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Archive for Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Say it ain’t so! Sosa ejected for corked bat

June 4, 2003

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— Chicago Cubs standout Sammy Sosa was ejected in the first inning of Tuesday night's 3-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays after umpires found cork in his shattered bat.

"I use that bat for batting practice," Sosa said. "It's something that I take the blame for. It's a mistake, I know that. I feel sorry. I just apologize to everybody that are embarrassed."

The Cubs had runners at second and third when Sosa broke his bat with a grounder to second that at first appeared to drive in a run.

But crew chief Tim McClelland met with the other three umpires to examine the bat. Cubs manager Dusty Baker came out and the umpires showed the bat to him.

Mark Grudzielanek was sent back to third base, the run was wiped off the board, and Sosa was ejected as he stood in the dugout.

Sosa said he hoped fans would believe he didn't intend to use a corked bat.

"That's why I'm here right now, to explain that it was a mistake," he said. "I know that right now, anybody or somebody probably want to think whatever comes to their mind, but you know, I just picked the wrong bat.

"I don't really need to use that. I break so many bats in my life. But when you make a mistake like that, you got to stood up and be there for it. ... It's a mistake, and I take the blame for it."

Sosa, who gained national prominence in 1998 during his home-run battle with Mark McGwire, said he had the corked bat "for batting practice -- just to put on a show for the fans ... I like to make people happy, and I do that in batting practice."

Cork inside a wooden bat is thought to help players hit the ball farther and is against baseball rules. Several players have been caught using altered bats in the past, including Albert Belle, Wilton Guerrero, Chris Sabo, Billy Hatcher and Graig Nettles. All were suspended.

Umpires took part of the bat into the Cubs dugout and down the runway toward their clubhouse. McClelland also was the umpire who took away a home run from Kansas City's George Brett in 1983 because of excessive pine tar, a decision later reversed by AL president Lee MacPhail.

"I thought about that when I picked the bat up," McClelland said. "I was on the crew for Albert Belle and the White Sox. Strange bats follow me around, I guess."

McClelland said the cork was clearly visible.

"I turned it over, and there was a small probably half-dollar size piece of cork in the bat right about halfway down the barrel head, I guess," he said. "It was notched in there. I felt it and it obviously was cork, so I called the crew together, and it was reminiscent of what happened about 20 years ago with me.

"I wanted to make sure the crew knew it was cork, we all knew it was cork, and what the ruling would be. We all agreed that it was cork, and he had to be ejected, and runners would go back all action would be nullified."

Sosa's bat immediately became a big topic around the major leagues.

"Unfortunately, it's a dirty mark, when you consider all he's accomplished," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "It's really unfortunate for the game. Everybody's scratching their heads right now. ... It's embarrassing. He's too good of a player. It's too bad."

Sosa just came off the disabled list Friday after having the nail taken off his big right toe and missing 17 games.

Entering Tuesday, he was just 2-for-15 in his three games since coming off the DL, including one five-strikeout game in which he also had the game-winning single against Houston.

"I just hope it doesn't taint what he's done," Seattle second baseman Bret Boone said. "Corked, not corked, he's got as much power as anyone in baseball. He's probably got as much power, outside Mark McGwire, as anyone in history. It's probably embarrassing for him.

"Pitchers cheat all the time. They scuff balls, use pine tar. I've never used a corked bat, not even in batting practice. If I was guaranteed I wouldn't get caught, I probably would."

Sosa, a six-time All-Star who reached 500 career homers earlier this season, hasn't had a homer since May 1, and his power numbers have dropped drastically since he was beaned April 20 by the Pirates' Salomon Torres.

Sosa has just six homers this season and 24 RBIs, while batting .285.

Sosa has the most 60-homer seasons (three) in major-league history, hitting 66 in 1998, 63 in 1999 and 64 in 2001.

Chicago's then-Comiskey Park was the site of one of baseball's biggest corked bat capers in July 1994 when the bat of Belle, then with Cleveland, was confiscated.

Umpires took it to their dressing room before an Indians teammate crawled across the ceiling and switched Belle's confiscated bat with one belonging to a teammate.

Once the caper was discovered, the original bat was finally examined, and Belle was suspended for 10 games, a penalty that was reduced to seven games.

Guerrero, then with the Los Angeles Dodgers, was suspended for eight games in 1997 for using cork in his bat. Sabo, a part-time third baseman with Cincinnati, was suspended for seven games and fined $25,000 for using a corked bat against Houston in 1996.

Hatcher was suspended for 10 days in 1987 after using a corked bat for Houston. It was the first such ejection since Nettles, then with the New York Yankees, was tossed in 1974 after six superballs came out of his bat during a game against Detroit.

Chicago won Tuesday's game in the ninth when Al Levine (2-2) threw a wild pitch that allowed Troy O'Leary, who had replaced Sosa, to score from third.

O'Leary and Moises Alou singled, Hee Seop Choi sacrificed and Levine then threw the wild pitch.

Mike Remlinger (4-0) got the win with a scoreless ninth.

Tampa starter Jeremi Gonzalez left with a lead before the Cubs tied the game in the eighth when Lenny Harris hit an RBI grounder.

Gonzalez, the former Cubs pitcher whose career has been slowed by two elbow operations and knee surgery, took a shutout into the sixth before Choi and Martinez hit back-to-back doubles. He went six innings, allowing seven hits and a run.

Tampa Bay took the lead off Mark Prior in the second on a two-run single by Damion Easley. Prior allowed eight hits and two runs in eight innings.

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