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Swing at a Bigger Problem

June 06, 2003

Corking bats, scuffing balls, stealing signs and watering down the infield are tried-and-true tricks of baseball. So on one level, Sammy Sosa's infamous shattering of a cork-filled bat Tuesday night could be chalked up as but another sad episode of the national pastime.

At its best, baseball inspires, as it did in 1998 when good-natured Sosa gave chase as St. Louis Cardinal Mark McGuire slugged his way into the record books and iron man Cal Ripken Jr. finally sat down. But bloated salaries, strikes, lockouts and the constant threat of franchises moving to greener fields are stark reminders that professional baseball is a very big business masquerading as a boy's game.

So who was really shocked when Sosa, who has earned as much as $10 million a year in endorsements, reached for a bat that -- for practice's sake or otherwise -- gave him every little possible edge? Physicists question just what cork will do for a ballplayer. In any event, it's hardly the substance that poses the gravest threat to the sport.

Yankee pitcher David Wells' recent controversial book details rampant steroid and amphetamine use among major league players. And medical examiners in March concluded "with a reasonable degree of medical certainty" that Baltimore Oriole pitcher Steve Bechler's death was linked to an over-the-counter supplement. As Hall of Fame outfielder Frank Robinson told The Times' Ross Newhan, "It's like now players have gone to [corking] the body instead of bats."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday June 10, 2003 Home Edition California Part B Page 14 Editorial Pages Desk 0 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Sammy Sosa -- A June 6 editorial on Sosa's corked bat misspelled the name of former baseball player Mark McGwire as McGuire.

Baseball forever will be watching out for things like corked bats, but the sport's caretakers should worry more about the win-at-all-costs message delivered to scholastic and collegiate athletes by pro sluggers whose chiseled physiques and impressive stamina come from a bottle rather than the weight room. The sport could do more to restore its increasingly tarnished image by immediately banning the supplement ephedra -- already illegal for athletes competing in the Olympics, the National Football League and the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. -- and by doing even more to crack down on steroid abuse.

A veteran like Sosa knows better than to tee off on a ball outside the zone. The X-rays of Sosa's bats and the investigation into the apologetic slugger will fuel endless radio talk-show chatter. But if baseball wants to swing away, why not take aim at something that's killing the sport?

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