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This Week in Cleveland Indians History: Albert Belle and “Batgate”

Mandatory Credit: Otto Greule /Allsport
Mandatory Credit: Otto Greule /Allsport /

A look back in Cleveland Indians history at “Batgate,” because any time you have a pitcher crawling through the duct work of Comiskey Park you know it’s a good story.

On July 15, 1994, Albert Belle used a corked bat in Chicago. Wait. He used a cork bat frequently in 1994 as a member of the Cleveland Indians. All of his bats were corked. The difference was in this game he got caught.

The umpires confiscated the bat and placed it in the (locked) umpire dressing room. Indians pitcher Jason Grimsley went through the stadium ceiling and crawled to the umpire’s dressing room with a replacement bat.

It was like an episode of Hogan’s Heroes

Or it would have been, had one of Hogan’s Heroes liked to run down kids on Halloween and moon Mississippi State fans when he played for LSU (many thanks to a Mississippi State grad for pointing this out to me).

The bat switch idea didn’t work, for a couple of reasons:

  1. They didn’t replace like for like. They replaced an Albert Belle model with a Paul Sorrento model. The reason for this? Albert Belle had corked every one of his bats. Every last one. He didn’t even save one just in case.
  2. The umpires were smarter than Sgt. Schultz and Col. Klink. They said “Hmmm. Paul Sorrento… isn’t he the Italian guy that plays first base for them? I don’t think that’s who we busted…”

Maybe it was like an episode of CSI

During the game the umpire’s custodian found pieces of ceiling tile on the floor.  And twisted metal brackets in the ceiling.

Chicago police were called in. The room was dusted for fingerprints.

Then the American League threatened to get the FBI involved.

Really? They needed that level of help? It was Paul Sorrento’s bat. This wasn’t a court of law. I’d say that they had enough evidence to suspend him already.

In the end the FBI threat worked. The Indians relented, and sent the actual bat Belle used.

They could have sent a different one but…

In theory the Indians had time to get a new Albert Belle bat, make it look like the old one, and send that. But then you have to come up with why you wanted to switch the bats in the clubhouse. And “Dude, it was a prank” wasn’t going to cut it.

At this point it was like my high school science teacher. “I know you sold the answers. If you admit it I’m lowering your grade to a B, if you make me investigate it, it’s an F.”  I took the B.

So it’s a trip to the Commissioner’s office

I imagine it was like Norm walking in to Cheers at this point. Administrative Assistant says “Albert!  How’s the family?”

This time it was Albert and John Hart. And a X-ray machine. And a saw. Why exactly you X-ray it before using the saw in this case is a little beyond me.

In the end, big surprise. They cut it open and sure enough, it had more cork than Robert Mondavi.

Next: Corey Kluber removed from All-Star Game

Belle got a 10-day suspension, later reduced to seven days.