Tommy Sandt, back in Portland in retirement after a long career as a major league baseball player, minor league manager and big league coach, chuckled at the question.
Had he ever seen a corked bat?
'Seen one? I used one,' he said.
In Portland, too, when he played for the Beavers in the early 1980s. Players have used corked bats for years in an effort to find an edge. A tiny advantage, over a long season, can make a big difference.
Scientists will tell you that putting a few inches of cork into the barrel of a bat doesn't help much. Players, though, think that displacing a portion of wood with a lighter material improves bat speed without losing the advantages of a bigger bat.
'They found scientists who said curve balls don't curve, too,' Sandt said. 'I think cork does make some difference. I used my cork bat only in batting practice. I didn't want to use it in a game because all it did for me is make my little flares go all the way to the outfielders, instead of dropping in front of them.'
Over a lifetime around pro ballplayers, beginning when I was a batboy for the Beavers at age 13, I've heard a lot of guys talk about corked bats. I never heard anyone who didn't think it provided some kind of advantage.
Just as I heard many players, since the '60s, talk about 'green-ies' or amphetamines. Greenies are more widespread than corked bats and have something in common with them: Whether they help players or not isn't much of an issue. The fact is, players think that they help.
Bats with cork are a lot easier to detect than drugs. Players have a union, but bats do not so you can test bats. You can X-ray them. And baseball should spot-check bats and put players who use illegal ones on the bench for at least a month.
Pete Rose is serving a lifetime suspension because he bet on baseball. We have no proof he ever fixed a game, though which is the real reason that baseball doesn't want people betting on the sport.
Yet nobody knows how many games Sammy Sosa may have affected with that illegal bat. If it's just one game if he won just one game for the Cubs with it then he's affected the integrity of the game more than Pete Rose has. I'm not excusing Rose. Baseball is real clear: It has zero tolerance for gambling.
But baseball seems to have almost unlimited tolerance for players who scuff baseballs, doctor bats, use illegal substances on the ball and employ all kinds of gimmicks to steal signs. How many games did Gaylord Perry win with his Vaseline ball?
And we haven't even talked about all the big-league steroids that go with the amphetamine use.
Integrity of the game? Really.