June 5, 2003
About halfway through ESPN's two-hour, "Say It Ain't So-sa," special, the broker who owns the authenticated bat that Sammy Sosa used to hit his 498th career home run, did something remarkable. He and another man held the ends of the bat while a third man used a hand saw to slice through the barrel.
It wasn't quite "Fear Factor" but it was captivating television for midafternoon on a Wednesday.
When the sawing was done, moths did not fly toward the light. There was no cork in sight. Nor SuperBalls. Nothing but pure maple.
"Well, he hit one without cork in it," Bobby Valentine cracked.
Now, thanks to a Major League Baseball production that smacked more of a spin control than an investigation, we know Sosa owns 76 bats that do not reveal "foreign substances" when they are X-rayed.
The only Sosa bat known to have been loaded with cork was the one he last used in a game before getting caught. It's also the only bat that should matter.
It's a mystery why MLB felt the need to confiscate and examine every Sosa bat it could find in the middle of Tuesday night's victory over Tampa Bay. If ever there was an open-and-shut case, this was it.
Sosa went to the plate with a corked bat from his personal collection. Jeremi Gonzalez shattered it, cork flew everywhere and Sosa was exposed as a guy willing to make the occasional compromise.
Suspend him. Move on. Get over it (except that last part isn't going to happen).
Does Sosa's explanation make any difference? It shouldn't.
Does it matter what was, or wasn't revealed, when his other bats were examined? It shouldn't.
Sosa is clearly 100 percent guilty. Would he be 120 percent guilty if two or three other corked bats had turned up in the keeping of Cubs' clubhouse manager Tom Hellman? Conversely does it really tell us anything that MLB says the confiscated bats were clean?
I don't think so. For one thing, MLB Executive Vice President Sandy Alderson admits there was a gap of "several innings" between the first-inning ejection and the clubhouse sweep for Sosa bats. You don't need Johnnie Cochran to know that's a problem.
Even if the clubhouse was clean, what about any funny bats that might have been in the trunk of Sosa's car? What about any ones he might keep at his condo for just those special moments?
Bottom line: People are going to believe what they want to believe. The only two things we really know are that the slugging icon used an illegal bat in the 7,164th at-bat of his 15-year career.
And he'll never be looked at the same again.
Why drag out the painful aftermath with this 76-bat salute?
Cubs President Andy MacPhail said "76 clean bats would validate [Sosa's] story" about accidentally using a bat he goofs around with in batting practice. Alderson, a no-nonsense sort with impeccable credibility, makes you wonder if MLB is being so thorough in hopes of helping repair Sosa's image.
He offered a strange explanation for why MLB would consider checking bats Sosa previously has donated to the Hall of Fame.
"It is possible the bats in the Hall of Fame might be tested, I think primarily in support of Sammy and the explanation he has given," Alderson said. "I want to emphasize that testing all these bats was done in part to determine if any more had been tampered with. But just as importantly, we feel strongly that it was important to test these bats in the belief that what Sammy told us, in the hope that what Sammy explained, was accurate."
Is the prosecutor looking for alibis?
MLB has a major credibility problem here. In the last decade, it has sold no commodity more than the thrill of the long ball. No one has been a better salesman than Sosa.
With attendance down and skepticism upin part because of revelations and accusations about an increase in the use of steroids and amphetaminescan baseball afford to see the great man fall from his pedestal?
Sosa, who always seemed to enjoy curtain calls, limos and good seats at the State of the Union address, now seems to be having second thoughts about living with the legend he created.
"The media today, they had me like I'm a criminal," Sosa said before Wednesday night's game. "That really bothered me, hurt me. They speak of me like I do something out of this world.
"It's a mistake. We're all human. Nobody's perfect in this world."
Please, don't let this be Frank Thomas all over again. A guy who set an enormously high standard and then turned paranoid and bitter when things got a little tougher. A guy whose skills head downhill with years left on his contract.
In my opinion, Sosa knew the bat he took to the plate Tuesday night was corked. These guys don't pick bats out of the rack like they're playing pick-up-sticks.
Sosa definitely knew that home runs have been a lot harder to come by lately12 in 256 at-bats over 71 games since Aug. 17, 2002 (one every 21 at-bats) compared to 286 in 2,887 at-bats over the unprecedented run that began in 1998 (one every 10 at-bats).
So he looked for a little edge, one he really didn't need.
That's all anybody needs to know.
Forget what radiologists say about those 76 bats. The only X-ray that might tell us anything is one of Sosa's head.
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