It was a little over a year ago that the Tampa Bay Rays announced that they had signed Manny Ramirez to a one year contract worth $2 million. We probably remember how that ended up working out for the team: Ramirez tested positive for a banned substance (for the second time) and retired rather than face a 100 game suspension.
It seemed unfortunate at the time that such a talented and beloved player had to end his career in the fashion that he did. But perhaps it might be better than what we’ll more than likely see this year. With a reduced suspension, Ramirez is coming out of retirement, most likely to play for the Oakland Athletics. What we’ll see from a 39 year old former great who missed an entire year of the game is anyone’s guess, but my guesses tend to be of the underwhelming variety.
Diminishing the mystique of Manny even further is the recent revelation that Ramirez had a history of cheating that went beyond his two positive tests for banned substances. Cork Gaines of Business Insider reported yesterday on multiple pieces of evidence suggesting that Ramirez used a corked bat as far back as his time in Cleveland, while he was playing for the Indians from 1993 to 2000.
Including the name of the author, there’s a lot of cork going on in the story. In addition to a New York memorabilia company putting up a corked bat that was allegedly used by Ramirez for auction, Gaines also alerts us to a recent radio interview in which Jeff Morris, a former executive with Pacific Trading Cards, explains how his company obtained two corked bats that were used by Ramirez.
In 2000, Pacific Trading Cards cut up one of the two bats and inserted the pieces into a series of baseball cards. During the production of the cards, it became apparent that the bat included some cork. And despite efforts by the company to remove the cards with cork from production, a few still found their way into circulation. One of the cards is now up for bid on eBay, for a whopping $5,000.
Perhaps the worst part of Ramirez’s alleged cheating is that it was likely unnecessary. Corking a bat has never been proven to be of significant benefit to a hitter. According to Scientific American:
The ideal bat weight should be somewhat greater than the weight of the ball. Some models predict that an ideal bat should weigh about five times as much as the ball, or about 25 ounces but this weight is significantly less than the weights of bats traditionally used in professional baseball. In any event, a few ounces more or less may not make a significant difference in bat dynamics.
Popular Mechanics tells us of two researchers, Physicist Alan Nathan of the University of Illinois and mechanical engineer Lloyd Smith of Washington State University, who found that a corked bat might actually be a detriment to the hitter.
When testing corked bats, Nathan and his team found that instead of adding more trampoline effect, corking a wooden bat actually decreased it. “What you gain in higher bat speed, you lose in a less effective collision,” Nathan says. “It does not lead to a higher batted ball speed.” And because the bat is lighter, balls hit with a corked bat don’t travel as far, he says.
For more on this type of research, check out this video from the Sports Science Laboratory: