Archive for Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Chinstraps and Mouthpieces: Corked bat, schmorked bat: Time for Sosa to trump critics

June 18, 2003

He's back.

Sammy Sosa will return to the Cubs lineup today after his corked bat fiasco left him with a little less jump in his signature hop and much more negative attention to dust off his uniform.

When the incident occurred, it appeared to be a major scandal for the most prolific home-run hitter in a three-year span, but after hearing analysis and seeing reports about all of his other bats not being tarnished, this didn't seem all that bad.

And it wouldn't in my eyes, which long to one day see my Cubbie brethren at Wrigley Field.

This incident is so miniscule to a Cubs fan, considering the franchise hasn't won the World Series in nearly 100 years, has failed to actually reach the World Series in about 55 and has managed to win just three games in three postseason series.

This is an organization that squandered a 2-0 lead to San Diego in the best-of-five 1984 National League Championship Series and lost Greg Maddux to Atlanta. Then when they finally land another pitching phenom in Kerry Wood, he misses a season because of surgery.

I've followed the Cubs on WGN since 1986 and have stayed loyal every summer, but one wonders why everything usually seems to go awry.

Perhaps it would have been out of line, but when appealing his corked-bat suspension, Sosa should have outlined all accounts of the Cubs curse and just blamed the incident on that strange force.

Take Sosa's year for instance. He played some games this season before having toe surgery, then struggles with the bat -- even though he hit his 500th career home run earlier this season, he has just six accumulated this year. When he came back from surgery, his batting slump continued until that bat he used for batting practice found its way onto the field.

Maybe it's that goatee Sosa has been sporting since the injury. It's almost a bizarro world Sosa, not quite the bizarro world Elaine experienced on an episode of "Seinfeld", but still a strange occurrence.

Sosa's batting average of .290 isn't too shabby, but with all the expectations and now the questions after the bat incident, times have been better for Sosa.

I almost wanted to laugh when I first learned of the cork issue.

Just two nights before while playing in a men's slow-pitch softball championship doubleheader, an opposing batter was called out because he was using an illegal bat.

Some rare metal wasn't injected into the aluminum (at least I don't think that was the case), but the bat wasn't on the list of acceptable bats in the league.

Although Sosa didn't argue the decision, the opposing team did -- again and again and again and then just a tad more before finishing second in the league.

How coincidental, I thought, that bats would be such a hot issue.

The incident in Chicago had to be the biggest bat issue since George Brett went wild when an umpire deemed his bat had too much pine tar after he hit a homer against the Yankees in the 1983. How intriguing it was that Umpire Tim McClelland was behind the plate for both Brett's pine tar problem and Sosa's corked-bat calamity.

Both Brett and Sosa had their days in a weird spotlight, but one wasn't phased by the incident.

Pine tar isn't frowned upon or as advantageous as cork is, but it still involved an automatic out.

Brett made his way to the hall of fame years later and hopefully Sosa makes his way to Cooperstown as well.

It's difficult to fathom that someone like Sosa, with his financial support to his native Dominican Republic and great interaction with fans, would resort to a corked bat to achieve his 60 home runs a year.

He's not perfect by any means and could have fibbed about the mistake, but it just doesn't seem in his nature.

So with tonight's game in Cincinnati, we'll see how Sosa and a cork-free bat work together in a game situation.

I hope we find that they've been business partners all along.

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