CHICAGO – Sammy Sosa (search) knew he was going to be punished for using a corked bat. He just didn't expect it to be for this long.
Sosa was suspended for eight games Friday by major league baseball. He immediately appealed the decision in hopes of getting it reduced.
"As he stated all week, he understood he made a mistake," Chicago Cubs (search) general manager Jim Hendry said. "He knew there was going to be a suspension, and I think he feels it's worth the appeal to try to have it reduced.
"Because of the circumstances and his up-frontness and his honesty about it, and the things that were checked out thoroughly, we're hopeful — all things considered — that it will be reduced some."
A hearing won't be held until next week at the earliest, meaning the Cubs' slugger was eligible to play in this weekend's highly anticipated series with the New York Yankees (search). He started in right field in Friday's rain-delayed game.
Sosa wouldn't talk about the suspension directly, saying after the 5-3 loss to the Yankees, "Ask about the game tonight, I don't want to talk about anything else."
But when someone asked if this week's events have been draining, he said he's fine.
"I believe the world's not ended yet. I'm still here," he said, smiling. "I have to be happy with myself that I know how to deal with everything. I'm a tough man. I've got a strong mind, and nobody can touch that."
The support he gets from the fans has to help, too. He was greeted with a standing ovation before the game when he was presented with a proclamation celebrating his 500th home run. And when he did his usual sprint to right field, there were loud cheers and shrieks — and just a few boos.
"I'm hoping the whole thing dies down," Cubs manager Dusty Baker (search) said. "It probably won't for a while, but I'm hoping that it does, and we can get back to baseball."
A piece of cork was found just above the handle in Sosa's bat Tuesday night after it shattered on a groundout in the first inning of the Cubs' 3-2 victory.
Sosa didn't deny the bat was his, but said it was a batting practice model he grabbed by accident. He insists he's never used anything illegal.
Other players who used corked bats were suspended for up to 10 games. Wilton Guerrero, the previous player caught with a corked bat, was penalized eight games.
But the Cubs hoped Sosa's cooperation, as well as the fact no cork was found in any of his other 81 bats that were checked, would work in his favor.
Baseball officials didn't find anything in 76 bats confiscated from Sosa's locker after he was ejected Tuesday night. The Hall of Fame said X-rays or CT scans of its five Sosa bats showed no cork or anything else that would violate baseball rules.
The discovery that Sosa used a corked bat sparked a furor. He's hardly the first player to get caught or admit using a corked bat, but he's certainly the biggest name.
Sosa has been baseball's quintessential good guy the last five seasons, a lovable slugger with an infectious smile and a feel-good story.
In a five-year stretch from 1998 to 2002, he hit 292 home runs. He's the only player to hit 60 or more homers in three seasons, with 66 in 1998, 63 in 1999 and 64 in 2001.
He's 17th on the career list with 505 homers. And at just 34, many believe he'll have a chance to surpass Hank Aaron's record of 755 homers.
But now there are some who say his use of a corked bat — even if it was just once — has tainted his reputation.
"Whether he's completely cleared or not, the jokes will continue. Every time he hits one a long way, everybody will scratch their heads," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "I think that's bad, with what he's done in this game."
And it's unfair, Hendry said.
"The fact that people want to tarnish what happened in his past has no credence," Hendry said. "None of the bats he ever used in the past for record-setting home runs were found (with anything) negative.
"He's been shattering bats his whole career," Hendry added. "If this had been going on for years, it would have come out a long time ago."
Cubs outfielder Moises Alou, one of Sosa's closest friends, agreed.
"Whatever he's done, he's done on his own," Alou said. "I never played with a guy that had the work ethic that Sammy Sosa has."
Boston Red Sox ace Boston pitching ace Pedro Martinez said the incident has been blown out of proportion because of racial bias by the media.
"If it was (Mark) McGwire, it would still be a big deal, but not like this," Martinez said. "We might be Latin and minorities, but we're not dumb. We see everything that happens."
Hendry said he doesn't see it that way — and neither does Sosa.
"He made a mistake. He broke the rule. Accident or not, the rule was broken. He deserves some punishment," Hendry said.
Even if Sosa's suspension is reduced, losing him for just one game is a blow to the Cubs. At 32-27 after Friday's loss, Chicago is in danger of losing its lead in the NL Central. When Sosa missed 17 games after having the nail on his big right toe removed, the Cubs went 10-7.