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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Interview with Mel Antonen

Aired June 5, 2003 - 19:43   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Amazing statistic. Baseball Chicago Cubs beat Tampa Bay at Wrigley Field today. More than a few fans have been distracted by the events unfolding off the field, and we all know what those were. Baseball officials are considering exactly what to do with Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa. Caught with an illegal corked bat earlier this week. Now even though examinations of other Sosa bats have turned up no cork, some kind of punishment is expected.
Chicago bureau chief Jeff Flock reports that the fans and teammates are watching and waiting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CHICAGO BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): The bat Sammy Sosa used to his hit 500th home run earlier this year, pulled from an hall of fame exhibit and now x-rayed. The grain clearly visible, but no cork. In all, more than 80 bats checked, all clean.

LENNY HARRIS, CHICAGO CUBS: We're behind him all the way in this. One thing about him he's a warrior. He'll keep his head up.

FLOCK: Head up and mouth closed, in batting practice, in the clubhouse, and before he ran out in the field to another standing ovation and plenty of signs of support.

JACKIE BELCASTER, SOSA FAN: We came out here to support Sammy Sosa today. We're die-hard Cubs fans and we're giving him the benefit of the doubt.

FLOCK: Not everyone, checked the sign behind Sosa after he got a hit on Thursday, it say, "check the bat." The checks so far bolster his claim that it's so easy to get confused, like the ones we saw in the teammates' Moises Alou and Alex Gonzalaz's lockers. Sosa say grabbing the corked one which he only uses in batting practice was an innocent mistake.

DAN BERNSTEIN, RADIO HOST: He is not innocent. He's been caught.

FLOCK: Chicago sports radio talk show host, Dan Bernstein, tells CNN that his callers don't buy it Sosa's story.

BERNSTEIN: I think his numbers are forever tainted by this. He's lost his halo. He's lost his credibility. FLOCK: Credibility earned by the titanic home run battle with Mark Mcguire in 1998. A national hero in native Dominican Republic, and a Chicago Cubs legend. And you can see the x-ray images of his most famous bats on the hall of fame's website to prove they're clean. But restoring the image with the fans and fellow players will not be easy.

MARK GRACE, ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS: Shoot, if I had known that was corked bats in the bat rack, I would have hit a lot more home runs in Chicago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FLOCK: Mark Graves, one of Sammy Sosa's former teammates. The suspension to come down from Major League Baseball as early as tomorrow, Anderson. And one other thing here tomorrow, out here at Wrigley Field there will be a delegation from the U.S. House to present Sammy Sosa with an award as a role model, and recognizing him for his 500 home career home run. The House passed a resolution the day before the bat incident to present him with that award, and they've decided to go ahead and do it, although one Congressman said if they had found more corked bats, they would have held on to it. That's the latest from here.

COOPER: All right, Jeff Flock, thanks very much.

So how will Major League Baseball punish a popular player who broke the rules?

We are going to put that question to "USA Today," Mel Antonin, he joins us from Philadelphia.

Mel, thanks for being with us.

I read your column today, you think, what about seven to 10 games?

MEL ANTONEN, USA TODAY: I think seven to 10. And if baseball wants to make a statement on a superstar player, they may even go 12 or 14. It depends on if they believe it's a mistake or if he was intentional using a corked bat.

COOPER: We're looking at other suspensions for corked bats. In 1987, Billy Hatcher, 10 games, down to down to 1997 Wilton Guerrero, eight games, seven being the lowest. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Do you think -- I mean, there are some who are saying, look, the media is blowing this out of proportion, it was one bat, as far as we know in this one game.

ANTONEN: I don't think the media is blowing it out of proportion, one bat, one game, yes that's true, that's what we know so far. That's what the evidence clearly states. But it raises a lot of questions.

What was going on in 1998?

What was going on when he set the Cubs' single-season record?

What about the 500th home run.

I think those are legitimate questions. The media is looking into them. And I don't think we're blowing it out of proportion at all.

COOPER: Outrage as I was down in the Dominican Republic. And this will outrage people down there. I mean, this man is revered down there. A lot of fans here in the United States as well.

Do you think, I mean, it puts that big a question mark on all his accomplishments?

ANTONEN: I don't think it should. I don't think it's fair to say Sammy Sosa career is tainted, particularly since there's no evidence of other corked bats. I think that Sammy made a mistake. He may have known, too, you don't know, it's only Sammy's mind. But I don't think you should taint his whole career with one corked bat. I don't think that's fair.

COOPER: I was really surprised, Mel, to read some of these things that some of the other players and managers -- people who are in side baseball are saying. It's not just the media. We are going to show you some of these.

Gary Sheffield of the Atlanta Braves said, "I know my bats. I know every bat I have. I know what's marked. What's not Marked."

Frank Robinson, said, "Why do you have to have a cored bat to put on a show? How about doing it the old-fashioned way, doing it without the cork?" referring to Sammy Sosa saying he corked the bat to put on a show during batting practice.

And the final one we got from the Yankee's, Todd Zeile, says, "You can analyze it all day long: there's no reason to use a corked bat, even in B.P. and especially if you are the reigning home run god."

Are you surprised at all the tough talk coming from inside baseball?

ANTONEN: No, I don't think so, because this affects all of baseball. This has an effect on every player.

Every time they do something, the question now will be is his bat corked, is he doing something illegal?

And players do take special care of their bats. They spend 30, 45 minutes getting their game bats ready, and then -- so it would be like you sitting down to your computer. You know your computer very well, and if you sit down at the wrong one, you have a feel for it. There's one point here that is interesting, if Sammy Sosa was using at a mistake, if it just happened by accident he was using a corked bat, what was going on in the on-deck circle?

Usually the players is there, two other minutes, swinging the bat, I find it hard to believe it was a mistake if he was swinging that bat and having a feel for it on deck circle.

COOPER: I'm waiting for someone to blame the bat boy in all this. I haven't heard this, but it could be coming. You never know.

Mel Antonen, appreciate you for joining us tonight, thanks a lot.

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