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Just who toiled for Belle?


As Cleveland Indians outfielder Albert Belle goes about trying to clear his name after being suspended 10 games for using a corked bat, the identity and fate of the person who stole the piece of lumber may forever remain a mystery.

"It's not planned to be made public at this time," American League spokeswoman Phyllis K. Merhige said. "It's going to be handled internally by the three entities [the Indians, the American League and the Commissioner's Office]."

Officially, only Indians general manager John Hart and acting commissioner Bud Selig know who broke into the umpires room Friday night at Comiskey Park in Chicago and swiped Belle's bat, according to Indians director of media relations John Maroon.

And they're not telling who did it.

The Indians have acknowledged that a member of their traveling party pulled off the switch, exchanging the bat confiscated by plate umpire Dave Phillips for a similar-looking model.

The break-in took place during the game, with someone climbing through a ceiling tile in Indians manager Mike Hargrove's office, through the ductwork and into the umpires room. The thief left a trail of broken ceiling tiles and apparently made a wrong turn and ended up in the coaches' shower room.

"It was not the most delicate of jobs," said Paul Hoynes, the Indians' beat writer for the Plain Dealer in Cleveland. "This guy wouldn't have made a good second-story man."

So, it was not the perfect crime, and Phillips immediately knew that the original bat had been stolen. But, Hoynes said, the thief did a good job casting doubt on which bat Belle actually took to the plate that day.

Phillips made the mistake of not marking the bat. The only thing he knew was that the bat was new and shiny. He could not remember whether it was a Paul Sorrento model or an Albert Belle model.

On Saturday, Hart gave Kevin Hallinan, Major League Baseball's executive director for security, the bat that Phillips supposedly confiscated from Belle. Hallinan rejected it by consulting pictures of the allegedly corked bat, according to Hoynes' story in Wednesday's Plain Dealer.

Hart later returned with several of Belle's bats, and Hallinan selected the bat that most resembled the one in the pictures. That is the bat that Major League Baseball X-rayed and determined to have been corked.

Phillips was not sure.

"It is very difficult for me to say that it is unequivocally the same bat because I don't know," Phillips told the Associated Press on Monday. "It appears to be the same bat I took off the field."

Hallinan, who will be testifying at Belle's July 29 appeal hearing before league president Bobby Brown, declined to say how he is sure that he selected the right bat. "It really isn't appropriate for me to be doing interviews," he said.

Belle has the bat thief to thank for casting a reasonable doubt on his guilt.

"There are definitely a lot of loopholes," Hoynes said. "It's not an open-and-shut case."

Although Belle could be exonerated, the bat thief will not be so lucky. Officials say he definitely will be disciplined by the Indians, the league and the Commissioner's Office.

He will not be fired.

"No, that will not happen. I think there were two different interpretations of the crime," Maroon said. "At the worst, it was a misguided sense of loyalty. The White Sox think it was a felony. I think it's somewhere in between."

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