speak in the coming days because he wants this to come to an end," Samson said. "We believe that the ball -- somehow, someway -- should get back to Ken Griffey."

Samson said Joe caught the ball with his glove on the fly after slipping a dummy ball onto the ground to create a diversion, then he slipped out unharmed. Twenty-five-year-old Justin Kimball, however, said he caught the ball on the fly and had it wrestled away from him. Kimball filed an injunction on Wednesday in hopes of keeping Joe from selling the ball before the issue is resolved.

Samson said he spoke to one of Kimball's attorneys.

"This attorney called me to present me with an option that he thought was right and fair and equitable, and I told him that our position is we are not involved," Samson said. "All I can say is that we've made a determination beyond a reasonable doubt. We are not a court, I am not a judge, we don't have lawyers, we're not in any way involved."

Alden Gonzalez is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

New Post
6/15/2008 8:38 PM

Ken Griffey Jr. joins the 600 club

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Ken Griffey Jr. is congratulated by Reds first-base coach Billy Hatcher as he circles the bases after hitting his 600th career home run against the Marlins on Monday. "I don't think I touched any of the bases," Griffey said. "I sort of floated around."

Enlarge this photo


Ken Griffey Jr. is congratulated by Reds first-base coach Billy Hatcher as he circles the bases after hitting his 600th career home run against the Marlins on Monday. "I don't think I touched any of the bases," Griffey said. "I sort of floated around."


Should Ken Griffey Jr. be a Mariner again?

MIAMI — It was a rainbow — the kind one of the sweetest swings in baseball has produced so many times — a high-lofting shot that landed in the right-field seats and into history.

Ken Griffey Jr. hit his 600th home run Monday with a blast off Florida Marlins left-hander Mark Hendrickson, becoming the sixth player in major-league history to reach the milestone.

Griffey's 600th home run, a two-run shot, came on a 3-1 pitch in the first inning. There was no doubt from the second he made contact. Estimated distance: 413 feet.

The ball landed about a dozen rows into the right-field seats. It was the second home run Griffey has hit off Hendrickson, who is one of 383 pitchers to allow a Griffey home run.

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

Reds manager Dusty Baker has managed the last three players to achieve the milestone: Barry Bonds in San Francisco, Sammy Sosa in Chicago and Griffey. He was there for Bonds' 600th, on Aug. 9, 2002.

"It's awesome every time you see a milestone like that," Baker said. "It doesn't take away from the others. It adds to it."

Even Hendrickson, the pitcher who gave up the homer, was in awe.

"I grew up watching him. I know what he did for baseball in Seattle," said Hendrickson, who grew up in Mount Vernon. "It's just one of those things where I'm going to pitch to these guys and don't back down from it."

The scoreboards recognized Griffey's achievement as umpires delayed restarting the game and the crowd of 16,003 gave him a standing ovation. Griffey eventually came out for a curtain call.

His wife, Melissa, and three children were at the game. His father, Ken Sr., also was there. Junior, as the younger Griffey was known, was a clubhouse fixture alongside his father, a member of the famed Big Red Machine of 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. "I'm sorry it came against us ... but it's emotional and it brings back a lot of memories."

Griffey needs nine home runs to tie Sosa for fifth in career home runs, and 60 to match Willie Mays.

Controversy ensued in the stands following the home run. Justin Kimball, a 25-year-old from Miami, said he caught the ball, put it in a wool cap and then had the cap ripped from his hands. Kimball said someone ran off with the ball.

However, the Marlins announced Major League Baseball had authenticated the home-run ball for a middle-aged male fan who would only give his first name as Joe.

Griffey ended the game 1 for 4 with a strikeout and an intentional walk. He exited in the middle of the eighth.

"I've been swinging the bat a lot better the last 10 days or so," Griffey said. "I was able to get the ball in the air. I wasn't beating the ball into the ground like I had been."

The ultimate import of Griffey's feat will be determined by historians, but it is significant given that it was accomplished in what is now regarded as baseball's Steroid Era.

The two players who immediately preceded Griffey into the 600 club — Bonds and Sosa — are under clouds because of admitted or suspected steroid use.

The three other members of the club would have a place on baseball's Mount Rushmore, if such a monument existed — Babe Ruth, Mays and Hank Aaron.

"There's so much difference in what he accomplished and what he will continue to accomplish than what Barry Bonds did," said Reds radio man Marty Brennaman.

"Barry Bonds will forever be tainted, long after he's gone. I don't think people truly cared that he hit 756 home runs.

