Sammy Sosa’s back in the news.
Have you missed him?
Former Cubs Manager of Media Relations and the man behind the Cubs half-assed, first-ever attempt at a baseball analytics department, Chuck Wasserstrom has posted an interview with Sammy on his blog. It’s full of the familiar laments and slights that Sosa has clung to since he was traded by the Cubs to the Orioles in 2005.Sammy says he never failed a PED test.
Sammy says he asked Dusty Baker’s permission (through an assistant trainer) to leave the 2004 season finale early.
Sammy can’t understand why the Cubs haven’t had him back to sing the stretch or throw out a first pitch or cork a bat for somebody.
In case you were wondering, yes, Sammy still looks like Wayne Newton.
The truth is, Sammy was always an interesting case. When the Cubs traded for him during spring training in 1992, sending noted gas station entrepreneur George Bell to the White Sox for Sosa and reliever Ken Patterson, what they got was a wiry, explosive athlete who played like he was trying to win the game for both teams at the same time.
Don’t believe me? Check out Sammy’s 1990 season. He was “21” and it was his first full big league season. He was the only player in the American League to rack up double figures in all of these (incredible) categories. He had at least 10 doubles (26), triples (10), homers (15), RBI (70), and stolen bases (32). He also had double figures in outfield assists (10). Pretty good. He also had double digits in caught stealing (16), errors (13!), and grounded into double plays (10). He also had a whopping 33 to 150 walk to strikeout ratio.
That’s who the Cubs traded for. It was a trade that made no sense. They dealt a 31 year old player in Bell, but one who could still play. George had hit 25 homers and drove in 86 runs for the Cubs in 1991 (back when that was still a thing) and was an All-Star. In return they got Sosa, who was terrible in 1991, posting a horrible 59 OPS+, and Patterson who was just a guy who happened to pitch lefthanded.
And the wild swinging, wild throwing, wild running Sosa was the version who played for the Cubs from 1992 to 1994. He stole 82 bases in three seasons, he hit 66 homers and he struck out 290 times in only 331 games.
Then, however, the power started to show up. In 1995 and 1997 he posted a pair of 36 homer and 119 RBI seasons. In between, in 1996 he was sitting on 40 homers and 100 RBI on August 20 when Mark Hutton of the Marlins hit him in the hand with a pitch. Think about that. He had 40 homers with 38 games left in the season. When you couple that with his 30 homer, 30 stolen base ’95 season (in which he stole 11 bases in September, key to the Cubs whopping 73-71 record in the strike shortened season), you would think the Cubs had a superstar on their hands.
They almost didn’t. The labor rules the owners implemented during the 1994 strike granted 38 players with five years of service free agency. Sosa was one of them, and he and Kevin Appier of the Royals and John Wetteland of the Expos signed free agent deals with the Red Sox. But then, current Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (who was then a District Court Judge in New York) upheld an unfair labor practice claim by the players, and the strike ended under the CBA rules of the previous year. Sosa was no longer a free agent and never played for the Red Sox.
In the spring of 1998 he showed up for spring training looking like he could bench press a midsized Buick. We were younger and dumber in those days and the only suspicion his linebacker body aroused was if he would be too muscle-bound to ever steal another base or throw a ball more than 80 feet on the fly in the outfield.
Sammy hit 20 homers in May alone and he and Mark McGwire put on a home run chase for the ages, though it was much closer to the Saturday Night Live “All Steroid Olympics” skit than actual baseball.
The 2004 Cubs were a talented, but miserable bunch. Everybody was pissed off all the time. LaTroy Hawkins was pissed at the media. Dusty and Kent Mercker were pissed at Steve Stone. Sammy just wasn’t very good anymore. It was home runs or nothing for him. He wasn’t walking very much. He couldn’t even hit doubles. And we realized that there wasn’t much there anymore.
So why did we all turn on Sammy? Why did we ostracize him?
I don’t think we did. Rooting for Sammy always required you ignore some pretty big flaws. When he was athletic early in his career he had very little refined ability. When he got all swole and started hitting 15 homers a month he couldn’t move anymore. Other than some key hits in the 2003 NLCS (which, had they won, would have changed the legacy of Sammy forever–and it’s not his fault they lost) he was routinely terrible in “big” spots, because when the Cubs really needed a hit, Sammy was going to swing at everything.
Sure he was selfish. But it’s baseball. Ryne Sandberg is beloved by Cubs fans and he literally quit on the team during a season.
I can’t speak for all Cubs fans (that’s Al’s job) but I can say that I don’t dislike Sammy. I just kind of feel like I spent 13 seasons expending a lot of fan energy on him, and when he was ready to go, I was ready to stop. Sorry Sammy, I gave at the office, buddy. You’re on your own. Try not to leave $20,000 wrapped in a towel in a hotel lobby again. Maybe don’t use the “skin cream” that makes you look like the world’s buffest mime.
(And, by the way, how great would it be if one of Joe Maddon’s quirky spring training diversions was to bring in Sammy the mime to launch some bombs in batting practice?)
I don’t know what the Cubs reasoning for not bringing him back…ever…to do anything. They can’t seem to get enough of Ryan Dempster, and well, that’s just awful. But to be honest, if they had a Sammy Sosa Day, or put up a statue of him, I wouldn’t mind, but I don’t think I’d really care.
It’s amazing that a guy who was the only reason to watch the Cubs for more than a decade is just somebody I really never think about anymore. If Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds gets into the Hall of Fame, then Sammy should, too. I feel pretty somewhat strongly about that. Or, maybe I really don’t care.
That’s the weird thing about this. I really can’t say I miss him at all.