Sammy Sosa got caught this week with a corked bat.
For you baseball less-than-afficianados, corking a bat is the process of drilling out the center of a baseball bat, plugging the hole with cork or some other light material, then patching the top. The idea is to lighten the bat so you can swing it harder and hopefully hit the ball further.

It’s illegal. It’s said not to do any good (the loss of mass makes up for what you gain in batspeed). But people do it anyway.

Major League Baseball has examined 76 of Sosa’s bats and found none were corked. Sosa said he used this bat in batting practice to put on a home run show. I believe him. The question is, did he also bring out this bat during crucial moments of games, when the Cubs needed a longball?

We’ll probably never know the answer to that question. But I’ll bet the majority of people suspect he did. I sure do.

Baseball has a bit of a double-standard when it comes to cheating though. When hitters cheat, it puts a black mark on careers. Nobody remembers Billy Hatcher, except for his corked bat incident. Slightly more people remember Graig Nettles. Albert Belle had a terrible reputation, made worse by his use of a corked bat.

What about pitchers? It’s illegal to doctor baseballs, but it’s been known for ages that if you interfere the ball’s aerodynamics, pitches do crazy things. So pitchers long ago started inventing ways to rough up baseballs.

Gaylord Perry was so well-known for throwing greaseballs, he approached Vasoline about doing an endorsement. (Their response: “We soothe babies’ asses, not baseballs.”) He’s in the Hall of Fame. Don Sutton’s nickname was “Black and Decker.” It’s been said that when Perry and Sutton first met, Perry handed Sutton a tube of Vasoline, and Sutton thanked him and handed him a piece of sandpaper. Sutton’s in the Hall of Fame too.

The only thing I can think of is that virtually every shift in the game–the liveliness of the ball, the height of the pitcher’s mound, the size of the strike zone–has been in the batter’s favor, rather than the pitcher’s. So when it comes to cheating, it’s harder to blame the pitcher.

Sammy Sosa has weight training, a lively ball, a smaller-than-a-Sports-Illustrated-swimsuit strike zone, a tiny ballpark, and hours and hours of videotape of every pitcher in the league going for him. During his chase of Roger Maris’ homerun record, he developed an image as a good boy.

That’s gone now.

But he’s no more of a cheater than Perry or Sutton. And let’s face it. The physics say hitting home runs with a corked bat doesn’t work. Sosa does it. He has a skill. Perry and Sutton were skilled as well. They just happened to be better at doctoring baseballs than they were at throwing them, it would appear.

So he’s still a good baseball player. Overrated, but talented. How is Sammy Sosa, the man? The jury’s still out there. But I’d still rather tell a kid to be like Sammy Sosa than to be like Pete Rose.