"I think baseball fans will look at what Junior did and be quick to point out that he did it the right way, as opposed to some other guys who didn't."

In a video tribute that was produced by the Reds, Aaron passed along his congratulations to Griffey.

"Congratulations on hitting your 600th home run," Aaron said. "... You know you've always been a favorite of mine.

"I played with your dad, I know him very well, but you know I've always said that if anybody was going to reach 700 ... I thought you had an excellent chance. Of course we can't, we don't know how injuries played a very big part, but congratulations to reaching 600."

Griffey's place in baseball's Hall of Fame is secure; his stature among baseball's legends is still growing.

He will be seen "as a guy who accomplished things honestly," said Kevin Grace, author, teacher and archivist at the University of Cincinnati, "and will probably be compared to Aaron."

At one time in his career, Griffey was expected to challenge the previous record of 755 home runs, which was held by Aaron until Bonds broke it in August 2007.

Griffey, now 38, had 398 career home runs at age 30, when he was traded to the Reds after the 1999 season, following 11 seasons with the Mariners.

In his first season as a Reds, Griffey hit 40 home runs. However, a series of serious injuries limited his playing time in the ensuing seasons. Among Griffey's ailments were a torn tendon in his right knee and torn right hamstring in 2002, an ankle injury that required surgery in 2003, and a torn right hamstring in 2004.

During those years he hit 41 home runs.

Since then, Griffey's enjoyed better health, likely helped by a move to right field before the 2007 season, when he played in 144 games — his most since 2000 — and hit 30 home runs and 93 RBI.

The December 2007 release of baseball's Mitchell Report, which detailed the alleged pervasive use of performance-enhancing drug use in the sport, only heightened Griffey's stature.

Of the top 10 players of his era on baseball's all-time home run list, Griffey was the only one not mentioned in the report.

The Reds have an option to bring Griffey back next season for $16.5 million. It is not clear what the club's plans are, or whether Griffey will retire as a Red.

In the days leading up to 600, Griffey generally avoided talking about the milestone, but during a trip in Philadelphia earlier this month he reflected on the impending achievement.

"It's just weird. It's overwhelming at some points. Embarrassing. I would have never dreamed I'd be in this position," he said.

"My dad was the guy I wanted to be like. If you look at his career — he had a pretty good career — that's the guy who looked like me, acted like me, took care of me. I didn't think I'd be better than him. He said I would be. I was like, 'yeah, right.' I was 14 when he said it. Sometimes Dad does know best."

Information from The Cincinnati Enquirer, McClatchy Newspapers, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel and The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

New Post
6/15/2008 8:39 PM

Ken Griffey Jr. hits 600th home run

Last Updated: Monday, June 9, 2008 | 7:46 PM ET Comments5Recommend17

Cincinnati Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. hit the 600th home run of his major-league career during the first inning of Monday's 9-4 victory over the Florida Marlins.

Griffey, 38, clobbered a 3-1 pitch from Marlins starter Mark Hendrickson into the right-field seats for the milestone homer, a two-run jolt that scored Jerry Hairston Jr. ahead of him.

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

"I grew up watching him," Hendrickson said. "I know what he did for baseball in Seattle.

"It is just one of those things where I'm going to pitch to these guys and don't back down from it. You're going to give up home runs."

Griffey received a standing ovation from the sparse crowd of 16,003 at Dolphin Stadium, and showed his appreciation by stepping out of the dugout and tipping his helmet.

"I'm really happy to be here and see it and I'm proud to be his teammate and to get to enjoy it," said Reds catcher Paul Bako, who homered twice in the win.

Griffey is the sixth slugger to reach the 600-homer mark, joining Barry Bonds (762), Henry Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), Willie Mays (660) and Sammy Sosa (609).

"It is awesome every time you see a milestone like that," said Reds skipper Dusty Baker, who has managed Bonds, Sosa and Griffey.

"It doesn't take away from the others. It adds to it."

It was Griffey's first homer since May 31.

"I have been swinging the bat a lot better the last 10 days or so," he said. "I was able to get the ball in the air.

"I wasn't beating the ball into the ground like I had been."


New Post
6/15/2008 8:39 PM

Ken Griffey Jr. hits 600th homer

Eliot J. Schechter / Getty Images
Like his 400th and 500th, Ken Griffey Jr.'s milestone home run came on the road.
Reds outfielder becomes only the sixth major league player to reach the milestone.
By Michael Cunningham, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
June 10, 2008
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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