'03 Sosa episode was real corker
Some believe lots of Cubs bats were suspect that year
Monday night's Home Run Derby in San Francisco brought out some of the game's biggest boppers.
The high-stakes, made-for-TV All-Star event also conjured up tales of corked bats.
Former Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa, who won the competition in 2000 at Turner Field in Atlanta, was caught with cork in his bat on June 3, 2003, in the first inning of a game against Tampa Bay. He was ejected and subsequently suspended for eight games.
Sosa, who claimed he mistakenly picked up the corked bat he used to put on a show for fans during batting practice, appealed and had the suspension reduced to seven games.
Watching Sosa's bat explode from the visitors' dugout were then Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella and Tampa Bay hitting coach Lee Elia.
"The only thing I can remember about that corked bat situation was that Toby Hall, our catcher, came back to our bench and one of the other players said: 'What's going on?' " Elia said Monday.
"Hall said, 'We jammed Sammy, and all of these things came out of his bat. I didn't know what to do. All I could do was point down at the ground and the rest was taken over by the umpire.' "
Elia, a former Cubs manager and now a scout for Tampa Bay, has spent 48 years in major-league baseball. He says he is not sure if any of the Cubs' bats were corked.
"I am probably kind of naïve to that kind of stuff. I never really stuck my nose into anybody's affairs," he said. "Even in all of my years as a hitting coach, there were times when I might have thought a player was using a different model bat, but I never got into a conversation about a guy using a bat that might be corked or loaded in some way."
Sosa did not win the Home Run Derby in 2002 at Miller Park in Milwaukee. But he put on quite a show before confessed steroid abuser Jason Giambi walked home with the first-place money.
Sosa blasted seven home runs that went 500 feet or more, nine that went 490 or more and 10 that went at least 480 feet.
Several sources close to the Cubs have told me Sosa was not the only Cubs player who used a corked bat, at least in 2003. On the night Sosa's bat exploded for all to see, officials from Major League Baseball notified the Cubs organization during the game that they had one hour to get rid of any other corked bats of Sosa's in the team's clubhouse before they came down to inspect his arsenal of bats. More than 70 marked corked bats then were extricated quickly by Cubs personnel from the clubhouse, about a third of them belonging to other players.
"Yeah, I heard that story, but I never saw [the corked bats]," said Tom Goodwin, who was with the Cubs in 2003. "If they got them out, then they got them out awfully fast. But I would be almost certain that there would be more than just one. Maybe a couple of boxes of [corked] bats, something like that."
Goodwin, now the manager of the Lewisville (Texas) Lizards of the independent Continental Baseball League, said he never used a corked bat in a game, as his 24 career homers in 14 seasons might attest.
"I had enough problems hitting the ball on the nose anyway," said Goodwin, a .268 career hitter.
But Goodwin does not discount the likelihood other Cubs players may have used doctored bats.
"You never know what is going through a guy's mind," he said. "Maybe he doesn't feel comfortable with his swing at the time. Maybe the corked bat brings him confidence.
"For Sammy to do that, I don't think he would do that on purpose, because why would he have to? With the strength and power that he had ..."