Of course, Nettles wouldn't use one. Not since Sept. 7, 1974 he wouldn't. That date will live forever in baseball infamy because in the fifth inning of the second game of a doubleheader in Detroit, Nettles hit a bloop single to left and the end of his bat fell off. His single was disallowed, but not his second-inning home run with the same bat. That homer, by the way, produced the game's only run.
The original accounts said that the bat was filled merely with cork. Well, such a legend has grown up around the incident that members of at least three other teams claim Nettles hit the home run against them, and that it wasn't cork inside the bat, but from four to six Super Balls, incredibly lively little devils. Who can ever forget the sight of Tiger Catcher Bill Freehan chasing after the bat for evidence? The Tigers certainly knew a corked bat when they saw one, because their first baseman, Norm Cash, was particularly proud of his. Nettles claimed he didn't know where the bat came from—some fan had given it to him in Chicago "for good luck." The bat was stained a dark brown, so how could Nettles tell?
"Why that lying sonofagun," says Cash. "I ought to know. I used a hollow bat my whole career." But, Norm, surely not in 1961, the year you hit .361 with 41 homers and 132 RBIs. "I'm afraid so," Cash says. "In fact, I owe my success to expansion pitching, a short rightfield fence and my hollow bats."
How do you cork a bat? Well, Cash's method was to bore a hole about eight inches deep and half an inch wide into the meat end of the bat. He left most of the hole empty, plugging only the top two inches of it with cork, sawdust and glue. Cash, who now works outside Detroit for NORPADIC, a manufacturer's representative, says it took him about half an hour to doctor a bat.
According to Earl Weaver, the Orioles' manager, the best way to cork a bat is to drill a hole 12 to 14 inches down into the barrel without splitting the wood and then pack the hole tight with ground-up cork, leaving a two-inch void at the top. The hole is then closed with a carefully shaped plug of plastic wood. Finally, sand over the top of the bat. "You can't spot a good job with a magnifying glass," says Weaver.
What does hollowing the wood from a bat do? According to Cash, it makes the bat lighter, so that a batter is getting the mass of a 36-ounce bat with the whip of a 34-ounce bat. And, of course, it stands lo reason that a bat with a cork center will be livelier than a bat with a wood center. Players say they can get an extra 20 to 50 feet with corked bats.
There are other things a hitter can do to coddle his bat. Oldtimers used to put nails in them. Some even honed one side of the bat to make it flat and thus increase the hitting surface. Other bats are grooved and the grooves filled with wax. Nettles remembers a player in the minors who used to fill his bat with mercury, on the assumption that the force of the mercury traveling to the barrel head increased the power of the bat. Unfortunately, the player couldn't hit, mercury or not.
Weaver says he used a corked bat when he played for New Orleans in 1955 and tied his career-high in homers with six. "I cried when they found us out." he says. But would his Orioles pull something like this? You bet, says Bamberger. In 1979 he publicly accused Ken Singleton and Rick Dempsey of using corked bats against the Brewers. Weaver, on the other hand, thinks that Cecil Cooper of the Brewers wields a doctored bat. Weaver became convinced after Cooper, who stands 6'2" and weighs 190 pounds, hit a ball out of the park one-handed. "No way a guy his size can do that with a legal bat," said Weaver. "It's a standing joke between us," says Cooper. "Earl always comes over and looks in our bat rack before the game."
The Phillies and Royals are also suspect—perhaps because they were the most successful teams in baseball last year. Then again, maybe they were the most successful teams in baseball because they used corked bats. A couple of years ago one Phillie player—an All-Star—was overheard at the batting cage telling a bat company representative, "I'll take one of the super-cork models." He was probably just kidding.
John Mayberry, now with the Blue Jays, recalls that a corked bat was available when he played for Kansas City. Reportedly, an undercover craftsman used to service the bats in the Kansas City clubhouse, charging only $1 apiece to cover the cost of cork. Hal McRae, the Royals' designated hitter, is sometimes accused of using a bat that floats, but the one time he was checked—the bat was cut in six pieces—he was clean. Some of the other names bandied about are Mike Schmidt. Davey Lopes, George Foster, Tony Armas, Bobby Grich, Darrell Porter, Buck Martinez, Jose Cardenal and Vic Correll. "I'm sure it goes on." says Rose, who also says he has used one in practice but never in a game. "I always thought that if I got caught, every one of those damn hits I got, people would think I cheated."