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Sosa Fights Eight-Game Suspension

June 07, 2003|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

Sammy Sosa has played most of his career amid the fine vine of Wrigley Field, but not until Friday was he charged a corkage fee.

The Chicago Cub outfielder was suspended for eight games by Major League Baseball for using a corked bat, and he immediately appealed, allowing him to play in a 5-3 loss to the New York Yankees.

Sosa addressed the suspension only in general terms after the game, saying he has struggled since coming off the disabled list a week ago.

"I have to be happy with myself that I know how to deal with everything," he said. "I'm a tough man. I've got a strong mind and nobody can touch that."

After several days of intense media scrutiny and a wide range of reactions throughout baseball, the Sosa situation took a back seat to a historic game. Fans reportedly paid brokers more than $1,000 for box seats because it was the Yankees' first appearance at Wrigley since the 1938 World Series.

The three-game series continues today with Yankee right-hander Roger Clemens seeking his 300th victory. Sosa, who went one for four and made a diving catch Friday, again will play.

The appeal should be heard within a week. Sosa, who said he inadvertently used a cork-filled batting practice bat, does not expect the suspension to be overturned but is hopeful it might be reduced.

A piece of cork was found just above the handle in Sosa's bat Tuesday when it shattered after he grounded out in the first inning of the Cubs' 3-2 victory over Tampa Bay. Sosa said it was a batting practice bat that he grabbed by accident.

Bob Watson, baseball's vice president in charge of discipline, met with Cub General Manager Jim Hendry, President Andy MacPhail, Manager Dusty Baker and clubhouse manager Tom Hellmann on Thursday, but did not talk to Sosa.

Sosa said he was not angry that Watson did not contact him. Baker, however, went to bat for his slugger, who has 505 career home runs.

"He is being treated like a criminal," Baker told reporters in Chicago. "The act was a crime as far as baseball is concerned, but I wish they would treat it as a misdemeanor instead of a felony. He was wrong with the one bat, a bad decision.

"It wouldn't be such big news if it wasn't Sammy. Sammy is a mega-player. I haven't seen this many cameras since the World Series. There were more people surrounding the clubhouse than the Unabomber's house."

Others, including the manager in the visitors' dugout, did not share Baker's view.

"My feeling is whether he's completely cleared or not, the jokes will continue," Yankee Manager Joe Torre said. "Every time he hits one a long way, everybody will scratch their heads. I think that's bad with what he's done in this game."

The suspension is in line with the punishment handed down to other players who have used corked bats. In his appeal, Sosa is expected to point out that no cork was found in any of his 81 bats that were checked in recent days.

Still, skepticism persists. So does ridicule. The triple-A Omaha Royals gave away corked mini-bats to the first 1,000 fans Friday night. And Arizona Diamondback first baseman Mark Grace, a longtime Cub teammate of Sosa, taped a long cork to a bat after batting practice Wednesday in Phoenix.

"Hey guys, this is my bat," Grace said jokingly. "I didn't know it was corked, I didn't know it was corked."

Sosa and Grace did not get along well when they were teammates, and Sosa did not appreciate the attempt at humor. "You have to understand that good people don't do that," Sosa told the Chicago Sun-Times.

In Boston, Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez intimated that racial bias is the reason his Dominican countryman is being criticized.

"If it was [Mark] McGwire, it would still be a big deal, but not like this," he said. "We might be Latin and minorities, but we're not dumb. We see everything that happens."

Associated Press and Tribune Newspapers contributed to this report. The Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Times are both owned by the Tribune Company.

*

Hollow Truth

A look at the players suspended and length of time served for corked bats:

2003 -- Sammy Sosa, Chicago Cubs, 8 games

1997 -- Wilton Guerrero, Dodgers, 8 games

1996 -- Chris Sabo, Cincinnati, 7 games

1994 -- Albert Belle, Cleveland, 10 games

1987 -- Billy Hatcher, Houston, 10 games

1974 -- Graig Nettles*, N.Y. Yankees, no suspension

* Nettles, after hitting a broken-bat single against Detroit, was caught having superballs in his bat. He said the bat was given to him by a Yankee fan in Chicago and he picked it up by mistake.

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