June 4, 2003
Talk about overkill.
Sammy Sosa needs a corked bat like Jennifer Lopez needs a little publicity. Or a new boyfriend.
Against those pitching-heavy Tampa Bay Devil Rays, the great Sosa should need to cheat about as much as Tom Hanks would to win the lead in a Drury Lane production. He should need a good woodworker about as much as George Clooney needs card tricks to impress women.
Yet, as Texas songwriter Jimmy La Fave says, desperate men do desperate things.
It had been 33 days since Sosa's last home run. Unless the calendar says December or JanuaryOK, or Octoberthat's a very long time between blasts for Sosa, who missed most of May after having a toenail removed.
He has only six homers this seasonfewer than the likes of Orlando Cabrera, Rafael Furcal, Melvin Mora, Morgan Ensberg, Hee Seop Choi and Xavier Nadyand 12 in the Cubs' last 97 games. In three games since coming off the disabled list, he was 2-for-15 with eight strikeouts.
So there was No. 21 at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night, looking for an unfair advantage against former teammate Jeremi Gonzalez. What a shame.
For a hitter, there isn't much worse for his image than being caught with a corked bat. Albert Belle hit 381 homers in 12 seasons, but the first thing many people think when his name comes up is the Comiskey Park game in 1994 when he was ejected for using a corked bat. Graig Nettles still is haunted by the night in 1974 that Super Balls came flying out of his Louisville Slugger.
This is the honor roll of cheaters that has welcomed Sosa into its ignominious company. Corking his batwhich Sosa says he does for home run exhibitionsisn't going to keep him out of the Hall of Fame, but it might as well be included in the inscription on his plaque.
Nobody's going to forget it. Not now. Not next month. Not next year. Not ever.
The last time a major-leaguer was caught corking his bat, the culprit was Wilton Guerrero, whose brother Vladimir apparently got all of the long-ball genes. It's easy to understand why he would try to find extra mileage by doctoring his bats.
Amos Otis, a splinter of a center fielder, hit 193 homers during a highly productive career. He later admitted that he owed much of his success to good carpentry.
"I had enough cork and Super Balls in there to blow away anything," Otis said. "I had a very close friend who made the bats for me. He'd drill a hole down the barrel and stuff some Super Balls and cork in it. Then he put some sawdust back into the hole, sandpapered it down and added a little pine tar over the top of it. The bat looked brand new."
Otis weighed 170 pounds. And he played most of his career in the old Royals Stadium, a park where even Steve Balboni struggled to go bye-bye.
Billy Hatcher, now a coach with the Devil Rays, isn't a behemoth either. You could understand when Keith Moreland discovered cork after his bat shattered in a 1987 game with the Cubs.
But Sosa? Give me a break.
If there is a way a hitter can cheat to try to get a two-out single with runners on base, then maybe Sosa should consider it. But he's pretty well got the long ball figured out.
Corking the bat is one of the oldest tricks in the major leagues. It has been handed down through generations. Norm Cash has admitted doing it early in his career. He certainly didn't invent the idea.
Yet some question whether cork really does make the ball jump off the bat.
"What it does is reduce weight, which produces quicker bat speeds," Chuck Schupp, an executive with Louisville Slugger, once said. "But it also reduces mass, so the bat doesn't drive the ball as far."
Yale physics professor Robert Adair agreed.
"A corked bat will increase bat speed but won't hit the ball as far," he said. "You also reduce the length of the sweet spot. How far you hit a ball depends on mass. At a given speed, a light bat won't hit a ball as far as a heavy one."
Schupp and Adair were interviewed after the Belle incident at Comiskey Park.
"It's unfortunate," Schupp said. "First, it's something he doesn't need, and second, now people wonder how long he'd been doing it and it casts a shadow on his accomplishments."
Sosa achieved his status as a icon during the glory years for home run hitters, 1998 through 2001. Along with Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, he has had to live with the suspicion that he has gotten some of his power out of a bottle or a syringe.
But this time it wasn't cheap talk about steroids, which Sosa always has been able to deflect. This time it was a cracked bat that revealed doctoring.
Nope, this was not a false positive.
Sammy can't say it ain't so.
What a pity.
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