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Corked bat shatters Sosa's image

Published June 8, 2003

Whether or not you buy the story that Chicago Cbus slugger Sammy Sosa made a simple mistake by using a corked bat just this once, damage to Sosa's popular standing has been done. The question is how long will that damage last?

For some players, it only takes one misstep to overshadow a career. Roberto Alomar should be remembered as one of the better second basemen in history, yet he'll go down as the guy who spit on an umpire. Shoeless Joe Jackson has been synonymous with the 1919 Black Sox scandal though many believe he did nothing more than listen in on one secret meeting about the fix.

Now we have Sosa.

"I still think he's going to go into the Hall of Fame," the Giants' J.T. Snow said, "but it raises a question: Did he use them to hit all those home runs?"

It's a question that never will be answered. Not really anyway. Baseball can X-ray 1,000 bats, review old game film and even give Sosa a lie detector test. The fact is Sosa, inadvertently or not, cheated and there's no way he can verify his story. The question always will be there and the image of his shattered bat will never completely fade.

"I think the harshest thing for Sammy to overcome is that Sammy worries about his image a lot," Sosa's former teammate, Joe Girardi, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Some people don't care. A guy like Albert Belle didn't care what people thought. And that doesn't make someone a bad guy, that's just who they are. Sammy does care. He's really, really conscious about it. He always talks about "my people,' talking about his fans."

There are fewer of them today. And probably forever.

TWO QUESTIONS: How many players cork their bats? And does it really help? There is no definitive answer for either question.

"You see some of the balls hit these days and you wonder, "How the heck did they hit it that far?' " Reds shortstop Barry Larkin said.

Seattle's Edgar Martinez said he used a corked bat in batting practice while playing winter ball in Puerto Rico several years ago, and didn't notice a major difference.

"The bat felt lighter, but I didn't feel I was hitting the ball farther with a corked bat," he said. "Some people believe it can give you more distance. My personal opinion is I don't think it really does."

AT LEAST HE'S HONEST: Expos manager Frank Robinson, a Hall of Famer, also tried a corked bat once in batting practice years ago.

"It didn't help me," Robinson said. "The ball didn't go anywhere off my bat, so I threw it away.

What if it had helped? Would he have used it in a game?

"That's a good question," Robinson said. "Yeah, I probably would have tried it."

OLD CORK: Devil Rays first-base coach Billy Hatcher was busted for corking his bat in 1987. He claimed at the time that it wasn't his bat; that it belonged to a teammate and pitcher. Today, Jamie Moyer, who was pitching for the Cubs against Hatcher, believes Hatcher was telling the truth.

"The interesting thing is, which you'll never see on TV, is that the pitch before he tried to bunt it," Moyer said. "That tells me he really may not have known."

NICE PICK: The Giants used the 13th round of last week's draft to take St. Mary College catcher Nick Conte, who is the son of San Francisco head trainer Stan Conte. They didn't consult dad before the pick, according to player-personnel boss Dick Tidrow: "What's Stan going to say? "I don't like him and he's got a bad attitude at home? He doesn't pay for gas?' "

DRESS CODE: Players at this year's All-Star Game will wear their teams' hats, but they will wear American and National League jerseys instead of their regular uniforms. Baseball wants to see if fans will buy the All-Star jerseys. Some players hate the idea.

"It goes back to when you were a kid and you wanted to represent your team," Anaheim's Garret Anderson said. "If it just comes down to money, that's weak. I don't like it. We pride ourselves in being a traditional game. It's cool to see all the different uniforms."

YOUNG AT HEART: Rays No. 1 pick Delmon Young looks up to his brother, Dmitri, the eight-year major-league veteran. That has given Dmitri even more inspiration.

"I want the best for him, and the best way to do that is to be a great example on and off the baseball field," Dmitri said. "So that's the motivation for me. That's what I play for. I play for a World Series ring one day. At the same time, I want to get the Young bloodline in major-league baseball."

RISING STAR: How good is Montreal's Jose Vidro?

"He's is the best second baseman in the National League without question," Phillies manager Larry Bowa said.

Vidro, 28, came into the weekend hitting better than .330 and, over the past three years, has had his average dip below .300 for only 40 days. Of those 40 days, 17 were while he was on the disabled list and the others were during the first two weeks of the season when averages fly all over the place. In the past three years, Vidro never has gone more than three games without a hit.

PARTING SHOT: Former Rays outfielder Greg Vaughn sounds happy to be in Colorado. And more happy to be out of Tampa Bay, though he's playing only part time with the Rockies.

"Where I've been the last three years, this was just a great opportunity to come and be around a bunch of good guys like I was in Cincinnati, San Diego and Milwaukee," Vaughn said.

REPLACEMENT COACH: Wayne Rosenthal, hired recently as Marlins pitching coach, is believed to be the first former replacement player to be named to a major-league coaching position. Rosenthal pitched for the Mets during the strike in the spring of 1995. Rosenthal confirmed he crossed the picket line, but didn't want to discuss it with reporters.

"I'd like to keep it quiet," he told the Fort Lauderdale's Sun-Sentinel. "I knew it was going to come out sooner or later, but I don't want that spotlight on me."

SHORT HOPS: St. Louis' Edgar Renteria tied the club record for RBIs by a shortstop last season with 82. He's on pace for 119 this season. . . . The Dodgers are interested in Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell, who is making $3.7-million in the final season of his three-year contract, and can become a free agent next winter. . . . The Diamondbacks took pitcher Derik Nippert in the 36th round of the draft. Last year, they took his identical twin, Dustin, in the 15th round. . . . Arizona originally hoped co-ace Randy Johnson (right knee surgery) would be back this month, but it appears he might not be back until after the All-Star break.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

[Last modified June 8, 2003, 01:33:29]

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