July 15,1994 – The Corked Bat Heist
In the middle of July 1994, the Indians and White Sox were in the midst of a race for the central division title and Albert Belle was becoming one of baseball’s preeminent sluggers.
The Indians were up 1-0 in the bottom of the first after an RBI single by Carlos Baerga when Albert Belle stepped to the plate. White Sox manager Gene Lamont approached home plate umpire Dave Philips and asked Philips to inspect Belle’s bat.
Philips could not find anything obviously amiss with the bat, but asked that it be taken to the umpires locker room for further analysis after the game.
The game continued, but the Indians dugout was tense. Manager Mike Hargrove and the rest of the Indians knew that the bat was likely corked and that Belle would be suspended during the pennant chase. Relief pitcher Jason Grimsley offered to retrieve the bat. He noted that the various sections of the clubhouse under Comiskey Park were divided by cinder block walls with a drop ceiling.
Grimley changed from is cleats to a pair of tennis shoes, donned batting gloves, and took off his jersey. He pushed a tile out of the drop ceiling in the Indians locker room and prepared to head up.
Grimsley later said that Belle had not brought a single bat to Chicago–batting practice or game bat–that was not corked. So, he packed one of Paul Sorrento’s bats in plastic and took it with him into the Comiskey Park ceiling.
Grimsley crawled through the drop ceiling, and encountered a member of the grounds crew when he removed a tile in the wrong room. However, he eventually found the umpires locker room and switched the Sorrento bat for the one that had been confiscated.
The confiscated bat, along with all of Belle’s other corked bats were spirited out of the park by Indians staff as the game was going on. In the top of the third, Carlos Baerga drove in Kenny Lofton with another RBI single, making the score 2-0.
Sox catcher Ron Karkovice led off the bottom of the third with a triple and then scored on an Ozzie Guillen groundout to cut the Indians’ lead to 2-1.
Eddie Murray gave the Tribe an insurance run in the top of the fifth when he drove in Baerga with a two-out RBI double.
The Indians went on to win 3-2, but the drama would continue. Returning to their locker room, the umpires found the White Sox general manager who informed them that there had been a break-in. The White Sox had the locker room treated as a crime scene and brought in a former FBI agent to investigate.
Eventually, Indians GM John Hart presented the White Sox with the original bat for further analysis on the condition that the player responsible for the break-in would not be punished or prosecuted. Jason Grimsley’s Mission Impossible-style caper was known only to the Indians until 1999 when Grimsley did an interview with Buster Olney of the New York Times.
When the original bat was analyzed it was, of course, found to be corked. Belle was given a 10-game suspension, but the pennant race never materialized as the 1994 season ended on August 12th with the beginning of the player’s strike.
For more of Grimsley’s expert storytelling, I highly recommend Fox Sports’ Todd Kapostasy’s amazing short film Corked.