PITTSBURGH -- Pitchers love to talk about their hitting. Singles hitters love hitting home runs. And home run hitters love to be considered pure hitters.
"You're the favorite, you're the man," Kirby Puckett told Seattle's Ken Griffey during yesterday's home run hitting contest.
Said Griffey: "No, Frank [Thomas] is the favorite. Frank's the man. He's bigger and stronger and he's kind of zoned in right now."
Said Thomas: "Don't believe anything Junior says. He's lying. My strength is hitting the ball to center field, but I started cheating toward the end. I completely changed my swing. Junior was a lot better. I'm the line drive hitter. He's the home run hitter. Just watch his swing and mine. They're totally different."
That they are. The swing that most resembled Griffey's was that of Atlanta first baseman Fred McGriff.
Not surprisingly then, McGriff hit the second most home runs, five. Griffey hit seven, five into the upper deck.
But Thomas gained a split of sorts in his personal duel with Griffey. Thomas hit the longest home run of the day, 519 feet, and the third longest, 510 feet. Griffey hit one 512 feet.
Four hitters from each league participated and Griffey hit six of the 10 longest home runs. Thomas had the highest average, 472.8 feet. Griffey's average of 463 feet per home run was second best.
San Francisco's Matt Williams, the National League's home run leader, did not participate.
The American League won the competition, 17-11.
Labor per Thomas and Griffey
"No one player is bigger than the game," Thomas said. "It's our union against theirs and we've got to stick together."
Didn't know they had a union, Frank.
Said Griffey: "I support the union like 98 percent of us do."
Oh? And who are the 2 percent?
Collectors Alert: The nameplates from a pair of American League All-Stars' lockers could become extremely valuable properties because of what are known in collector circles as uncorrected errors.
Chicago White Sox left-hander Wilson Alvarez had his name misspelled Alverez. Worse, seven-time All-Star Paul Molitor's name was misspelled Moliter.
He could hit in his sleep
Tony Gwynn took a red-eye flight from San Diego to Pittsburgh, arrived at 6:15 a.m., was confronted by 100 autograph seekers at the baggage claim area and instructed them to form a line.
Gwynn signed autographs while waiting for his bags, then discovered two of his and his family's eight bags were missing, including the clothes he packed for the All-Star gala, and his equipment bag.
He waited a half-hour for a shuttle before discovering they did not begin running until 9. He went from limo to limo seeking a ride to the hotel, then got stuck in traffic for 1 1/2 hours. He slept an hour, missed the team bus, saw Dave Winfield and Ozzie Smith in a van and hopped in it, only to discover they were headed to the labor negotiations, not the ballpark for the workout.
It wasn't until a while after he arrived at the ballpark Gwynn learned he would be starting in center field, playing there for the first time since 1989. He replaces Philadelphia's Lenny Dykstra, out with an appendectomy.
Gwynn is hitting .383 with nine home runs and 49 RBIs.
"I don't think what I do is as exciting as, say a Thomas or Griffey. Let's be honest, having your average near .400 is nice, but if you were a fan, what would you rather see? Me hit singles or those guys hit long balls."
Key starts for AL
American League manager Cito Gaston decided to choose Jimmy Key over David Cone, both ex-Blue Jays, to start tonight's game.
"They both are very deserving of starting the All-Star Game, along with Mike Mussina and Randy Johnson," Gaston said. "Jimmy went along with what happened in '92. Cone came on and started in the playoffs and Jimmy did not. He went in the bullpen and never said a word."
Since Sept. 2, 1992, Key is 38-8 with a 2.95 ERA. He's never allowed a grand slam in 2,060 innings.
Maddux starts for NL
National League manager Jim Fregosi had an easy decision to make and made it. He named Greg Maddux as his starting pitcher. Maddux will try to send the NL on its way to breaking a six-game losing streak.
Maddux, on course to win a third consecutive Cy Young Award, is 11-5 with a 1.80 ERA in 19 starts. He has six complete games and two shutouts. In 34 starts since last season's All-Star Game, Maddux is 23-6 with a 1.79 ERA. He has allowed more than three earned runs twice during that stretch.
Maddux, baseball's best pitcher, is as unflappable a competitor as there is, but he was floored by one piece of news this season.
He was as stunned as anyone by Ryne Sandberg's retirement.
"Yes, extremely surprised," Maddux said. "I had no idea he was going to retire so it kind of caught me like it did when [Michael] Jordan retired."
Maddux on the possibility of winning three consecutive Cy Young titles: "My main goal is to win the World Series," he said. "Cy Young, Gold Glove, All-Star Game, all that stuff comes with pitching well."
St. Louis' Smith, a 13-time All-Star, won the top vote-getter award for the third time, one season after not making the team. "It's such a power-laden game," Smith said. "Those are the guys who usually get the most votes. It's very special to get the most votes, especially since I'm not a power hitter and I wasn't on the team last year. Usually when you're an All-Star for 10 or 12 years then you're out for a year it's tough to get back in." . . . Griffey left 30 tickets. "Only five were automatics," he said. "My mom, my dad, my wife, my son, my grandma. Plus I have two uncles who have never seen me play." . . . Cincinnati Reds Barry Larkin and Jose Rijo, both nursing sore elbows, were replaced on the roster by Montreal Expos shortstop Wil Cordero and San Francisco Giants reliever Rod Beck. "It was something their doctors did not want them to do and I have no problem with that," Fregosi said. "As for the deserving players who didn't get picked, we of course apologize to those players, especially those who didn't complain."
GOING, GOING, GONE!
Results of the All-Star Home Run Derby:
Player ......... HR .... Avg. ... Long
Ken Griffey ..... 7 ... 463.0 ... 512
Frank Thomas .... 4 ... 472.8 ... 519
Ruben Sierra .... 4 ... 408.5 ... 485
Albert Belle .... 2 ... 430.5 ... 454
Totals ..... ... 17 ... 448.6 ... 519
Player ........ HR .... Avg. ... Long
Fred McGriff ...... 5 ... 403.2 ... 473
Dante Bichette .... 3 ... 411.0 ... 426
Jeff Bagwell ...... 3 ... 410.3 ... 418
Mike Piazza ....... 0 ... 000.0 ... 000
Totals ........... 11 ... 407.3 ... 473