|Wednesday, June 4
Updated: June 5, 5:52 PM ET
The end of Baseball's Renaissance
By Ray Ratto
Special to ESPN.com
Nobody thinks Sammy Sosa is telling the truth when he said he mistakenly used his corked batting-practice bat during Tuesday night's game.
Sosa has become a figure of national fun over his decision, wittingly or otherwise, to doctor and nurse his bat in a game against the Tampa Bay (You're Cheating Against Us?) Devil Rays. That alone is worth being ripped by Major League Baseball with a 10-day suspension.
But hey, stuff happens. We didn't get all this geeked up when Wilton Guerrero got caught.
Then again, Wilton Guerrero never claimed that he was using his BP bat, which brings us back to our original point, namely: The Home Run Derby, for God's sake?
I mean, we have little enough to believe in about the All-Star extravaganza as it is after last year's mutual surrender. The ratings have been down for years, interest had waned for years before that, and the only real contest anyone cares about is which city is getting the next available All-Star Game.
And now, with Chris Berman as background noise, we learn that the Home Run Contest is now riddled with scandal, leading to yet another question: When did the USOC get involved with baseball?
Don't you think we've had enough moral ambiguity in our lives lately without having to worry whether Greg Vaughn was on the up-and-up three years ago?
Sosa has brought into question every All-Star practice home run ever hit. Jason Giambi ... Mark McGwire ... Ken Griffey ... Duane Kuiper ... all the great All-Star homermeisters are now looked upon with suspicion and distrust because Sosa admits to using a bat enhanced with wood growth hormone.
And batting practice, too? The last thing in baseball that didn't have a component of dishonesty, save perhaps the pitchers' BP contests? How can we believe in all those batting practice souvenirs that land 30 rows deep in the bleachers? How can we have faith that those balls that have caused a million felonious pigpiles and at least one live-on-cable-TV ball auction were delivered by properly constructed implements?
The cruel fact is, we can't. Sammy Sosa has ruined two great staples of the game -- batting practice, at least for those fans who get to the game early enough to watch it, and the home run competition, for the people who have gotten home from work in time to watch it.
What next, the bunt? Pitchers' fielding practice? The intentional walk? How much institutional distrust must we endure?
That is the real crime here, and the real reason Sosa should be suspended. Why, for using a corked bat against the Devil Rays, he actually elevated the Devil Rays in America's eyes ("Hey, if Sosa cheated against them, they must be better than we thought"). That should be rewarded.
But players don't get their alternative stories straight with the same facility they used to. Jeff Kent stayed with a stupid lie last year in explaining his broken wrist rather than tell the stupid truth, and that's just the most recent example of a bad cover story gone wrong.
But we don't want to question the veracity of Sosa's cover story -- just the damage his cover will do during this, Baseball's Renaissance (patent pending, Allen Selig, Prop.).
The only way to save the Home Run Derby from scandal (betting coups, distance shaving, etc.) is to X-ray every bat. Either that, or give the contestants bats at random and make them use what they're given. They can pick any material they want -- ash, maple, teak, mahogany, stucco -- but the bats stay in Sandy Alderson's custody until the contestant steps into the on-deck circle.
Either that, or we run the risk of another Arnold Rothstein in our midst. We've already lost trust in the stock market, the banking industry, The New York Times, and even NBA officials -- and if you can't trust Martha Stewart, Kenneth Lay, Jayson Blair or Ron Garretson, who can you trust?
Frankly, Wilton Guerrero looks better every day.
Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com