|Friday, June 6
Updated: June 9, 5:31 PM ET
Sosa challenges suspension with immediate appeal
ESPN.com news services
CHICAGO -- Sammy Sosa was suspended for eight games by Major League Baseball Friday for using a corked bat, and he immediately appealed the decision.
The appeal had to be filed before Friday's game -- the first of a three-game series against the New York Yankees -- to make Sosa available to play.
"We support him in his appeal," Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. "We have no reason to believe it was anything 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."
Hendry said he doesn't know when Sosa's appeal will be heard. The commissioner's office will set the date.
The Cubs are off Monday before going to Baltimore for a three-game series.
Sosa's agent, Tom Reich, told ESPN.com's Jayson Stark that while the eight-game suspension was within range of previous suspensions for this offense, Sosa decided to appeal because they believe the penalty to be "on the high side" of that range. So they will try to get the suspension reduced by a game or two, which would bring it even with most of the other bat-tampering suspensions of the last 15 years.
"But this is not a hostile proceeding," Reich said. "We do believe some of the treatment of Sammy has been hostile -- not just by the media, but in the court of public opinion. But this is not going to be a hostile process. It's simply an opportunity for the union and Sammy to present a fair defense. And that's all we ask."
Reich said Sosa acknowledges that "a mistake was made, and a rule was broken," that there was "no question there was going to be a suspension" and that once a decision is made on the appeal, "everybody will abide by it."
Reich said he hadn't been told when the appeals hearing would be held. However, it seems unlikely it would occur during the Yankees' visit to Chicago this weekend -- and it might not be scheduled until sometime in the middle, or end, of next week.
It's likely that in Sosa's apeal, his agents and the union will attempt to contrast his behavior with the behavior of Albert Belle, who was suspended for only six days (but seven games) after having his bat confiscated in 1994. Belle's teammate, Jason Grimsley, has admitted crawling through the ceiling of Jacobs Field to the umpire's room and switching the corked bat with another bat.
Sosa's side will certainly be pointing out that at least Sosa immediately admitted he'd broken a rule and apologized, even though he contended he'd picked up the corked bat by mistake.
"We just want to make sure that everybody is on the same page with the evidence," Reich said, "and we want to make sure the evidence is viewed in context with previous (bat-tampering) incidents."
A piece of cork was found just above the handle in Sosa's bat Tuesday night when it shattered after he grounded out in the first inning of the Cubs' 3-2 victory. Sosa didn't deny the corked bat was his, but he said it was a batting practice bat he had grabbed by accident.
Hendry noted that Sosa "has been shattering bats his whole career" and no other corked bats had been found.
"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. But he's in a good frame of mind.
"I think he feels badly that he's going to be sitting out some games,"' Hendry added.
Sosa wasn't available for comment, and Cubs officials said he will only take game-related questions after Friday afternoon's game against the Yankees. But after having the controversy hanging over them the past two days, his teammates seemed relieved to finally have a resolution.
"He stood up and faced it, and gave his explanation," pitcher Kerry Wood said. "To me, it was an honest mistake. He stood up and admitted it, and hopefully we can move on."
Bob Watson, baseball's vice president in charge of discipline, met with Cubs manager Dusty Baker and Hendry at Wrigley Field on Thursday, then returned to New York. Watson did not talk to Sosa.
Asked what he thinks a fair punishment would be, Baker said he couldn't say.
"I don't know what a fair verdict is. We were hoping it wouldn't be this long in the first place," he said. "It's out of our hands. It's in the hands of the authorities."
Baker added that he hoped the whole thing died down quickly.
"It probably won't for a while, but I'm hoping that it does and we can get back to baseball," he said.
Other players who have used corked bats have been suspended for up to 10 games. The Cubs had hoped that Sosa's cooperation, as well as the fact that no cork was found in any of his 81 bats that were checked, would work in his favor.
The Hall of Fame said Thursday that X-rays or CT scans of its five Sosa bats showed no cork or anything else that would violate baseball rules. Baseball officials didn't find anything in 76 bats confiscated from Sosa's locker after he was ejected from Tuesday night's game, either.
"The sad part about the whole thing is that he had 70-some bats and it's like you still don't believe it. That's what's unfair," Baker said. "He was wrong with that one bat. It was a bad decision."
"If it was (Mark) McGwire, it would still be a big deal, but not like this," Martinez said. "We might be Latin and minorities, but we're not dumb. We see everything that happens."
But Hendry said he didn't see it that way -- and neither does Sosa.
"He made a mistake. He broke the rule. Accident or not, the rule was broken. He deserves some punishment," Hendry said. "We're just hopeful his cooperation, and his respect for the game in the past, and the records he set with certainly not corked bats will hold some credence."
Several other players have been caught or have admitted using a corked bat. But none has had the gaudy resumé of Sosa.
In a five-year stretch from 1998-02, Sosa hit 292 home runs. He's the only player to hit 60 or more homers in three seasons, hitting 66 in 1998, 63 in 1999 and 64 in 2001.
He's No. 17 on the career list with 505 homers. And at just 34, many believe he'll have a chance at Hank Aaron's record of 755 homers.
Sosa insists he's never done anything illegal.
"I feel very bad for having used that bat, but my conscience is clean," Sosa said Thursday. "I'm not a criminal nor someone who intended to deceive or take advantage of others."
Watson spent about two hours at Wrigley, meeting with Baker, Hendry, Cubs president Andy MacPhail and clubhouse manager Tom Hellmann, then went back to New York.
Baker said his meeting with Watson wasn't an interview so much as an explanation of what Watson was doing.
"I called him Judge Dread. He thought it was pretty funny," Baker said. "He just wanted to let me know that they're going to try to come up with a quick decision, a fair decision. Whatever happens after that it's up to Sammy and the organization, if we want to appeal it."
Not only is this weekend the teams' first meeting at Wrigley since the 1938 World Series, but Roger Clemens goes for his 300th career win Saturday against Wood, a fellow Texan. The games Saturday and Sunday will be broadcast nationally, with 90 percent of the country seeing the Clemens-Wood matchup on Fox.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.