Sports

Sammy Sosa's corked bat barrel found, up for auction

Human InterestAuction ServiceSportsBaseballChicago CubsSammy Sosa

Mystery solved.

The barrel of Sammy Sosa's infamous corked bat, lost in the confusion seven years ago at Wrigley Field, has surfaced. An online auction house is selling the missing chunk on behalf of the man who found and hid it the night of June 3, 2003 — former Cub Mike Remlinger.

Remlinger was the eventual winning pitcher that night in a 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a game in which Sosa's bat broke in two on a first-inning grounder to second base, exposing cork, and to some extent, exposing Sosa.

Umpires ejected Sosa and confiscated the handle, which baseball officials took the next inning to have examined, along with Sosa's other bats. Tim McClelland, chief of that night's umpiring crew, said at the time that a batboy retrieved the barrel from the infield and may have taken it into the dugout or perhaps thrown it into the stands.

Remlinger, a reliever not yet in the game, remembers coming from the bullpen into the clubhouse during the search of Sosa's equipment. In the corridor between the dugout and clubhouse and under a bag of catcher's gear, Remlinger says, was the "missing" bat barrel.

"I thought 'there's no reason to leave this laying around,' so I took it and planned to get rid of it," Remlinger says. "He was already in enough trouble.

"A handful of guys on the team knew I had it. I wasn't trying to hide the fact that I had it. Nobody from the league or anything like that ever came looking for it. To me it was no big deal."

Remlinger's find remained in the clubhouse the rest of the year, he says — through a division championship and the unforgettable playoff collapse to the Florida Marlins.

"I stuck it in the case up above my locker," says Remlinger, who pitched for the Cubs from 2003 to 2005 and retired the following year. "The bat stayed in my fishing rod case, and I ended up taking it home with me at the end of the season."

Cork in a wood bat helps players hit the ball farther, some believe, and is against baseball rules. Sosa said he used the corked bat to put on a show during batting practice and grabbed it by mistake when heading to the plate during the game, an explanation made plausible when no other corked bats were found.

"To me, the whole story that came out sounded pretty feasible," says Remlinger, who pitched a scoreless ninth inning that night to pick up the win. "He enjoyed the limelight. For him to have a bat that he used in BP, with or without cork, his BP was pretty impressive anyway. I was just shocked that he had a corked bat. I had no idea."

Sosa was suspended eight games, later reduced to seven on appeal. But the damage was much longer lasting. Sosa's smaller size and decreased production drove speculation that steroids may have fueled his unprecedented power surge of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

No longer the slugger he once was and his character now in question, Sosa's run with the Cubs continued to spiral, eventually ending with him walking out on the team the last day of the 2004 season and his trade to Baltimore the following spring. He's been out of baseball since the end of the 2007 season.

Ray Schulte, the auctioneer selling the bat on consignment at schulteauctions.com, says those circumstances only add to the barrel's historic and unique value.

"To this day, there's been no other corked (Sosa) bats found out there," Schulte says. "So the question remains, was this really a mistake by Sammy, or was the home run era getting a little help?"

Schulte says the bat barrel, in which cork is visible, was authenticated by Remlinger and PSA/DNA Authentication Services, and could bring in excess of $10,000. Bidding was up to nearly $4,000 early Monday and ends Oct. 31. The handle's whereabouts are unclear.

Remlinger now works in the emerging field of life coaching, advising young athletes on improving their performance and charting a life outside of sports — a path he says he chose after making some bad decisions in his own life.

"I did try contacting Sammy about it last year to see if he wanted it back," says Remlinger, adding that this is the only item from his playing days that he's selling. "His personal assistant said Sammy was interested in getting it back, and he'd get in touch with me, but I never heard from him.

"Hopefully this won't be something that the people with the Cubs will see as a negative, and (say that) I shouldn't have done what I'm doing. To me, this is an item for the public and has more service to be out there than to be sitting in my closet."

rmanker@tribune.com

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