The last article I wrote about the strikes of 1981 and 1994 had me researching a bit and I found what certainly can be described as an oddity to trump all oddities … the Albert Belle corked bat incident.
On July 15, 1994, Cleveland was home at Jacobs Field to take on the Chicago White Sox. Both the White Sox and then-Indians were very good and fighting for the AL Central crown in 1994. Chicago boasted the bat of Frank Thomas, who won the MVP award in 1993 (and subsequently in 1994) and a deep pitching staff. Cleveland was a monster that was growing, with the biggest monster being big bad Albert Belle.
Belle was in the middle of another great season when Chicago came to town. White Sox manager Gene Lamont, however, had a trick up his sleeve. Someone told him prior to the game that Belle was using corked bats. Lamont went to the umpires to let them know of his suspicions. Per league rules, the umpires had to confiscate Belle’s bat so they can send it to the league office for further examination.
Now, can you imagine the conversations in the Cleveland locker room and dugout during that game? Well, I’m sure more than a few things were said but I … and a whole lot of other people … couldn’t have imagined what was planned next!
Albert Belle and the caper around a corked bat
Someone in the Cleveland organization came up with the idea of having someone steal the bat and replace it with another. Pitcher Jason Grimsley was asked if he could accomplish the feat. He scouted the area and saw that there was a drop ceiling that he could maybe crawl in and get into the umpire’s room. In what must have been a cross between “Mission Impossible” and “The Naked Gun”, Grimsley took one of first baseman Paul Sorrento’s bats and a flashlight and crawled his way to the umpire’s dressing room, took Belle’s bat, and replaced it with Sorrento’s.
Sometimes in the heat of the moment, little details can get … forgotten. Like Sorrento’s bat having his name on it and not Albert Belle’s name. Or maybe the debris from the drop celling falling as the 6-foot-3 pitcher crawled his way out. Because of these missed details, umpires were immediately alerted and call authorities to help find the stolen bat.
As news got up to commissioner Bud Selig of what transpired, Selig demanded the bat be brought back, and even threatened to get the FBI involved and prosecute the people responsible!
In the end, cooler heads prevailed, the bat was returned, and Belle got a 10-game suspension, which was reduced to seven after appeal.
News of this never got out to the public until Grimsley himself admitted to it in a New York Times article. In the article, Grimsley said that “my heart was going 1,000 miles an hour. And in I went. I just rolled the dice. A crapshoot.”
The hilarity of it all really put a cap to a crazy 1994 season!