Outfielder Billy Hatcher of the Houston Astros has been suspended 10 days for using a corked bat, National League President A. Bartlett Giamatti announced yesterday.
Giamatti also fined Astros Manager Hal Lanier an undisclosed sum "because he is responsible" for his players' actions.
Hatcher, the Astros' regular center fielder, was unavailable for comment, but he said previously he wouldn't appeal the suspension, which began yesterday and will sideline him for eight games, including an important series against San Francisco starting Monday.
He was ejected from Tuesday night's game against the Chicago Cubs after his bat split open, revealing it had been drilled out and filled with four or five inches of cork.
His defense was that the bat belonged to Astros reliever Dave Smith. The bat did have "45" written on the knob end, and 45 is Smith's jersey number. However, several sources yesterday said that when players use a loaded bat they routinely put a bogus number on it.
"That would be their first line of defense," an American League general manager said. "You're caught with cork and you say, 'Hey, that wasn't even my bat.' "
Although several hitters have had their bats X-rayed this year, Hatcher is the first to be suspended. Pitchers Kevin Gross of the Philadelphia Phillies and Joe Niekro of the Minnesota Twins recently were suspended 10 days for taking sandpaper to the mound.
A player corks a bat by drilling out a four- or five-inch tunnel in the barrel end, then filling it with cork or shredded rubber. Hitters say the cork makes the bat lighter, which yields more bat speed and thus allows them to hit the ball harder.
Several other players have been suspected of using such bats or of scuffing balls. The American League president, Bobby Brown, took no action against Rick Rhoden of the New York Yankees even though umpires sent Brown several scuffed balls thrown by Rhoden and a video tape showing Rhoden stuffing a ring into his pocket before a search by umpires.
Don Sutton of the California Angels has also been accused of scuffing balls and appeared to be caught with a piece of sandpaper glued to his glove hand.
The Astros are certainly no strangers to controversy. Two weeks ago in Wrigley Field, Smith appeared to stuff a piece of sandpaper down the front of his pants just before umpires searched his glove. That video tape was also sent to Giamatti, who took no action.
Previously, Houston pitchers Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott had been accused of scuffing baseballs.