And so, barring any last minute freak out by O’s deranged owner Peter Angelos, or a sneezing fit during his physical, Sammy Sosa is no longer a Cub. In a move being celebrated by those who grew to hate him, the Cubs have agreed to send Sammy to Baltimore in exchange for Jerry Hairston, Jr. and a pair of minor leaguers. Those of us who were resigned to the fact that Sammy’s return for 2005 was going to be a distraction at best and a full-scale toxic waste scene at the worst, it doesn’t really matter who the Cubs got in return.
Sometimes, buddy, it’s time to go. Now’s the time.
Dopes like Phil Rogers will express mock indignation that the Cubs couldn’t get more for Sammy, and evil, little, trolls like Jay Mariotti will put down the doughnut to rip Sammy on the way out, but like all things, it was a little more complicated than either has the ability to express.
Mariotti actually wrote, “This puts intense pressure on Nomar Garciaparra to stay healthy and carry the offense with Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee, Todd Walker and Michael Barrett.”
That’s right it’s up to Nomar and FOUR other guys (not to mention Corey Patterson) to carry an offense. In an article that was supposed to be written about how Sammy wasn’t a TEAM-mate, how can Mariotti so completely miss the very definition of what a team is?
How will Sammy be remembered?
Well, we’re Cubs fans and since most of us are manic depressives and alcoholics, it’s a crap shoot. But in the past, even the most villified of Cubs’ stars have eventually adopted the amber hued memories saved mostly for Ken Burns documentaries and Cybil Shepherd camera lenses. Ten years from now, Sammy will be remembered as a great player, we’ll see film of him running out to right field to start games and blowing home run kisses to the dugout camera and we won’t immediately have the urge to wretch. Should the Cubs actually win a pennant in the next year or so, the happy memories of Sammy will come back even faster. It’s what time does.
We all have at least one completely psychotic ex-girlfriend, and as time passes you think back and say, “Hey, she wasn’t that bad.” Eventually, Sammy’s legacy will be what we want it to be. Not what it feels like it is right now.
At his peak, Sammy was an offensive force seldom seen in baseball history. Everyone seems astonished that he went from 37 homers in 1997 to 66 in 1998, but he hit 40 in 1996 and a broken hand robbed him of the last six weeks of the season. His peak years weren’t the five years that people seem to think they were from 1998 t0 2002, they lasted for nearly a decade. In his youth, he was an amazing combination of speed, strength and uncontrollably wild swings. His early years with the Rangers and White Sox he looked like Julio Franco…right down to the Jheri curl and the completely funked up batting stance.
In his earliest days with the Cubs he played center field with such reckless abandon that Andre Dawson, to this day yells, “I GOT IT! YOU HEAR THAT MOTHERF—–! I MEAN IT THIS TIME!” when he walks by him. And then he became the slugger that we all know and some of us still love.
He was a great player, probably the best the Cubs have ever had offensively, and did some amazing things. Somewhere in Cooperstown they’ve got a plaque ready for him with the Cubs “C” on it (and it probably has two or three more spots on it for listing the new teams he will have played for before he’s gone).
For me, rooting for Sammy Sosa was a necessity. I was a second-semester freshman at NIU when I heard the shocking news that the Cubs had traded George Bell to the Sox for Ken Patterson and Sammy Sosa. I’d spent my whole first semester making fun of Sammy as a way of frustrating my new Sox fan friends. Now he was a Cub, and I would have to defend him to the end. So I did.
At first, I didn’t have much to work with. “Hey, who was the only player to hit 10 homers, 10 doubles, 10 triples and steal 10 bases in 1991?” Sammy Sosa!
Then he became a 30-30-30 guy. Yeah, in 1993 he hit 33 homers, stole 36 bases and walked 38 times. Yikes.
Then an All-Star.
Then an MVP candidate.
Then he started walking 70 times a year…then 80…then 110. He became a bonafide superstar, not just a wannabe superstar.
The whole 1998 season was just surreal. The 20 homers in June…the three homers in four innings against Cal Eldred…him ending his run as the active player with the most at bats without a grand slam by hitting two against the Diamondbacks in two days.
He threw the 1998 Cubs onto his back and carried them into the playoffs. In 2001 he threw an even worse team onto his back and had a better year and nearly hauled their carcass into the playoffs.
So much of him was an act. The showy entrance, the home run hop, the way he dumped water on his head to cool himself off in the dugout and the kisses to mom into the camera.
But still, Cubs fans ate it up. Baseball fans in general ate it up.
And so much about him wasn’t an act. He worked his ass off. He played hard every day. He insisted on playing every day. There is no such thing as an unselfish star. The two words don’t co-exist. There are people in Sammy’s new town who still think Cal Ripken, Jr. was a selfish prick because he wouldn’t take a day off. Think about that.
And so, his departure was inevitable. Where does it leave the Cubs?
They’ll miss him. They want to act like they won’t, but you can’t just jettison his production and not miss it. They’ll also miss him being the lightning rod. For the past two seasons, starting with the corked bat incident, Sammy was the guy who caught the crap and was the target of the disenchantment from the fans and the media.
But in his departure there’s an opportunity. An opportunity for the offense to evolve. Make more contact, stop being so reliant on the long ball. Play better defense. Run the bases better.
Trading Sammy Sosa for Jerry Hairston, Jr. doesn’t mean the Cubs won’t win the pennant. It just means Sammy Sosa won’t win the pennant as a Cub.
If Nomar Garciaparra’s departure from Boston proved the Ewing Theory that Bill Simmons has long been espousing, Sammy leaving the Cubs could take it out of theory status for ever. Call it the Ewing Fact.
The Cubs have an opportunity now. They can trade for an up and coming young player like Tampa’s Aubrey Huff or Cincinnati’s Austin Kearns, and lord knows they have the prospects to make either trade a reality. They can go after Oakland’s crazy Eric Byrnes and erstwhile closer Octavio Dotel. They can call Magglio Ordonez’s bluff and say, “Do you really want to spend five years in Detroit?”
Or they can go whiter and worse than Sammy and sign re-tread dumbass Jeromy Burnitz. (The ‘o’ in Jeromy stands for 0-5 with four strikeouts).
What’s it gonna be?
As for Sammy’s departure, as one of the few who still like him, I’m glad he’s leaving. I didn’t want to have to watch the guaranteed ugly scene that spring training and the 2005 season were going to be for him. The team didn’t need it, he didn’t need it and I didn’t need it. I hope he goes to Baltimore and hits 100 homers in two seasons. I hope he lights it up.
So long, Sammy. I’ll miss you, buddy.