2003-06-06 / Sports

Sammy Sosa To Pay Price For Sticking A Cork In It

Baseball Columnist
By Bryan Hoch
Sammy Sosa To Pay Price For Sticking A Cork In It By Bryan Hoch Baseball Columnist


BRYAN HOCHBRYAN HOCH

There was more than a corked bat shattered on Tuesday night, when the Cubs’ Sammy Sosa’s illegal stick exploded across the infield of Chicago’s Wrigley Field.

As that tainted piece of lumber broke into highly questionable fragments, Sosa’s entire image did as well.

Suddenly, we no longer think of Sosa that happy-go-lucky Dominican outfielder, the one who captured our hearts and imaginations as the underdog to Mark McGwire’s homer-hitting showdown during the summer of ’98.

He’s no longer that great ambassador to the game, the one that has donated millions to construct schools and playing fields in his home country, the one who delights with his hop and skip after he slugs each jaw-dropping home run.

On Tuesday, jaws dropped at Wrigley for a totally different reason. Sammy Sosa, future Baseball Hall of Famer, is a cheater.

Watching Sosa relentlessly plead his case to his fans through the media after the Cubs’ 3-2 victory over the Devil Rays – staying well after his press conference to grant TV interviews on the darkened turf of Wrigley – you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the guy.

Maybe he was telling the truth: that he only used the doctored, illegal bat for batting practice, to put on a show for his fans. Ever since 1998, they’ve been coming early and often to see Sosa take his cuts in the cage, not only at Wrigley but all around the league, and they don’t rush to the ballpark to see him bounce drives up against the wall on three hops.

"I like to make people happy and I do that in batting practice," Sosa said. "… What happened today was something that was never meant to happen. I just took the wrong bat."

It seems plausible enough – major league players, especially an established star like Sosa, will have an assortment of twenty to thirty bats to choose from when they make their way from the clubhouse to the dugout. Often, the delivery of lumber to the dugout’s bat rack is left up to the responsibility of teenagers employed by the team, and we all know how reliable and focused high schoolers can be at times.

"Deep down in my heart, I believe Sammy didn’t know what was down in there," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "I just hope this event doesn’t tarnish his career and all that Sammy Sosa has done for baseball and Chicago."

Mistake or not, for millions of disillusioned baseball fans, what might have been a legitimate one-time blunder could serve to forever put an unprinted asterisk on Sosa’s playing record. Sure, it’s ridiculous to think that each of Sosa’s 505 home runs, each of his 7,164 major-league at-bats, were played out using an illegal stick.

And yes, with all of the increased media attention on Sosa over the last few years, someone would definitely have noticed a corked bat in his possession by now. You’re going to tell me that reporters rooted in McGwire’s locker to discover the home run king used the MLB-legal supplement andro, but missed the glaring evidence of a doctored bat?

It doesn’t matter. The minds of baseball fans don’t operate with the same efficiency and fairness of a United States courtroom, and until he can show otherwise, Sosa will be labeled a cheater: guilty until proven innocent. "I understand that it’s hard [for my fans] right now," Sosa said. "I apologize. That’s the only thing I can say from the bottom of my heart."

• Wasn’t it kind of sketchy that the Yankees would choose Tuesday, the beginning of a three-game interleague series in Cincinnati, to officially name Derek Jeter the team’s eleventh captain in history?

As a clearly uncomfortable Jeter said, being named captain of the Yankees isn’t something that’s just thrown around. So why do it in the press conference room of the Great American Ballpark, on the banks of the Ohio River?

Unlike in football and hockey, being a baseball captain is clearly a ceremonial honor, so why not hand over the "C" in one heck of a ceremony, one that fans can bask in and relive on the YES Network for winters to come:

The Yankees should have done it in front of a sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium, with John Sterling serving as emcee. The bored Red Sox should have been forced to look on from the third-base dugout, while all of those ghosts of the legendary Yankees would swirl and smile down from above.

Former captains Lou Gehrig and Thurman Munson could have looked on approvingly with Mickey Mantle, who wasn’t a captain, but should have been. Meanwhile, the team’s last captain, Don Mattingly, could have stood at home plate in the flesh to give Jeter some kind of plaque and grin for the flashbulbs on Jeter’s special day.

And then, to provide closure and jumpstart some tears in the crowd, ‘The Voice of God’, Bob Sheppard, would fill the air. "The new captain… number two… Derek… Jeter. The captain." That’s a ceremony to remember, to cherish and to love. That’s the way New York deserved to have it done. We’d have eaten it up. Instead, Yankees fans were presented with a rush job, a hastily scheduled presser that saw Jeter accept the praise while wearing his road gray pants and in front of a red backdrop. That’s not the Yankee way. E - George, error on the owner. bryanhoch@yahoo.com.


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