One Can Imagine Just How Uncorked Baseball Can Get

Does baseball take itself too seriously?

Until recently I didn't think so. I always figured major league baseball was a bunch of fun-loving guys getting together to play some ball, chew some tobacco and put on a show for the local kids.

The Candy Caper has changed my view.

Candy Maldonado plays for the Dodgers. He hit a home run last Sunday in Chicago, and Cub catcher Jody Davis confiscated the bat, claiming he saw a suspicious mark on the barrel.

The bat was shipped to the National League office for inspection, to see if it had been illegally doctored. Specifically, to see if cork had been inserted in the bat.

Wednesday, I attended a press conference where the findings were reported by National League President Chub Feeney. I happened to be the only reporter in attendance, so you'll have to take my word that the press conference went something like this:

Feeney: I am happy to report that no foreign substance has been detected in Mr. Maldonado's bat, as of this time. We did find traces of pine tar on the bat handle, but there is no evidence that it has spread to the no-pine-tar zone on the barrel.

The bat is in stable condition and is resting comfortably, but it is still being held for observation. We hope to be able to release the bat within two weeks, pending a clean bill of health. We have relayed our findings to Mr. Maldonado, as well as to the bat's nearest relative, an ash tree in Kentucky.

Me: Can you describe the suspicious markings that caused Jody Davis to believe the bat was corked?

Feeney: Yes. On the bat handle was a sticker saying: "In the event of flood or shipwreck, this bat may be used as an emergency flotation device. Capacity: 6 persons." We think this sticker may have been affixed to the bat as a prank.

Me: What was the nature of your testing? Did you bang the bat on your desk? Poke it with pins? Take it to the corner deli and have it sliced up like a salami?

Feeney: Baseball, my friend, is not in the Dark Ages. The testing was conducted in a professional and clinical manner. We all wore white smocks and carried clipboards. The actual testing was performed by Dr. Bernhardt Fungoe, noted batologist, the same man who is heading up the George Brett pine tar investigation.

Me: The Brett case? I thought that case was closed.

Feeney: No, the baseball commissioner has asked President Reagan to convene a special commission to investigate the theory that the Pine Tar Incident was part of a George Steinbrenner-CIA co-conspiracy to get Steinbrenner's name in headlines more often.

Me: But about the tests on Maldonado's bat, sir. Did you perform the same type testing as last season, when Al Oliver's bat was confiscated on the suspicion that it had been corked?

Feeney: No. What we did with Mr. Oliver's bat was saw it clean in half. We found no cork, and we shipped the bat back to Mr. Oliver. Subsequently, he has complained of having difficulty in hitting outside pitches. So we no longer saw bats in half.

On Maldonado's bat, Dr. Fungoe used a batscope. The results were negative, according to the pathology report, indicating no cork inside the bat. But sometimes the cork doesn't show up until a month or two later. So the bat is not yet out of the woods, so to speak.

Me: There is a report circulating that someone peeked in during the testing and saw you and Dr. Fungoe using the bat to hit paper wads out the window of your 34th-floor office.

Feeney: All part of the official testing, I assure you. I want to stress that this is a routine test. In fact, we recommend every hitter have his or her bat checked annually.

Me: What about reports that Maldonado is planning to sue the league on charges of illegal search and seizure, defamation of character and batnaping?

Feeney: Those reports are true, but Mr. Maldonado has offered to drop all charges if we agree to perform the standard cork tests on Jody Davis' head. We have indicated we would, because we want to resolve this case satisfactorily for all parties. Above all, we don't want to make a big deal out of this, or take it too seriously.

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