Sammy and the Bat

I have to say I'm disappointed in Sammy Sosa.  Not solely because he used a corked bat.  He certainly isn't the first player in major league history to use one or to get caught.  I'm disappointed because he tried to pass off this idea that he didn't know he was using a corked bat. And that's just insulting to me.

The whole purpose of corking a bat is to decrease the weight of the bat in order to increase the speed a hitter can swing it.  Increased speed means increased force applied to the ball which means an increase in distance the ball travels after being hit.  Unfortunately, because cork is less dense than wood, the energy transfer isn't as efficient as it is in a regular bat so there is, in reality, very little difference in the distance a ball flies off a corked bat from that of a game bat.  Batters would be much better off just leaving out the cork completely and filling the drill hole with a mix of epoxy resin and sawdust.  But that's another story.  Hitters think it makes the ball go farther and so they occasionally try to sneak one past everyone.  But that's not why I'm insulted.

Baseball players, like children, are extremely protective of their gear.  And they know every nuance of their equipment.  You can hand bat after bat to just about any major leaguer and he can tell you how much each weighs within an ounce.  Just like professional card dealers can tell you if the card they hold is a face card or a number card just by the feel, they have held so many in their lives that they can detect even the slightest difference in weight.  

Hitters have bats they use for batting practice and bats they use for games.  The grain on a game bat is much more uniform and dense.  They feel different from the bats they use for batting practice.  And since only about 20% of all bats manufactured are good enough to be game bats, no batter would use a game bat in batting practice and risk chipping it in batting practice.  Because of this, almost all hitters keep their game bats in a separate place.  

So, it's incredibly difficult to believe that an accomplished hitter like Sosa would not only fail to notice the difference in weight, but would also fail to notice that he pulled the bat from the non-game bat collection.  It's as likely as you picking up your wallet and not noticing that all of your credit cards and drivers license are missing.  He knew he was using the corked bat.  After a dismal 2-for-15 showing with 8 Ks and no walks against the division rival Houston Astros, I have little doubt he was looking for an edge to get back on track.  He just made a poor choice and now he will be suspended for it.

On the plus side, the Commissioner's office x-rayed Sosa's 76 other bats and found that none had been doctored.  So at least his excuse is somewhat plausible to the public.  And it should be some comfort to Cubs' fans and baseball fans in general that this would indicate that Sosa does not make a regular habit of using a corked bat.  That, of course, would exclude the New York media and SI's Rick Reilly.

No fewer than three New York sportswriters suggested that this episode would and should tarnish the Hall of Fame credibility of Sammy Sosa.  I would like to say that they could plead ignorant on this one, but the fact that they have already voted a number of "cheaters" into the Hall of Fame leaves me with no choice but to call their current assertions completely absurd.  

Don Sutton was notorious for doctoring the ball.  Umpires would search him for sandpaper so regularly that he once put a note in his glove that said, "you're getting warm, but it's not here."  When asked if he ever used a foreign substance on the ball, he replied, "No, Vaseline is made right here in the USA."  But these same writers elected him to the Hall.  Gaylord Perry once received an offer from Vaseline to be their official spokesperson and after his career was over, wrote a book called, "Me and the Spitter", referring to the way he would load up a ball.  He was voted in to the Hall by the writers as well.  Whitey Ford, the ace of the Yankees' staff that won year after year in the 1950s, regularly doctored the ball.  He used his wedding ring to nick the ball and would use a substance he called "gunk" - a combination of baby oil, turpentine and pine resin - to affect his pitches.  The stuff was so potent that Yogi Berra, mistaking the container Ford kept it in for underarm deodorant, accidentally glued his arms to his sides.  But that didn't stop the writers from voting Ford in either.

Even more absurd is the effort by these same people to get Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame.  There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that he gambled on baseball, the only cardinal sin in baseball and the only thing for which a player or manager can be banned from the game for life.  He is the ultimate baseball cheater, yet they want to vote him into the Hall of Fame.  But Sammy using a corked bat once is enough to keep him out?  Pardon me for saying so, but that's just plain stupid.

Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly has been an outspoken critic of Sosa, largely because he suspects Sosa of steroid use.  While that may indeed be the case - we don't know who uses and who doesn't because of baseball's superficial testing policy - why single Sosa out?  Is it possible that Sosa, if he is guilty, is the only player in baseball who uses performance enhancing drugs?  Given the home run epidemic and the suspiciously dramatic increases in home run rates of certain players, it seems highly unlikely that everyone else "just trained really, really, really hard" and that Sosa is the only one who took a shortcut, if that is the case.  While I agree in principle with Reilly's assertion that something has to be done to assure that the playing field is relatively level, singling one man out as the bane of the game and the source of all it's ills is both misguided and ultimately damaging to the cause of fair play.  

Sammy Sosa will be suspended and it will likely be for a couple of weeks.  That has generally been the punishment for this kind of offense - see, there have been so many cases in history of bat corking, we actually have precedent to work from - and that, I hope, will be that.  Any more punishment than that would not fit the crime, especially relative to what has been done to the game by the men who run it.