March 28, 2008

Corked Bats

Stupid Question ™
June 26, 2003
By John Ruch
© 2003

Q: Where does a major-league baseball player get a corked bat?
—Columbus Expat

A: Apparently, they just borrow it from somebody else. That’s been the excuse of the few who have been caught, anyway.

Up until Sammy Sosa’s June 3 debacle, that is. The Chicago Cub said he knew his bat was corked, but he meant to use it only in batting practice.

Major League Baseball and the Chicago Cubs did not respond to my questions about who put the cork in Sosa’s bat. Tuff Bats Co., which made the bat, has said it’s innocent.

Corking a bat is not that tough. It probably takes practice, but not professional skill. After the Sosa incident, ESPN reran an old “Baseball Tonight” segment in which Buck Showalter (now the Texas Rangers’ manager) corked a bat expertly in about 15 minutes using a vice and a long-bit hand drill.

The basic method is to drill a straight hole into the top of the bat, about 1 inch wide and 10 inches deep. Then you cram in some cork (available in craft and office stores). Plug the hole with a piece of wooden dowel and sand it smooth. The theory, debunked by physicists, is that the cork adds spring and distance to the hit.

Since it doesn’t actually work, there’s no “wrong” way to do it (except if you weaken the bat so much it cracks like Sosa’s). It also doesn’t require a CIA level of secrecy. The league has no policy of regular bat inspection. A corked bat is illegal in baseball only if it’s used in play.

In his book “Nails,” then-Mets hitter Lenny Dykstra confessed to corking his own bat in the minor leagues. But the available evidence shows that most cheaters seek expert help.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported on June 5 that Joe Macko, former Rangers equipment manager, said he corked bats for several players during his years on the team. (Only for batting practice, of course.)

Philadelphia Daily News columnist Bill Conlin reported in 1994 that former Phillies conditioning trainer Gus Hoefling corked bats for several players in the 1970s, according to player Larry Bowa.

“I know nothing about bats,” Hoefling told me.

The Chicago Sun-Times on June 5 reported that the Hoosier Bat Co., which makes bats for Sosa and others, is frequently asked by players to cork bats in a half-joking manner. Owner Dave Cook told the Indianapolis Star that Sosa’s corking was a “lousy job” and explained in detail how to do it right. But the company said it always refuses corking requests.

There are longstanding rumors of a professional bat-corking crew operating in Cleveland. New York Newsday reported on June 15 the latest version: a father-son team that doctors bats for players around the league.

The rumors date to 1994, when Albert Belle of the Cleveland Indians was caught with a corker. Teammates have since said all of Belle’s bats at that game were corked.

That level of corking, if true, suggests that either Belle had professional help, or he should be named host of “The New Yankee Workshop.”

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