In the wake of the Hall of Fame announcements and the news that he’d yet again be absent from the Cubs Convention, Sammy Sosa’s name has been on Cubs fan’s lips once again. I know you may be tired of it already, but I wanted to get my thoughts out and didn’t feel that either Twitter or Facebook was the proper medium. I’ll be quick about this though, and I’ll try to avoid any hot-takery.
I was as big a Sosa fan as anyone, marveling at his V-shaped torso and bulging biceps, not to mention the way his massive quads strained to rip open his pants as though he were an angry Bruce Banner. I loved the home-run hop and the sprint out to his station in right and the terrible Pepsi commercials and the generally schmaltzy behavior. I ate it up like so much Italian beef with spicy giardiniera and just enough jus to soggify the bun without completely liquefying it.
The Summer of ’98 was pure magic, and even though The Rat ended up hitting the most glorious home run of all, I found myself in awe of the exploits of two cartoon superhero sluggers as they laughed at the record books. Sosa hit 20 (20!) homers in June and for much of the season it felt strange when he didn’t go yard. I was in college at the time, getting drunk on equal parts baseball and Busch Light and loving every second of it. But like so many other love affairs that bloom within a greenhouse, this one wasn’t really built to weather the real world.
Sure, things were fun for a while and the flame of our passions burned bright as ever in 2003. But after I caught him cheating, I just couldn’t find it in my heart to fully forgive him. I wanted to believe him when he told me it was just a BP bat, that it meant nothing to him and was just a one-time mistake. But then I started to question the changes in his body and wondered if they were really the product of long-dormant genetics and Flinstone vitamins. The spark was gone and I think we both knew it was over, but I blamed him. Carrie Underwood might have gone for his car, but Kerry Wood took a Louisville Slugger to Sammy’s boombox. I wished at the time that I’d have gotten a few hacks in myself.
That anger had faded by the time Sosa made his way back to the Rangers and it was cool to see him hit his 600th against the Cubs, but it was wistfully painful at the same time, like seeing an ex with whom you amicably split get married. Then there was the whole Senate hearing deal when Sammy got clammy and chose not to testify given the communication barrier. I’ve had some time to soften my stance about his justification, though I still believe it was little more than a cop-out. But hey, at least he wasn’t Rafael Palmeiro up there (I still laugh about that fool’s finger-wagging antics). We saw the reports that Sosa’s name had appeared on a supposedly anonymous list of players who had tested positive for banned substances and we weren’t surprised. Well, I wasn’t surprised.
But even when I was really angry with Sammy Sosa, it never had anything to do with cheating, proven or otherwise. What I took issue with was the way he put himself ahead of the team and seemingly gave up on the Cubs. I felt betrayed. He had just walked out on the team and, at least in my mind, the fans. And that has remained my issue to this day.
If you’ve read me in the past, you should know that my attempts to keep things short don’t always play out as I’d hoped. I promise I’ll do better next time, a promise I’ll probably break just as surely as Sammy’s infamous bat, but I wanted to share a couple of comparisons before I wrap this thing up. The first is Pete Rose, a man whose inability to simply own up to the truth has turned him into a sad punchline. Pete’s crimes were more egregious and obvious, but he clung to false pride and falsehoods for so long that he has completely undermined his credibility.
My second comp comes from a different sport entirely and is perhaps a bit incongruous, but I’ll share it nonetheless. Robert Montgomery Knight was one of the greatest coaches in the history of college basketball, any level of basketball really. But he was also an elite-level a-hole who alienated most of those around him and whose back was bowed from carrying a chip the size of his ego around on his shoulder. Anyone who had anything to do with his time at IU has since died or moved on, yet Knight refuses to let go of his pride and agree to a reunion. Even when the members of his undefeated 1976 national title team were honored earlier this year, the storied coach was nowhere to be seen.
Sammy’s story is different from the polarizing pair above, but damn if some of the major plot points are not pretty similar. He claims he’d like to be reunited with the the Cubs, but it seems as though he’d prefer it on more of a let-bygones-be-bygones basis. The organization has repeated its stance ad nauseam: the prodigal Sam can come home whenever he wants…as long as he’s willing to show contrition. Tom Ricketts spoke about it again recently, saying that Sosa and others of his ilk “owe us a little honesty.”
I don’t know whether the owner is requesting an outright admission of steroid use or just wants to hear the former Cubs great own up to being a bit of a jerk, but I’m good with either. Actually, I don’t even really care about him admitting to juicing. I believe he did, but as I said earlier, that’s not what I have a problem with. Sammy comes out and shows contrition for the way he behaved there toward the end of his tenure in Chicago and I’m ready to welcome him back with open arms. He’s kind of a weird dude — as evidenced by the bleached face and yellow sweater stuff — but I want him to be our weird dude again.
As a parent, I often know exactly what my kids have done wrong, but I still want them to understand that it’s important to own your mistakes. I don’t think it’s too much for me to expect the same of a grown man. As things stand, there’s a big void in the team’s legacy when it comes to events like the Cubs Convention. Sosa certainly belongs there with the other greats, questionable history and all. Most everyone who had anything to do with his time with the Cubs has died or moved on, yet Sammy doesn’t quite seem ready to swallow his pride.
I want to forgive the man, I’m ready to. I think the Cubs feel the same. So whaddya say, Sammy, can we go ahead and put a cork in this whole issue and move on, together?