Today in Sports History: June 3rd

Inspection_medium

(The home plate umpires inspect Sammy Sosa's corked bat)

6/03/1888 - Casey at the Bat

The San Francisco Examiner publishes a poem written by Ernest Thayer titled "Casey at the Bat." The famous poem depicts a baseball player named Casey who is up to bat with the game on the line. The poem, ending with the line "Mighty Casey has struck out," was not respectable enough for Mr. Thayer, who submitted it anonymously. Only later, when the poem became a hit in vaudeville acts, did Thayer claim it as his own.

6/03/1925 - Collins gets to 3K

Eddie "Cocky" Collins becomes the sixth member of the 3,000-hit club with a single off Rip Collins of the Detroit Tigers. Collins was viewed as one of the greatest second baseman ever and totaled 3,315 hits and 744 stolen bases before it was all said and done. Collins was also a member of the infamous 1919 Black Sox team, but was not among the players who threw the World Series to gamblers (though he did bat a poor .226). Eddie's admission was the last the 3,000-hit club saw for over a decade; iit wasn't until 17 years later, in the Pirates' Paul Waner, that the club got another member.

6/03/1953 - A.C. gets his due

The United States Congress officially recognizes Alexander Joy Cartwright as the founder of modern baseball. Cartwright had launched the first organized ball club under a new series of rules and regulations that he himself devised. He also created the baseball diamond and is credited for setting the bases 90 feet apart. He continued to travel across the country, from New York to California to Hawaii, bringing the game of baseball wherever he went.

For many years, Abner Doubleday, a distinguished Federalist general who took part in the Civil War, was considered the founder of baseball. The story was that on a June day in 1839, Doubleday created the game of baseball in a cow pasture in Cooperstown, New York. However, historians have labeled the tale a farce and a cheap ploy to establish the United States as the origin-holder of baseball.

In the final year of his life, Cartwright's grandson Bruce wrote to Kenesaw Mountain Landis, then the acting commissioner of baseball. Bruce contended that it had been his grandfather and not General Doubleday who had created the game, and that the Mills Commission, which had determined Doubleday to be the inventor, was inaccurate. Landis ignored it.

6/03/1967 - Harmon kills it

Harmon Killebrew was many things, though a finesse player he was not. The 11-time All-Star was great at hitting some of the farthest balls in baseball, and on a June evening in Minnesota, he hit the longest homer a Minnesota Twin had ever seen. Killebrew smacked a pitch from Lew Burdette, a 203-game winner, into the second deck of Metropolitan Stadium. The ball landed on the back of the seat, breaking a portion of it.

The 520-foot blast was the longest home run ever hit at the old Met, which would later be demolished in place of the Mall of America. The Twins commemorated the seat and never sold another ticket for it again. Now, the only part of the old Met that still stands is the red seat that the home run ball landed on; it currently hangs on a wall next to a roller coaster, inside the Mall of America.

6/03/1992 - Jordan lights up the Blazers

Michael Jordan has one of the greatest games of his career. In the opening game of the '92 NBA Finals, Jordan scores 35 first half points against the Portland Trail Blazers and does it in unfamiliar fashion. M.J. was never much of a three-point shooter -- and he had only attempted 100 of them in the regular season -- but he was lights out against the Blazers. He connected on six three-pointers in the first half, setting finals records for most points in a half, most threes in a half, and most threes in a game (which was later surpassed by teammate Scottie Pippen). On Jordan's sixth longball, he simply turned to the crowd and shrugged.

"The threes were like free throws," said Jordan. "I don't know what was going on, but they were going in. Nobody expected it, but I took the opportunities when they came to me. I even surprised myself tonight with how hot I was and the way I was shooting."

In the second half, Jordan only put in four points. Chicago didn't need them. The Bulls outscored the Blazers 38-17 in the third and ran away with Game 1. The final score: Bulls 122, Blazers 89.

"Michael carried a great weapon in the first half, and in the second half he found his teammates," said Bulls coach Phil Jackson. "Michael was moving the ball in the second half and Portland may have overcompensated."

"He might score 39 again," said Blazers star Clyde Drexler, "but I don't think he'll do it with three-pointers again. This wasn't a typical game for him. We couldn't plan for something like that. It was a special night for him."

6/03/2006 - Say it ain't Sosa

Sammy Sosa's spiral from national hero to reviled cheater began on June 3rd, 2003. In the first inning against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Sosa broke his bat on a pitch from Jeremi Gonzalez. Umpire Tim McClelland (who was also at the George Brett pine tar game) inspected the shards and discovered cork among the bundle. Sosa was ejected and suspended for seven games, though the real punishment was the damage to his reputation.

Sosa claimed that he had accidentally grabbed a corked bat that he used strictly for batting practice. "I was just trying to get ready and go out there and get ready for the game, and I just picked the wrong bat. I feel sorry. I just apologize to everybody."

Hollowing out a bat in putting cork in it was supposed to make it lighter and easier to swing, in turn making it easier to hit home runs. Studies on how effective it was varied. Norm Cash used a cork bat for the entire 1961 season and became a one-year wonder, hitting .361 with 41 homers and 132 RBI.

Baseball inspected 76 other bats Sosa used, including several directly out of the Hall of Fame -- all of them were clean. Sosa returned from his seven-game suspension like a person with something to prove. He went on a hot streak and led the Cubbies to the postseason, which -- as usual for Cubs teams -- ended in bitter disappointment.

After the season, Sosa's relationship with the Cubs deteriorated. After a rough year in 2004, Sammy was traded to the Baltimore Orioles, where he was incredibly underwhelming. Steroid rumors started surfacing and he had nothing to fall back on. The corked bat painted him as a cheater and many felt that taking steroids was not beneath him. Sosa was forced to take a year off and gather himself before returning to the bigs in 2007.

6/03/2009 - Sosa calls it quits

Six years to the day of the bat-corking mishap, Sammy Sosa quietly announces his formal retirement from baseball. He hadn't played since 2007, as a member of the Texas Rangers, and many assumed he had already hung it up.

Sosa, who had yet to be implicated in any steroid allegations (aside from everyone's suspicions), spoke defiantly about his cleanness. "Everything I achieved, I did it thanks to my perseverance, which is why I never had any long, difficult moments [as a baseball player]. If you have a bad day in baseball, and start thinking about it, you will have ten more," Sosa told the ESPNdeportes.com. "I will calmly wait for my induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Don't I have the numbers to be inducted?"

Not even two weeks later, the New York Times published a report saying that Sosa had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003. And just like that, whatever dwindling chance he had at the Hall of Fame evaporated before his eyes.

Further reading:

Some believe more than Sosa's bat were corked [Chicago Tribune]

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