The Cleveland Indians Corked Bat Incident

[Get Exclusive Tips on our Patreon, Ad-Free

The Great Albert Belle Corked Bat Incident (or the Cleveland Indians Corked Bat Incident as it is more commonly known) involves Albert Belle, slugger for the Indians who was found to have a corked bat after Gene Lamont (manager of the White Sox at the time) tipped off the umpires. Umpires placed Belle’s bat in safe keeping in their private chambers, but later, the bat was switched out for another. One that was perfectly legal. The Indians were not able to keep the ruse going for long, and were found out.

How It Started

It all happened on July 15, 1994 at Comiskey Park in Chicago during a game between the Pale Hose and the Indians. At the beginning of the game, Gene Lamont was told that Albert Belle’s bat was corked.

In the rules of Major League Baseball, any manager can challenge an opposing player’s bat; they are only allowed to do this to one bat per game. Lamont took his challenge to umpire Dave Phillips who took the bat from Belle and locked it away. He explained challenging the bat by saying that for a right handed power hitter (and someone who usually hit the ball out to left field), Belle seemed to be hitting a lot of balls to the right side and very deep.

A bat belonging to Paul Sorrento (another member of the Indians) was used to swap the corked bat. Relief pitcher Jason Grimsley was sent to retrieve the bat. He went through the false ceiling located in the clubhouse, and crawled through to the umpire’s dressing room, with a flashlight in his mouth. He was successful in his attempt to swap out the bats.

Grimsley, was not however, able to hide that anyone had been in the room that should not have been. A janitor noticed that there were pieces of the ceiling tiles on the floor, and metal brackets that were now twisted. What Phillips found was a different bat in place of Albert Belle’s. The bat that was now in his room, was stamped with Sorrento’s signature and not Belle’s, and was not as shiny. The police was called and there were threats to press criminal charges against the burglar.

A crime scene team (there was even an FBI agent that was flown in) went through the room and looked for evidence; they would find the path that the criminal took.

The American League wanted the corked bat, and were willing to drop any charges regards to the burglary (they had threatened to have the FBI involved in the burglary charges). Two days later, the bat was sent to MLB headquarters, located in New York. It was x-rayed and then sawed in half, while both Indians general manager John Hart and Albert Belle watched. It was corked and Belle was suspended for ten games (but got it reduced to six days, seven games).

The Indians needed Belle at the time because they were in a pennant race with the White Sox and were set to play four games that weekend in Cleveland.

All stats that Belle had at the time, he was allowed to keep. These include a .349 average, 26 homers, and 78 RBI.

The Repercussions

Belle said that the only time he used a corked bat was during batting practice, and never intentionally used one in a game. He claimed that the corked bat was planted by the White Sox.

The whole scandal was resolved quietly fourteen days after the game that had taken place on the fifteenth. A member of the Players Association believed that the whole thing was blown way out of proportion.

Belle’s suspension did not matter in the long run, as the season was cut short by a strike a few weeks later on August eleventh, ending the season before any playoff games could be played.

At first, no one knew about relief pitcher Jason Grimsley’s involvement in the case, but later he would sit down with The New York Times, as a member of the Yankees and tell them. He said that all of Belle’s bats were corked, so he replaced it with one of Sorrento’s. Omar Vizquel, another member of the Indians in 1994 time backed up the story in his book that came out in 2002.