So the short story: First inning of the Cub’s game on June 2nd and Sosa breaks his bat. No big deal, this happens all the time. Wood breaks. The catch? Sosa’s bat had cork in it.
Now many people wonder what’s the big deal? Well, cork is naturally lighter than wood. The lighter a bat, the less effort it takes to swing it, and the faster it moves. The faster a bat moves, the easier it is to hit a ball hard, since your effort goes into the hitting rather than the moving. The easier to hit, the more home runs. Batters have to make their decision to swing in about .04 seconds, so a faster bat means they can think longer. Heavy bats mean hard work and a later swing, so naturally batters try and quicken their bats.
Players have tried to add a little more spring to their swing by filling their bats with fresh cork, and sealing them up cleanly in hopes that no one would notice. The use of cork is because cork is naturally soft and spongy when fresh and well cared for (it can crumble, so you have to pick the right cork that will stay fresher longer). Baseball bats, being solid wood, are very hard, and the theory goes that a ball will rebound more off something springy that something solid.
You’ll notice I didn’t mention spring in that first paragraph, and here’s why. The springy theory? Is a misconception. Physics states that a stiff bat can transfer energy best. The solid wood won’t absorb as much energy as the cork will and will rebound faster. Therefore when you hollow out your bat, the bat is less stiff and can’t transfer the energy fast at all. Basically? Balls hit with corked bats don’t go as far.
There is, of course, that other factor. A lighter bat is easier to swing. That said, physics shows that you can get a near exact lightness of your bat by choking up an inch or so, or cutting about .2 inches off the diameter of the bat. The thinner bat is easier to break, yes, and less inclined to hit a pop-up, but for a hitter, that’s the way to be!
If you know baseball, you know that a shorter bat will hurt your chances to hitting the outside pitches (ones on the far end of the plate). So maybe you don’t want to choke up. That’s okay, there’s a legal way to lighten your bat. Just hollow out the end of the wooden bat. Some bats look like they’ve been carved out with a giant ice-cream scoop, and this has been going on since the dawn of time. The hollowing is more effective, too, since the bat makers will remove more material than you would in corking.
Now don’t forget, the less wood in a bat, the easier it is to break. So with a corked bat, you’re more likely to break it and get caught.
Still, let’s assume that Sosa did this for a lighter bat, to hit more home runs.
And how many homers has Sosa hit in the last 5 years? 292.
I remember in 1994, Albert Belle (then of the Cleveland Indians) was suspected as to having a corked bat, and the Ump confiscated the bat to examine later. The Indians actually knew the bat was corked, and tried to hide this fact. After the bat was confiscated, they had their smallest pitcher wriggle through a crawl space above the umpires’ locker room, drop through an escape hatch, and replace the corked model with a conventional one. But the caper was easily found out–the bat they had put in the Ump’s locker had Paul Sorrento’s name on it. Belle was suspended for seven games.
Sammy Sosa’s case it a little different. There was no attempt made to cover this up. The Cubs manager (Dusty Baker) claims to have not known, and by the way he looked on TV, I’m fairly sure he didn’t. Also, Sammy claimed right away that he only used the bat for batting practice. Finally, unlike there just being a suspicion, the damn bat shattered and spilled cork on the field. That’s hard to mistake.
Then again, the MLB (who will judge this case) only have the handle to base this on. The Tampa Bay catcher gave the First Base Umpire the bat, and there was a piece of cork around the size of a half-dollar stuck halfway down the barrel head. The Umps all checked it out, felt that it was notched in there, and that it was cork, and thus had to eject him. But the barrel head that went flying away from home plate is missing. The batboy took it back to the dugout before the handle was judged to be corked and it mysteriously disappeared.
That was a long way to get back to this: I think Sosa not only knew his bat was corked, but willfully was trying to play with a lighter bat. If he’s really trying to hit more home runs, then he really ought to use a heavier bat in practice so that the regular one feels light and swings faster.
Ah well. Yet another icon tarnished.