It has lingered as one of baseball's greatest unsolved mysteries, and the mystery resurfaced this week after Albert Belle's bat again was confiscated because of suspicion of corking: Who, in 1994, was responsible for swiping Belle's corked bat from the umpires' dressing room in Chicago?
Well, the mystery is solved: Pitcher Jason Grimsley was the player who crawled on his belly, lifted the tiles over umpires' dressing room, climbed in and removed Belle's bat.
The incident began when Chicago manager Gene Lamont challenged the legality of Belle's bat, and umpire Dave Phillips had the bat removed to the umpires' dressing room. Grimsley, knowing that Belle's bat was corked, scouted the layout of the various offices in Comiskey Park from the ground level.
Then, with a vague blueprint in his mind, he climbed to the crawl space over the visitors' clubhouse with a flashlight, in a space four feet wide by three feet high. He thought he had reached the umpires' dressing room, lifted the tile -- and in horror, he realized that he was looking into the groundskeepers' room, where they were sitting and chatting. He quietly replaced the tile and moved on.
Grimsley finally found the umpires' dressing room, climbed down and replaced Belle's bat with one that belonged to Paul Sorrento; Belle did not own one bat that wasn't corked.
The Indians were convinced that Phillips would laugh off the incident, verbally slap manager Mike Hargrove on the wrist. But the next day, the umpire called a news conference to announce that Belle's bat had been stolen and that the perpetrator or perpetrators had to be nabbed. White Sox general manager Ron Schueler, too, exhibited little humor: Security officials were lifting fingerprints off the walls.
In the course of the investigation, they found a flashlight Grimsley left behind. The Indians, realizing the whole incident had blown up in their faces, returned the bat, and Belle eventually was suspended for seven games.
Jason Grimsley? He won the undying respect of his teammates for undertaking the mission impossible.
Mum's the word
Hargrove acknowledged that if playing Jose Canseco in right field backfired in any way last night, Boston Red Sox manager Kevin Kennedy would be criticized for taking the risk during the playoffs.
"I think everything you do in this job, you get second-guessed,Hargrove said. "You're either a genius or an idiot. I'm personally not going to second-guess Kevin Kennedy on how he manages his team. If you're afraid to be second-guessed, you should do something else."
If it works . . .
New York Yankees manager Buck Showalter is finding that it isn't easy to keep everybody happy, even when you're on the verge of reaching the American League Championship Series for the first time since 1981.
Showalter wrote two big stars and one big playoff hero out of the starting lineup for Game 3 last night, leaving the Yankees with a very unplayoff-like lineup that included part-time players Gerald Williams and Russ Davis.
Left-handed-hitting stars Wade Boggs and Paul O'Neill were on the bench against overpowering left-hander Randy Johnson for obvious reasons, and Game 2 hero Jim Leyritz did not fit in because of Showalter's defensive alignment.
Leyritz had reason to be disappointed. He hit the dramatic 15th-inning home run that won Game 2, and he had reason to want to beat Johnson, who hit him in the face with a pitch during the regular season, but he did not complain publicly.
Showalter explained that he needed to go with his best possible outfield arrangement, which dictated that weak-fielding Ruben Sierra be in the DH spot. He conceded that Boggs and O'Neill would like to have started, too, but he went with his usual approach against Johnson, who has a 6-7 lifetime record against the Yankees.
"Wade wanted to play tonight and Paul wanted to play tonight, but it was my decision," Showalter said. "We've had our share of success against Randy, and we're going to try and continue that."
The umpire strikes back
AL umpiring supervisor Marty Springstead defended the performance of the crew working the Seattle Mariners/Yankees series after Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was harshly critical of umpire Dale Scott in New York.
"You just don't pay attention to it," Springstead told reporters yesterday. "What are you going to say when it doesn't even make sense. [Dale] must have called 700 pitches [in Tuesday's 15-inning game]. He didn't get a drink or go to the bathroom. How many drinks do you think George had?"