(originally published 2013)
Before the game-saving season of 1998, Sammy was an afterthought on SportsCenter. Peter Gammons preferred to save his analysis for the “five-tool” players and can’t miss stars like Raul Mondesi. I moped about it: “Sammy’s in the 30/30 club! Twice! Plus, he’s got a rocket for an arm! Sammy has all the tools!”
Of course, I pictured the world through Cubbie-blue lenses. Deep down, I knew Sammy wasn’t the complete package I desperately wanted him to be. Much like I know he won’t be part of the Hall of Fame class of 2013 when the results are announced this week.
As a fan, I want to see Sammy Sosa inducted into the Hall of Fame. He won’t get the call anytime soon, possibly ever. We all know why. He went from Chicago hero to unwelcome villain. They say he lied, he cheated and he dishonored the game.
Despite my undying fan loyalty to the most exciting player I ever saw swing a bat, I feel comfortable admitting that Sammy was more than likely using something stronger than Flintstones vitamins.
Sammy was banished from town after the 2004 season. He was traded to Baltimore and his boombox was crushed. It left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. He played poorly for the Orioles and took a year off before returning for one last hurrah. The designated hitter’s final year with Texas was respectable: 21 homers and 92 RBIs. That 2007 season included a few fateful and memorable moments: Sammy hitting his 600th career home run against the Cubs and, ironically for the free-swinging Sosa, drawing a walk that became the only blemish in an otherwise perfect pitching performance by Mark Buehrle. Unable to find another job, he announced his retirement a few years later. In his statement, he declared an expectation of Hall of Fame status. A leak from the Mitchell Report was someone’s anonymous way of responding, “Not so fast, Sammy.” The source assured everyone that Sammy was guilty of using PEDs.
I still can’t put my finger on why he’s so hated here, though. As a fan, I don’t give a damn that he played loud salsa music or left Wrigley early after the team choked away the 2004 season. I don’t care if he was rude to Rick Reilly or Bruce Levine. I do care that he made baseball awesome. Watching Sosa swing the bat was worth the constantly rising cost of admission at Wrigley Field. His strikeouts were more entertaining than most guys’ triples. And when he made contact….Whoa. Critics said he only hit homers when games were decided. But I remember multiple first-inning home runs from Sosa in the three-hole. Not many games are decided before the end of the first. I also recall the bottom of the ninth, two-out, game-tying two-run shot off Ugueth Urbina in Game 1 of the 2003 NLCS. Unfortunately, the Cubs lost that game in extras. As we all know, they also lost that series. Had the Bartman/Alou/Gonzalez/Prior/Baker mistake chain not occurred and the Cubs had won Game Six, there was a good chance Sammy Sosa would’ve taken home NLCS MVP honors (.308 2 HRs 6 RBIs, 7 runs scored.) Who knows what might’ve happened in the World Series against the Yankees? Ah, what Cubs fan doesn’t love a good game of ‘What If?’
St. Louis doesn’t hate McGwire. They still have Big Mac Land. San Francisco LOVES Barry Bonds. Why can’t we have the same relationship with Sosa?
Other former Cubs are beloved. Greg Maddux was welcomed back after bolting for Atlanta in his prime (although that was mostly Larry Himes fault). There was never a negative word uttered about Mark Grace. To be honest, I always wondered if more gym time and less bar-hopping might’ve pushed some of those warning track fly balls into the stands or put Grace in the Hall of Fame with 3,000 hits. Of course, Grace was a fan favorite, clutch as all hell and always had time for the media(feeding them an article-topping one-liner or throwing a few back with them at the pub.) Questioning Grace, I feel like a hypocrite. For, when it comes to chasing fun, I’m of Grace’s ilk (and a big fan of the 90s MLB hits and doubles leader.)
I’m no expert on all things baseball. There’s a reason Cooperstown doesn’t send me a ballot. I’m just a fan who’d vote with his heart before his head. But it is called the Hall of Fame, right? Not the Hall of Nobility or the Hall of Honesty. Sammy certainly is famous for his accomplishments on the field. He hit 609 careers homers. He brought fans to through the turnstiles and earned the Cubs mountains of money. He inspired a generation of young Dominican athletes. He and Mark McGwire saved the game of baseball. He probably won’t see the Hall, but I hope to catch him back at Wrigley someday, with a #21 flag flying on the right field pole.