- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2003

Seventy-six bats belonging to Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa and examined yesterday by Major League Baseball were not corked, likely lessening any suspension that may be levied on Sosa.

That suspension, punishment for using a corked bat Tuesday night in a game against Tampa Bay, is expected to arrive today from MLB vice president and chief disciplinarian Bob Watson. The suspension could be up to 10 games.

“We are confident these bats are clean and have no foreign substances,” said Sandy Alderson, MLB executive vice president. The 76 bats represented the entire lot of Sosa bats confiscated by MLB security personnel after Sosa shattered the corked bat in the first inning of Tuesday’s game.

The negative bat X-rays supported the initial claim of Sosa, who last night went 1-for-4 and struck out three times in a 5-2 loss to the Devil Rays, that he mistakenly used the corked bat, designed for batting practice use only, in a game situation.

Still, the entire episode has represented a black mark for perhaps baseball’s most popular and marketable player. Sosa, a charismatic, outgoing star from the Dominican Republic, had been one of baseball’s true bright spots over the last decade, a period marked by labor rancor, drug abuse, diluted quality of play and declining fan interest in the game.

“[Commissioner Bud Selig] is very concerned about this incident,” Alderson said. “He has strong personal affection for Sammy. At the same time he also has instructed this office to conduct a thorough and complete investigation.”

Within hours of Tuesday’s bat-shattering, Sosa became the most-talked-about story in sports and elevated into the broader realm of pop culture. Talk shows of all types devoted hours to Sosa. Newspaper and Internet columns were rampant. Even ESPN devoted two full hours of non-stop news coverage to him yesterday, marking the most concentrated coverage of any single news story by the sports network since last summer’s baseball labor negotiations.

Sosa, who has 505 career home runs, yesterday bristled at the overwhelming media coverage, nearly all of it negative toward him.

“I stood up [Tuesday] like a man and took the blame,” Sosa said. “But the media [yesterday], they’ve got me up there like I’m a criminal.”

Sosa said he used the corked bat for batting practice on three or four prior occasions “to put on a show” for fans. Many Cub fans, however, say Sosa often takes batting practice before Wrigley Field gates open. Others wondered how a player often so finicky about his bats could make such a blatant mistake.

With the potential MLB suspension still looming, questions continued to simmer on the potential effects to Sosa’s marketability. Sosa garners more than $10million a year in endorsements, making him one of the most powerful off-field earners in pro sports. The total is fueled by a compelling combination of Sosa’s often-engaging personality and historic record at the plate. Sosa is the only player in baseball history to have at least three seasons with 60 or more homers.

But sports marketers now expect that endorsement total to take a tumble because of the corked bat.

“This does hurt because advertisers don’t want to be associated with someone known as a cheater,” said Bob Williams, president of Burns Sports, a company in suburban Chicago that matches corporations with celebrity endorsers. “You have that image hanging around you and companies begin to realize there are other options out there.”

Sosa, however, has rebounded from hits to his lofty public image before. During two high-profile home run duels with St. Louis slugger Mark McGwire, rumors of use of performance-enhancing agents were steady, sparked in part by McGwire admitting to use of androstenedione, a substance known to elevate testosterone levels.

Sosa also saw a public foundation operating in his name lose millions in potential donations due to charges of mismanagement, financial misappropriation, theft and nepotism before he ultimately closed the operation.

In this instance, Sosa has admitted guilt from the start and received praise from Alderson for his full cooperation in baseball’s investigation.

“Easton Sports has a great relationship with Sammy Sosa, and we respect the forthright and up-front comments he has made on this incident,” said the Van Nuys, Calif.-based bat manufacturer in a statement. “We look forward to continuing our relationship with Sosa as Major League Baseball resolves this issue.”

Corking a bat is a much-debated element of sports physics. But the basic principle involves hollowing out a cylinder from the fat end of the bat, and inserting lighter, more lively material such as cork or shaved rubber to improve bat speed. Some physicists believe corked bats actually depress distances on batted balls, but improved bat speed can make a difference between making contact with a pitch and not.

In fact, most modern players put much more of a premium on bat speed and light bats than players during much of the 20th century, when large, heavy bats were popular.

“The longer you watch [a pitch], the more information you have as to how you want to swing at it,” said Alan Nathan, physics professor at the University of Illinois.

Numerous current and ex-big leaguers have admitted using corked bats at various points. And four big leaguers, including Albert Belle, have received suspensions since 1987 for using corked bats.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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