Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa has been suspended for eight games by Major League Baseball for using a corked bat, but he still may play in the three-game series against the Orioles at Camden Yards next week.
The suspension announced yesterday is in line with those imposed on major league players who have committed similar offenses in the past. Sosa does not deny that the illegal bat was his, but he immediately appealed the disciplinary action in the hope of persuading baseball officials to reduce the penalty.
Players have the right under baseball's labor agreement to appeal any large fine or suspension, which could delay imposition of the disciplinary action for up to several weeks.
Sosa is eligible to play this weekend in the highly anticipated interleague series between the Cubs and New York Yankees at Wrigley Field. He'll almost certainly be in the lineup today when Yankees ace Roger Clemens goes for his 300th career victory and may still be eligible to appear in the series at Oriole Park that opens Tuesday.
Sosa went 1-for-4 with two strikeouts yesterday and made a diving catch in the sixth inning. He still hasn't homered since May 1, a stretch that included a trip to the disabled list when he missed 17 games. He's 5-for-28 since returning from the DL.
He brought the crowd to its feet in the sixth with a long drive to right that the Yankees' Raul Mondesi caught in front of the ivy on the warning track.
After the game, Sosa wouldn't directly address the suspension but said he's handling the difficult times.
"I have to be happy with myself that I know how to deal with everything. I'm a tough man," Sosa said. "I've got a strong mind, and nobody can touch that."
It is possible that major league officials will schedule the appeal hearing for Monday, but the process generally does not move that quickly.
"We support him in his appeal," Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said yesterday. "We have no reason to believe it was more than a one-time incident as he described it. We will support him and his rights that he exercises to appeal, and hopefully have his suspension reduced."
Former Oriole Albert Belle was hit with a 10-game suspension after he was caught with a corked bat while he was a member of the Cleveland Indians in 1994. He appealed and got the sentence reduced to seven games. Several other players -- most recently Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Wilton Guerrero in 1997 -- have been caught with altered bats and suspended, generally for seven to 10 games.
Sosa admitted to knowingly having a corked bat in his possession but said it was a batting practice bat he only used to put on home run displays for fans during pre-game workouts. He claimed that he took it to the plate in Tuesday night's game by mistake.
Major league security personnel confiscated all the other bats known to be in Sosa's possession after Tuesday's game and X-rayed them but found no others that had been altered. The National Baseball Hall of Fame X-rayed five bats Sosa used to hit historic home runs and also found nothing suspicious.
Disciplinary action normally is determined by baseball's vice president of on-field operations Bob Watson, but it seems likely that the decision to suspend Sosa for eight games was made in consultation with baseball commissioner Bud Selig, Major League Baseball president Robert DuPuy and executive vice president Sandy Alderson. The appeal probably would be heard by DuPuy.
Sosa is not expected to argue his innocence but rather throw himself on the mercy of the court.
"As he stated all week, he understood he made a mistake," Hendry said. "He knew there was going to be a suspension, and I think he feels it's worth the appeal to try to have it reduced."
It certainly was worth the appeal to the Cubs' organization. The series this weekend against the Yankees ranks as one of the most compelling events in the history of Wrigley Field.
The Sosa controversy only adds to the drama as the Cubs fight to hold onto first place in the National League Central and Clemens tries for the third time to register victory No. 300.
This also is the first time that the Cubs and Yankees have met in a meaningful series since 1938, when the Yankees swept the Cubs in the World Series.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Suspensions given to major league players caught using corked bats:
1997: Wilton Guerrero, Los Angeles, eight games
1996: Chris Sabo, Cincinnati, seven games
1994: Albert Belle, Cleveland, 10 games
1987: Billy Hatcher, Houston, 10 games
1974: Graig Nettles, New York Yankees, no suspension