- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 7, 2003

Major League Baseball yesterday suspended Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa eight games for using a corked bat, delivering the sentence after three days of nonstop national scrutiny of the incident.

Sosa immediately appealed the penalty, which was in line with previous MLB suspensions for use of a corked bat. That appeal will allow the popular Sosa to compete in a high-profile series this weekend against the New York Yankees, two games of which will be televised nationally. The Yankees have not played at Wrigley Field since 1938, and the series will feature Roger Clemens’ third attempt today to gain his 300th victory.

“It appears that Sosa’s use of an illegal bat last Tuesday was an isolated incident,” said Bob Watson, MLB vice president of on-field operations. “Nonetheless, Sammy Sosa used an illegal bat during a league game by his own admission. As such, I considered all relevant precedent and determined eight games was the appropriate sanction.”

Watson led an investigation in which he interviewed several Cubs employees, and 76 bats belonging to Sosa were X-rayed and found to be free of any foreign substances. The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., also X-rayed five Sosa bats it has with the same result.

Sosa has insisted since Tuesday night that he used the corked bat in a game by mistake and that it was intended for use only during batting practice.

Many fans, however, have questioned that answer because the primary function of corked bats is to increase bat speed rather than power, and catching up with batting practice pitches is no trouble for any major leaguer.

“He came forth and admitted his mistake right away,” Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. “We have no reason to believe this has gone on before. He has been shattering bats his whole career, and nothing has been found [before this].”

The penalty likely will present a heavy and immediate blow to Sosa, one of baseball’s most marketable players who is 17th on the career home run list with 505. Sosa earns about $10million annually from a bevy of endorsements that include Pepsi, MasterCard and Armour hot dogs.

“Asking fans to believe Sammy picked up the wrong bat is analogous to a neurosurgeon picking up a spoon instead of a scalpel for brain surgery,” said Dean Bonham, a Denver-based sports marketing executive. “He makes his living off his bats, so I definitely believe this should and will have an adverse impact on his marketability.”

But Sosa’s companies, for the moment at least, are standing behind the Dominican star. A prominent Pepsi TV ad featuring Sosa and Yankees star Jason Giambi will continue unabated on its current broadcast run, including an airing during today’s Cubs-Yankees game on Fox.

“It appears Sammy made an honest mistake,” Pepsi spokesman Dave DeCecco said. “We see no reason to change our relationship with him.”

The suspension contributed to a decidedly mixed day for Sosa, who was honored before yesterday’s game by the Illinois congressional delegation. Earlier this week, the House passed a resolution honoring Sosa for reaching 500 home runs.

Sosa’s appeal, which will not be heard until Monday at the earliest, has the support of both the Cubs and the MLB Players Association. The hope in Sosa’s camp is a decrease in the suspension of at least one or two games.

“Some punishment is in order, but we are hoping for some kind of reduction,” Hendry said.

Adam Katz, Sosa’s agent, said yesterday he expects Sosa’s appeal to be heard “reasonably soon.” The Cubs are off Monday before beginning a three-game series in Baltimore.

The Orioles yesterday braced for the potential loss of fans during what would be Sosa’s first appearance in Baltimore since 1991, when he was a member of the Chicago White Sox. The Orioles to date have sold 79,000 tickets for games Tuesday through Thursday, with the total almost evenly split among the games. A Sosa absence because of the suspension would greatly diminish any walk-up sales.

“Obviously, we’re hoping he’ll be here and play,” Orioles spokesman Kevin Behan said.

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