06/03/2003 8:41 PM ET
Sosa ejected for corked bat
CHICAGO -- Sammy Sosa says it was a mistake. Now it's up to Major League Baseball to decide the penalty and for fans to decide whether to continue to back the Chicago Cubs slugger, who was caught using a corked bat on Tuesday.
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
Sosa was ejected in the first inning of Tuesday night's game between the Chicago Cubs and Tampa Bay Devil Rays by home plate umpire Tim McClelland because he had cork in his bat.
"What happened today was something that was never meant to happen," Sosa said. "I just took the wrong bat."
The Cubs had runners at second and third with one out when Sosa grounded out to second base, driving in a run. His bat split upon impact and Devil Rays catcher Toby Hall picked up half and tossed it toward McClelland.
"I turned it over and there was a half dollar-sized piece of cork in the bat, halfway up the barrel," McClelland said. "I felt it and it was cork."
McClelland called the other three umpires over to examine it.
"I wanted to make sure the crew knew it was cork," McClelland said. "We all agreed it was cork."
The umpires then showed the bat fragment to Cubs manager Dusty Baker.
"The first thing that went out of my mouth was 'Oh, no.' That's it," Baker said. "There's not a whole bunch to say. Just wait for the league office (to rule)."
Third base umpire Lance Barksdale took the tainted bat into the umpires' room. The runners were sent back to the bases and Sosa was thrown out of the game.
"It's a bat I used in batting practice," Sosa said. "I don't use that in the game. It's something that I take the blame for. It was a mistake, I know that. I feel sorry. I apologize to everybody. I'm embarrassed. I take the blame for it."
Sosa, who did not argue McClelland's call, was declared out, violating rule 6.06(d), which states a runner is out when "he uses or attempts to use a bat that, in the umpire's judgement, has been altered or tampered with in such a way to improve the distance factor or cause an unusual reaction on the baseball." That includes bats that are "filled, flat-surfaced, nailed, hollowed, grooved."
Why would Sosa have such a bat to begin with?
"Batting practice, just to put on a show for the fans," he said. "I like to make people happy and I do that in batting practice."
So how did it get in the rack of game day bats?
"I was just trying to get ready for the game," Sosa said, "and I just picked the wrong bat."
Major League Baseball security confiscated all of Sosa's bats Tuesday.
"They took all of them. All of them," Sosa said.
"The way I heard the clubhouse was surrounded, you would think they were looking for the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list guys," Baker said.
This was all new to Baker.
"I've never seen a corked bat," Baker said. "I've been in baseball 30-something years and I have never seen a corked bat. I've heard guys corking bats. I've heard a lot of things but I have not seen it."
Sosa, who became the 18th member of the 500 club on April 4 when he hit his 500th home run and first of the season, entered the game batting .285 and was 2-for-15 in three games since being activated from the disabled list. He missed three weeks after having his right big toenail removed May 10.
"I just hope this event, whatever it was, doesn't tarnish his career and take away what Sammy Sosa has done for baseball and for Chicago," Baker said.
"I understand that it's hard right now," Sosa said of his fans' reaction. "I apologize. That's the only thing I can say from the bottom of my heart. I guarantee you I never used anything illegal. I just said I picked the wrong bat. That's it."
"Sammy's sad about it," teammate Lenny Harris said. "He came in here and thought he let everybody down. The guy's got like four or five hundred bats in his locker so he pulls one out and unfortunately it was that one. He admitted he made a mistake and he's going to have to put up with what needs to be done."
The last Major League player ejected for a corked bat was Wilton Guerrero, whose bat shattered in a game June 1, 1997, when he was a rookie with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He received an eight-game suspension and $1,000 fine.
Albert Belle's bat was confiscated July 15, 1994, when Gene Lamont, then the Chicago White Sox manager, was tipped off and alerted the umpires. Belle, then a member of the Cleveland Indians, received a 10-game suspension, which was reduced to seven upon appeal. He was not caught using the bat.
Houston's Billy Hatcher was ejected from a Sept. 1, 1987, game against the Cubs when the barrel of his bat split, revealing it had been corked. Hatcher said he was unaware it had been corked and had borrowed the bat from pitcher Dave Smith. Hatcher was suspended for 10 days.
Ironically, Hatcher watched Tuesday's incident from the Devil Rays dugout. The Rays' first base coach, Hatcher was asked to comment on Tuesday night's episode with Sosa, but declined.
"It's totally different," Hatcher said. "You've got to talk to Sammy about that."
Sosa, 34, has hit 292 home runs over the last five years and is the only player in big league history to have three 60-homer seasons.
Baker hoped the Cubs could put it behind them.
"We're not gong to keep talking about it, we're not going to dwell on it," Baker said. "We have no choice. We still have to go play. These games still count."
By the way, the Cubs beat the Devil Rays 3-2 Tuesday night.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.