- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2003

A baseball hitter knows all the intimate details of his bat: the weight of it, the way it is designed and cut and the way it feels in his hands.

If necessary, a hitter could pick his piece of lumber out of a rack after being blindfolded.

Baseball hitters are finicky like that. A hitter adopts a particular bat, and no one, not even a good friend, ever should think of coming between a hitter and his bat.

You think this is funny. This is baseball.

You do not mess with another player’s bat.

That is one of the unwritten rules of the dugout.

I crossed this line years ago with a friend, a teammate, a darn good player who eventually played in the minor leagues. He had a fine, old bat, custom-made, with an abnormally thin handle and fat top that felt so right in the hands.

It was better than anything in the bat bag.

The friend treated that fine, old bat as if it were a delicate piece of china. It really was something special. He even had his name inscribed on it instead of the name of a big leaguer.

Unfortunately, after an extended hitting slump, in a moment of desperation, I made the plea: Could I borrow it?

No. Come on now.

No. One time.

And so the exchange went until he relented and I went to the plate, got jammed on the hands with a pitch and broke the bat in two.

The steam coming off his head resulted in a series of apologies, a vow to make restitution and never to break the unwritten rule again.

The player-bat relationship is one of the credibility straining dynamics of the Sammy Sosa affair. It was his bat, and he knows his bats, corked or otherwise, except this one time.

On this one occasion, the first time ever, Sosa became so caught up in the game that he grabbed the wrong bat before he went to the on-deck circle. In fact, he grabbed the bat with the cork in it, the bat he sometimes employs in batting practice to demonstrate his long ball prowess to fans.

It was a mistake. It was a terrible mistake. He is sorry. It won’t happen again.

So now Sosa is asking the public to believe that he is a dim bulb who treated this one particular at-bat so light-heartedly.

But this is not baseball. This is not Sosa.

Baseball is steeped in ritual. There are seemingly a zillion player quirks between each pitch. Nothing is left to chance.

Sosa resorts to his heart-tapping, kiss-blowing ceremony at the appropriate moments. He never forgets to do this. He never becomes so caught up in the game that he somehow neglects an aspect of this ritualistic function. No, every time he hits a home run, he goes into his heart-tapping, kiss-blowing routine.

It never fails.

Sosa’s attention to detail just happened to fail this one time with the corked bat. He picked it up by accident and never noticed a thing. The way Sosa explains it, the Cubs should be grateful he was not wearing the wrong uniform number.

Sosa’s plausible deniability is curious on another level.

In an endeavor as casual as batting practice, Sosa cared enough about the details to use the corked bat. Yet in a game that might command his attention, he overlooked the compelling detail of the corked bat.

By chance, he just happened to come across it. It could have been any bat. He could have picked up a teammate’s bat and, in this one instance, not noticed a difference.

Considering the odds and where his head was, it is somewhat amazing that Sosa wound up with the illegal stick. Out of all the bats he could have indiscriminately pulled from the rack, Sosa’s hands found the corked bat.

The poor guy.

He is not only an airhead, he is incredibly unlucky.

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