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Sosa's explanations don't add up

Posted: Thursday, June 05, 2003

Sammy Sosa said all the right things. It was a mistake. It was for the fans. It was an accident that will not happen again.

A lot of explanations and excuses. And about as hard to believe as many of those 500-foot monster shots he launches.

On Wednesday, X-rays showed that 76 of Sosa's bats confiscated a day earlier were clean. Which would mean he somehow hit a 1-in-77 chance of bad luck.

Hmmmm.

Sosa insists he was using a lighter, corked bat for batting practice. But that's corked logic, completely against baseball convention way back in Little League, hitters are taught to use a heavier bat to get ready for games.

Sosa swears he was trying to put on a show for the fans.

Well, tell that to the ballhawks on Waveland Avenue, waiting to scoop up souvenirs that come flying over the ivy-covered wall in left field. They say Sosa regularly takes BP before fans are let into Wrigley.

Sosa says he innocently took the wrong bat, that he couldn't tell the right one from the illegal model. But if you have red cough medicine and red hot sauce in the refrigerator, don't you label them differently?

Fact is, players do not use corked bats in BP. Not the way Sosa would have his fans think, anyway. Occasionally, guys will pass around a corked bat, but they'll always call attention to it, not hide it.

''I know my bats, I know every bat I have,'' Atlanta star Gary Sheffield said. ''I know what's marked, what's not marked.''

''Yeah, I was surprised. I thought he would want to accomplish the goals he wanted to accomplish the right and legal way,'' he said. ''I just have a feeling that it's going to ruin everything he's done, to be honest with you.''

This much is true: Beaned earlier this year and slowed by a bad toenail, Sosa's been in a power slump all season. He hasn't homered since May 1, and has connected only half as often as he did during a record-setting stretch over the last 10 years.

Would a slumping slugger turn to juiced wood, trying for a little extra pop? Maybe. Would a player happen to get caught the one and only time he tries to cheat? Hardly.

''You're always going to have doubts,'' New York Yankees star Derek Jeter said. ''People are always going to question. The seed has been planted. It's unfortunate, but that's how it goes.''

New York Mets bench coach Don Baylor, Sosa's former manager with the Cubs, agreed.

''There will be the naysayers. Everytime he hits a home run, people will wonder if it is corked,'' he said. ''In some people's mind there will be an asterisk.''

Plenty of people in baseball are rooting for Sosa.

There's his own team, the surprising NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs. Plus the crowds at Wrigley Field, hoping to see a World Series for the first time since 1945. And the marketing folks, ready to promote Slammin' Sammy when the All-Star game comes to Chicago this summer.

The Hall of Fame would like to see his words hold up, too. The shrine has five of Sosa's bats, including the one he presented in mid-April, more than a week after he hit his 500th home run. No word yet on whether those artifacts will be scrutinized.

Montreal Expos manager Frank Robinson, a Hall of Famer and baseball's former disciplinarian, sounded skeptical Wednesday when asked about Sosa.

''Why do you have to have a corked bat to put on a show? How about doing it the old-fashioned way, doing it without the cork,'' he said.

''The way he was hitting some of those balls in Milwaukee last year, he must've had it with him,'' he said.

At the All-Star home run derby last July in Miller Park, Sosa hit more than a mile's worth of shots 5,719 feet was the estimated distance in the first round.

Robinson said he once tried a corked bat in practice, didn't do well and threw it out. He admitted, however, that if he'd had a great round of BP, he probably would have tried it in a game.

Robinson said it never got to that point. And in recent years, people around baseball say, fewer and fewer corked bats have been floating around.

Sosa wants everyone to believe he made a little mistake, and that there's no reason to taint his accomplishments his 505 career home runs, three 60-plus homer seasons and a record four straight years with 50 or more.

Too bad for him, right now it all doesn't add up.

Ben Walker is the baseball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at bwalker@ap.org.



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