Whither Sammy Sosa?

In all the Bonds, Clemens rejection talk, most forgot someone

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No love for Sammy.
No love for Sammy.
Image: AP

It’s biased because of where I grew up, and certainly wasn’t the biggest oversight in the continuous and mud-tasting Hall of Fame debate. But much like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have now fallen off the ballot, so has Sammy Sosa. And yet no one seems to care.

By strict numbers, Sosa should have been a lock. 609 homers, 1,667 RBI, a career .534 slugging-percentage. Two 30-30 seasons, and an additional 20-20 season before speed didn’t really factor into his game anymore. Three 60-homer seasons as well, which no one else has done in the history of the game. In a vacuum, he’s on the Mt. Olympus of Baseball. Which for some reason, is in upstate New York.

And yet, when you get the outcry of “just let them all in!” Sosa’s name isn’t there, or if it is it’s in a much smaller point size than Bonds’ or Clemens’.


I suppose the answer is that Bonds and Clemens, as I’ve said repeatedly myself, were considered preeminent stars of the game before their heads became their own weather stations. Bonds was a two-time MVP before he ever left Pittsburgh, and won another in his first season in San Francisco. Clemens had won three Cy Young awards in Boston. Bonds and Clemens are seen as bending the aging curve, prolonging their mythic careers longer than our instincts tell us they should. But not completely distorting the arc of their careers.

Sosa is seen as a cartoon. A middling player that only became a titan of the game because he was juicing, allegedly. That’s a touch unfair. Throughout the 90s, even before that 1998 season that seems to be ground zero for what MLB will tell you is everything wrong with the game, Sosa was just about the only reason to watch the Cubs. He had three 5.0-fWAR seasons in that span, and would have added a fourth if not for injury. He hit 30-plus homers four out of five seasons before things mushroomed. While the Cubs were a morose experience for most of that time, you could tune in every day and see Sosa do something that would make you sit up, if not bring you right off the couch.


Sosa is seen as an All-Star before things went goofy, though probably not on a Cooperstown track anyway like Bonds and Clemens were. Sosa also had a prickly relationship with the media, which certainly hasn’t done Bonds or Clemens any favors. While he projected out the cuddly, Flinstone-vitamin chomping, American dream come to life to fans and sponsors, you’d be hard-pressed to find a local media person who covered the Cubs at that time who didn’t hate his guts. You’d honestly be hard-pressed to find a teammate that had much use for him either. Sosa was incredibly vindictive to anyone who didn’t play along with the narrative he wanted out there, and teammates tired of his “Sammy #1” act. There’s a stereo lying in several pieces somewhere that met its demise on the last day of the 2005 season when Sosa fucked off early that is a testament to what his teammates thought of him.

Sosa also might be remembered for his mute routine at Congress, where he only spoke through an interpreter, even though we’d all spent a decade watching him do interviews and commercials in English. It didn’t engender a lot of sympathy.


But like a lot of fans, I didn’t really care about any of that at the time, if I was even aware. I can still see the young Sosa, terrorizing around the bases to the point he threatened to catch up to any runner ahead of him. Or seeing how far and how hard he could throw the ball from right field, no matter if it was to the right base or within the same zip code of whatever base he chose. Or swinging to the point where you thought his spine would snap, and bounce off the concrete on the street outside when the ball landed there. He was this barely controlled, joyous fury that was the only thing that marked the Cubs out from the ether. At least until Kerry Wood arrived, himself a different kind of barely controlled fury.

Cooperstown will probably never be open to Sosa, and the Ricketts family in some deluded bid to hold up to morals they think the fans want, have never welcomed him back to Wrigley either. The latter should definitely change, because whatever Sosa did or didn’t do, he was a joy to watch and just about the only thing to watch on the Northside. If the Hall ever lowers the wall, the caveats on Sosa’s plaque might be bigger than anyone else’s. And I’m fairly sure I won’t care, and neither will any other Cubs fan.