Illegal Bats. The sharp "pinging" sound a metal bat makes when it comes in contact with a ball is a dead giveaway, so it simply isn’t possible to get away with using a metal bat in the majors. But a number of other illegal bats do get put into play.
The flattened bat is one variety. Bobby Bonds recalled, "When I was a rookie, I spent four hours flattening one side of the bat where I made contact . . . In my first at-bat it broke. I never doctored a bat again. But a lot of guys use cork and other things."
To doctor a bat with cork requires only a little woodworking skill. The end of a regulation bat is sawed off, and a hole roughly 6 to 10 inches long and about an inch in diameter is drilled and packed with cork. The end is glued back on and, presto, The Natural's magic bat comes to life. (Wonderboy, the bat Roy Hobbs used in the Malamud novel, wasn’t corked, but it was made from a tree split by lightning.)
Some say that corking adds as much as fifty feet to a long ball and gives a grounder added zip to carry it through the infield. It isn’t the cork that adds the oomph, by the way. It’s probably more a matter of bat speed. The cork (or rubber or whatever is used) merely deadens the sound the bat makes on contact, since a hollowed out bat will make more of a boom! than a crack!
Just ask Albert Belle about corked bats. He knows more than most of us, and the confiscation of one of his corked bats resulted in one of the more intriguing now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t events of recent baseball history.
On Friday evening, July 5, 1994, the White Sox and Indians were playing at the new Comiskey Park. A rumor was making the rounds that Belle’s bat had been corked. Pale Hose manager Gene Lamont strode to home plate and challenged the bat’s legality. Umpire crew chief Dave Phillips promptly confiscated the bat and locked it in his dressing room for later inspection.
Along with other members of the Indians, Jason Grimsley knew that Belle’s bat was illegal and, worse yet, that an illegal bat meant an almost certain suspension for Belle, the team’s best hitter. The White Sox and Indians were in a tight playoff race and Grimsley recognized that they needed any edge they could get. He took matters into his own hands.
While the game was going on, Grimsley headed back to the dressing area, removed a ceiling tile in his manager’s office, and clambered on top of an eighteen-inch wide cinder block wall. Guided by a flashlight and with a legal bat in tow, he made his way in secret to the umpires’ locker room, where he switched the bats.
Grimsley’s escapade quickly became no more than a footnote to history. The umpires knew immediately upon examining the bat in their locker room that it had been switched. It bore the name of Belle’s teammate Paul Sorrento. (Every one of Belle’s bats was corked, so Grimsley had been hard pressed to find a legitimate one, choosing Sorrento’s by default.) The enraged umpires made various threats and there was even talk of calling in the FBI. On Sunday, after immunity had been promised for the culprit who’d purloined the corked bat, the Indians handed it over. An X-ray subsequently showed it had indeed been "treated with cork." Just to be sure, the bat was sawed in half, revealing that a hole had been drilled in its end, a cork plug inserted, and the end plugged, sanded, and stained. Grimsley’s role remained unacknowledged until April of 1999, when he came clean. The New York Times ran the story on page one.
It isn’t only cork that makes its way into the barrel of illegal bats. There’s a story of a minor leaguer who managed to insert a tube of mercury inside his bat, believing that its shifting weight provided him a power boost. (See Chapter 6 for more on illegal bats.)
Rule 1.10 rules out some other bats, too. Laminated bats or other "experimental" bats are forbidden, except when the manufacturer has received official Rules Committee approval. On the other hand, cupped bats are acceptable. (A cupped bat has a curved indentation at its end up to an inch deep.) Also called a "teacup" bat, it bas been used by, among others, Keith Hernandez. When George Foster was mired in one of the slumps that characterized his career with the Mets, he borrowed a teacup bat from Hernandez and got four hits in a game.
Toby Harrah had his bat confiscated in 1982–he’d sawed off the handle and then refastened it with glue and a wooden peg. However, American League president Lee MacPhail declined to take further action against Harrah, apparently believing Harrah’s explanation that he hadn’t doctored his bat to produce more power; he had simply shortened it because a new shipment of size thirty-fours hadn’t arrived.
The Book also explicitly prohibits "loaded" or "freak" bats that will produce "a substantially greater reaction or distance factor than one-piece solid bats."
From Spitters, Beanballs and the Incredible Shrinking Strike Zone by Glen Waggoner, Kathleen Moloney, and Hugh Howard.
Copyright © 1987, 1990, and 2000 by Glen Waggoner, Kathleen Moloney, and Hugh Howard. Reprinted with permission.