The breaking Chicago news, on Tuesday evening, was: “Sammy Sosa took performance enhancing drugs to become a superstar slugger.” Surprise, surprise! And this is the same guy who told the U.S. Senate committee that he never took drugs. But the June 16 New York Times report on baseball players who tested positive included Sammy's name. Now we know.
Anyone who watched Sosa’s career as I did, living here in the Windy City, knew Sammy was not built the way he became in the late 1990s because of simple hard work. He went from a slender young ballplayer to a huge slugger within about two years. Following the 1997 season, when Sammy saw Mark McGwire getting all those accolades for hitting big home runs, things changed for Sammy big time. Sammy drank up what he saw in the Cardinal star and Sammy needed the same attention. Says Barry Rosner, a great Chicago baseball writer, “Sosa craved attention and drank it up when he got it.” After 1997 he got it. In 1998 he weighed in at least thirty pounds more than he did at the end of the ’97 season.
This Sammy Sosa is also the same guy who corked a bat and then said it was for batting practice only. This Sammy Sosa is also the same guy who walked away from his team before the season ended a few years later. And this Sammy Sosa is the guy I watched run out to right field to the cheers of his adoring fans during his glory days with the Cubs. But this is the same Sammy Sosa who tarnished the sport and ruined his chance for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, an honor he craves.
The sad part is that many feel that Sosa could have been a very good five-tool baseball player who would have been a star without cheating. But Sammy had to have the praise and he was willing to pay the price to get it. Sadly, the Chicago Cubs looked the other way too. So did Bud Selig, the excuse for a baseball commissioner that we have lived with for far too long. Sammy fooled the public for a decade but in the end it bit him.
The Great Home Run chase of 1998, which the commissioner said saved baseball, turns out now to be a farce. Barry Rosner says he traveled with Sosa, knew him and observed him during these years. He writes: “I can tell you that Sosa was nothing like his new 1998 image and that the only thing more overwhelming than his ego and arrogance was his ability to charm when it suited him.”
For those who say, "So what. Everybody juiced up so this should not keep anyone of them out of the Hall of Fame." No way. The Hall is for players who played the game the right way, even if they were not always likable personalities. Look, I have watched Chipper Jones, a player I admire, play through pain and injury and adversity for years. He earned all of the honors he will get from baseball. Can you compare him to Sammy Sosa when it comes time to evaluate true greatness? It discredits the importance of the Hall of Fame to even consider that Sammy could get in. The voters will never do it. The response to Mark McGwire, a sure-fire first ballot choice if ever there was one, proves this to be true. Now Sammy has to watch his reputation go down in flames along with McGwire, Bonds, Palmeiro and a host of others who all cheated the game and their fans.
What a sad legacy. I still recall seeing Sammy hit number 61 and feeling like a kid again. I lived through the Roger Maris pursuit of 61 in my childhood and seeing it done again was a great thrill at the time. I even went to dinner that evening after 61 with several players who told me what a thrill it was to see “history unfold right before your eyes.” It was magical. But it was all a charade. Rosner says Sammy once told him that he hoped that his tombstone would compare him to the great Roberto Clemente. Well, there is no chance of that ever happening. We all know the difference between the two men and Sammy surely was no Roberto! This is the legacy of Sammy Sosa and baseball needs to say so and restore dignity to the game. We could start with an honest admission from Bud Selig but I am not expecting to hear one.