August 23, 2010
Ten years ago, Sammy Sosa was the biggest — and arguably the only — reason to watch the Chicago Cubs. He hit 50 homers and recorded 138 RBIs in 2000 as the team went 65-97 ... but drew almost 2.8 million fans to Wrigley Field anyway.
Ten years later, Sosa is the biggest persona non grata at the Friendly Confines this side of Tony La Russa. Indeed, Sosa's weird, white countenance hasn't been seen at the corner of Clark and Addison since the team's security cameras caught his car speeding away during the final game of 2004.
To recap: He hasn't thrown out a first pitch. He hasn't leaned out of Harry Caray's old booth to sing Take Me Out To The Ballgame. He hasn't done a half-inning of radio with Pat Hughes and Ron Santo before doing another half-inning of television with Len Kasper and Bob Brenly.
Of course, none of this sits very well with the retired Sosa, who is now publicly airing his hurt feelings over his estrangement in a lengthy Chicago Magazine profile this month.
"[My] number should be untouchable because of the things that I did for that organization," fumes Sosa. "That right there shows me that they don't care about me, and they don't want to have a good relationship with me."
"My numbers don't lie," he declared. "Everything that I did was so big — my career was so good — that even if people want to scratch it from the board, it's not going to happen. Those numbers are going to stay there forever."
"[The Cubs] threw me into the fire," he said. "They made [people] believe I'm a monster."
Missing from any of Sosa's remarks, of course, is any mention of the contributions that he made toward the cold war between the Cubs and one of their biggest stars from the past. He says nothing about the corked bat incident in 2003, nothing about leaving his teammates early in 2004 and nothing about the ever-lingering suspicion of steroid use (which was reinforced by that 2009 report in the New York Times).
"I don't want to talk about that," Sosa said of the report that he was one of the 104 players to flunk a drug test in 2003. "Let's talk about something else."
That Sosa is playing the blameless victim is certainly not surprising. And I don't necessarily blame him for feeling jilted as I've never quite seen anything like the Cubs so easily sacrificing their homer-hitting golden goose once he could no longer carry Harry Caray's torch as the man who could keep the bleachers packed. The front office saw an opening to completely turn the public against Sosa and exploited it to the fullest extent.
(Do we know of any other instances in which a team so willingly gave up videotapes to prove a point against the star of its franchise?)
But to pretend that Sosa is completely blameless in the whole standoff — and the writer of this good piece does not — is writing a revisionist piece of history. The reason Sosa is exiled in Miami while Mark McGwire has been welcomed back in St. Louis is that Big Mac carried himself in a much more humble way among team officials, teammates and fans before owning up to his mistakes and apologizing this past winter.
The situation here in Chicago with Sosa is infinitely more complicated and I'm betting that Sosa would like nothing better than to repair the relationship so that his post-career moneymaking opportunities can grow. But seeing as how our last memory of him was leaving his teammates in the lurch a day after that disappointing final week collapse in 2004, it's up to Sosa to make the first move toward reconciliation.
And, no, crying to a magazine profile writer is not an acceptable start.
* * *
(Still, you should really go over and read that article, which is full of entertaining details like Doug Glanville regretting his introduction of a boombox-equipped Sosa to The Fugees. And I say that because if playing that CD over and over is a crime, there was a guy on my freshman dorm floor that should still be serving life without parole.)
Big BLS H/N: Deadspin
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