- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2003

BALTIMORE.

Packed inside the auxiliary clubhouse at Camden Yards yesterday afternoon were 17 television cameras and twice that many reporters.

“Sammy is entering the room,” one TV reporter said to his producers back in the studio. “Sammy is entering the room.”

Another one went on the air live, talking as everyone looked to the rear to watch Sammy come in. But there was a problem — no Sammy.

“Right now we are going to send you back to Oprah,” the reporter said.

And we all sat there, waiting 34 more minutes before Sammy Sosa arrived. He was late, but no one left. And all he did was read a short statement, refusing to answer any questions about the controversy surrounding the cork found in his broken bat in a June3 game against Tampa Bay:

“Good afternoon, everybody. I just wanted to make a little statement about the incident that happened. I wanted to say that I had my hearing today, and I’m waiting for the decision that they are going to make. Whatever punishment that they are going to do, I am going to accept it. It’s been a tough week for me. Once again I want to apologize to everybody out there for the mistake that I made. And I just wanted to say thank you to all the fans and everybody who supported me and motivate me to continue. Thank you.”

No, thank you, Sammy.

This was what everyone waited for. He could have read from the Sears catalog, and everyone still would have stayed and put him on television and written down his every word because he is Sammy Sosa.

(Reading from the Sears catalog is not that farfetched. Behind Sammy was a backdrop that featured the Cubs logo, their Web site and Sears. Can a Sammy Craftsman Tools commercial be far behind?)

This was big time, even for something seemingly so seemingly small as Sammy Sosa using a bat with cork in it. This is what it is like when you have a big star in the house. Everything he does is big. It is star power.

It was like a trip down memory lane to a time when the Orioles had their own version of star power — Cal Ripken, Robbie Alomar, Mike Mussina, Rafael Palmeiro — and every little thing that happened at Camden Yards seemed big. It hasn’t been like that at this ballpark for a long time.

The current Orioles? They could put cork on the outside of their bats, and no one would particularly care or maybe even notice. They could set up a drill press in the on deck circle, and the umpires wouldn’t flinch.

The Chicago Cubs — and Sammy Sosa in particular — coming to Baltimore is the biggest thing here since Ripken’s last game in 2001. So there was some intrigue about whether Sammy, who faces an eight-game suspension, would play last night. He appealed baseball’s disciplinary decision, and the appeal was heard yesterday by Bob DuPuy, baseball’s chief operating officer, at a hotel in Baltimore.

The Cubs want the suspension reduced from eight games to no more than six and used the case of Albert Belle, who received a seven-game suspension in 1994, to make their appeal. Albert tried to hide his crime; teammate Jason Grimsley went through a crawl space and got into the umpire’s dressing room to replace the bat with the suspected cork with another bat. The problem was that the bat he replaced it with was Paul Sorrento’s and had Sorrento’s name on it.

Cubs officials made the case that Sammy did not try to hide anything. He apologized and explained he made a mistake (though he might have been better off saying aliens from outer space put the cork in his bat rather than claiming he had no idea he was playing with the corked bat he used to please fans during batting practice). The Cubs did all they could to help with the investigation, having 76 of Sosa’s bats confiscated and checked.

Plus, of course, there was the point that Albert was a scumbag. Sammy is not, cork or no cork.

The Cubs would have been pleased if the ruling had been announced immediately and Sammy had started his suspension last night. They want it over and Sosa back in the lineup by next week, when they play the Cincinnati Reds in a National League Central contest.

The Orioles, meanwhile, would have been extremely annoyed and displeased if Sammy had not played last night. They won’t be too pleased to lose him as a gate attraction tonight and tomorrow night, which probably will happen.

“We would like this over and done with and move to on what we need to do,” Cubs president Andy MacPhail said. But MacPhail said he didn’t expect an immediate ruling, though he does expect one today, and that will likely mean the end of the Sammy Show at Camden Yards.

The crowd of 32,484 greeted Sammy with a mixture of cheers and boos when he ran out to right field in the bottom of the first, although there were reports that fans were throwing pieces of cork on the field and the grounds crew did come out several times to clean up the area. In the bottom of the eighth, a fan came out of the stands, got on his knees about 150 feet way from Sosa and pretended to worship him before being taken off the field by police. When Sosa came to bat to lead off the second he got the same mixture of cheers and boos and responded by hitting a double to left-center field.

Before that, though, there was the Sammy batting practice exhibition, and it was a show that the fans loved — Sammy sent one ball after another out into the stands and the bullpens. Imagine if he had been using his favorite batting practice corked bat. He might have hit one all the way to Peter Angelos’ downtown law offices — a little souvenir for the owner to remind him of the days when Camden Yards was Broadway instead of the community playhouse it has become.

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