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Interview with Mark Gaingreco

Aired June 4, 2003 - 19:39   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: In other news, Major League Baseball has been looking for ways to get fans' attention, but this is not what they had in mind. Home run hitter, Sammy Sosa, one of the most popular players, no doubt about it, well is under a cloud today, a corked cloud, if you will. He was thrown out of the game yesterday Cubs/Devil Rays game after his bat broke and cork was found inside. That is a no no, of course, and Sammy apologized. Now after confiscating his other bats, baseball officials are saying they're cork free. Gary Tuchman, is in Chicago, where Cub fans are breathing a bit easier tonight.

Sammy Sosa electrified the baseball world, along with Mark McGuire a few years ago, 1998. And the both decimated Roger Maris' single season home run record. Sammy Sosa hit 66 homers that year, in 1999 he hit 63 homers, in 2001 he hit 64 homers, no one hit more than 60 homers three seasons in a baseball career.

Sammy Sosa has had some incredible season, but was it all done legitimately?

That's what many of the Cubs fans here going to watch the game that starts in about 20 minutes and fans thinking about right now what happened here last night.


TUCHMAN (voice-over): If your baseball team hadn't won a World Series in 95 years, you'd crave a hero, too. That's why so many Chicago cub fans idolize slamming Sammy Sosa. But on Tuesday night with the Cubs tantalizing their fans by being in first place, Sosa hit what could be a fateful ground ball and with his broken bat, he broke some hearts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's a bad dream I can't wake up from.

TUCHMAN: Inside Sosa's bat, cork, something highly illegal in American's national pastime. Something to make it easier to hit home runs. His 76 other bats at Wrigley Field were taken away by Major League Baseball for inspection. Sosa says none of them have cork, and adds the one he broke was a batting practice bat he used accidentally. SAMMY SOSA, MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYER: I want to say, a mistake like that you have go to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and be there for it. I know that I love the fans and they've been great to me and it was a mistake and I take the blame for it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Big Cub fan, very disappointed that moronic move.

TUCHMAN: He certainly lost the trust of many of the fans, Chicago the Scores Sports Radio Station.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, guys, I'm a baseball fan and I think this is a big black eye for baseball.

TUCHMAN: The headlines in the Chicago newspapers were tough, and so were some of those newspaper columnists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Basically his whole home running hitting career is in doubt because people will wonder if he used an illegal bat to hit 500 home runs.

TUCHMAN: We asked a carpenter to drill a hole in the bat to show how cork would go inside. The hole at least one inch in diameter and six inches deep is drilled. The hole lightens the meat of the bat so the bat's speed is increased. The cork disguises the hollow sound that would result if nothing was put in there. Sosa is the only player to ever hit more than 60 homers in three seasons. And his personality is exuberant, which leads some Cub fans to say give him a break.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He made an honest mistake. I think the whole of Chicago should rally behind him, and just like cheer him well. You know, he's such a nice guy.

TUCHMAN: Ultimately Major League Baseball's investigation will continue to show how many fans continue to go to bat for slammin' Sammy.


TUCHMAN: I have another bat and this bat was the bat that we saw in that story that we carved out. Here's a piece of cork. Usually the cork is a little smaller. It would go on the top of the bat and be recovered up. But this is the same exact weight. I swing it, feels much lighter. You do get more bat speed. Now there are some who argue it doesn't matter how much bat speed you have. If Babe Ruth, for example, had 47 ounce bat, he hit 714 homers career. That's about a pound more than a lot of the players have today.

So it's arguably what bat speed does, but certainly a lot of players think bat speed is very important. We want to tell you, x- rays of all Sammy Sosa bats negative, that's very important. Tomorrow at the very earliest Major League Baseball will announce a decision for a punishment for Sammy Sosa. Sosa, will play tonight against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He'd like to play tomorrow against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but he could find out tomorrow that he is suspended anywhere from seven to 10 games, that's the likely scenario. He could appeal the suspension, but that will have to wait to see.

One final thing I want to tell you, I just asked Sammy Sosa a short time ago, how many times he's used the cork bat during batting practice, and he said three or four times.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: All right, Gary Tuchman, thanks very much. Not a bad swing there yourself. Thanks a lot.

Baseball has had its share of scandals over the last few years, big and small. So what is the damage here to Sosa and baseball and to what fans think about both?

For answers we turn to WLS TV sports director, Mark Giangreco. He's been covering Chicago sports for more than 20 years.

Mark, thanks for being with us.

How bad is the damage, do you think?

MARK GAINGRECO, WLS SPORTS DIRECTOR: Well, Anderson, first of all, I want to say, I am going to admit up front, I corked my microphone for a little more volume.

COOPER: OK. Good to know, I appreciate that.

GAINGRECO: But, you know, there's a lot of damage, initially. And I think his credibility is damaged, but he has so much charisma, I think fans will forgive him here. He's not only a superstar in Chicago and across America, he is a treasure in the Dominican Republic. I'm sure all of his fans will forgive him down there. This guy knows how to play the media. He knows the sound byte the reporters want. He knows how to entertain fans. He runs out to right field, salutes the crowd and everything else. He's a pure entertainer, people love this guy. Now, media members are jaded cynical reporters, and those very close to baseball and follow the Cubs know that Sammy is not perfect, nobody is. Dusty Baker, said today, hey we are only human look at Martha Stewart. And I am sure Martha has found several ways to use cork.

COOPER: Let me play the sound byte from what Sammy said last night after the game. Lets roll the tape.


SOSA: What happened today, it was not something, I meant to happen. I just took the wrong bat went up there, and you know, it happened. You know, the bat I use for batting practice.


COOPER: Now, why would he use a cork bat for batting practice and how could the mix up happen?

GAINGRECO: Well, he says he used a corked bat for BP and exhibition games to entertain the fans and get a little more pop. And he said it just got into the rack with his regular bats. It's kind of a lame excuse. It sounded like a Bill Clinton answer. Now that his other 76 bats have been proven to be clean, maybe they'll go easier on him, maybe his fans will cut him break and cut him slack. I can't imagine that baseball will suspend this guy before the historic Yankee series here at Wrigley Field this weekend. I envision the suspension coming on Monday or if they hand out a suspension tomorrow that Sammy will appeal it and be able to play again.

COOPER: And very briefly, other people this has happened to, have been found to have done this, we're talking about like seven-game suspension, eight, nine games.

GAINGRECO: Seven to 10. Albert Belle. Let me say, this has been going on since the beginning of time. Major League players have been corking their bats forever. If you sliced open the bat of many Major League home run hitters through the years, you're going to find a creamy nugat center in some of them, that's for sure.

COOPER: All right, Mark Gaingreco, appreciate you joining us, thanks very much.

GAINGRECO: My pleasure.


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