Sammy Sosa and the ghosts of 2003

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With Sammy Sosa on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year, the annual debates about who should be inducted–or not inducted–have commenced. The proprietor of The Hall of Very Good asked me to make a case for or against Sammy Sosa, and the piece appears here.

I came out as forcefully as I could against Sosa’s election, on the grounds that he was one of the central figures of the Steroid Era, and this alone is enough to disqualify him. But I also hold the way that Sammy left town against him. On the last day of the 2004 season he quit on the team, left the park early, and got his radio smashed by a still-unnamed teammate. He was traded to the Orioles in the offseason, and never set foot on a baseball field in Chicago again.

So there were the steroids and the issue of quitting on his team. But there’s another piece to the equation that I didn’t even consider, until after I saw the piece I had written online. Is it possible that I might view Sammy’s candidacy differently if 2003 really had been the year that the Cubs won the World Series? Kerry Wood and Mark Prior got all the attention, but the number three hitter in the lineup everyday was good old number 21. Didn’t that count for something?

There was a moment, in Game 7 of the NLCS against the Marlins, where Sammy could have saved the day. The Cubs were trailing by a run in the bottom of the fifth inning, and the Marlins had just brought Josh Beckett into the game on short rest, after he had pitched a shutout against the Cubs in Game 5. When Sosa came to the plate with two outs and nobody on base, every Cubs fan wanted to see him take Beckett deep and tie up the game.

But instead of working the count, or even taking a pitch to force Beckett to work a little bit, Sammy swung at the first pitch and flied out to right field. Had he put one in the bleachers to tie the game–as he had already done in Game one of the series, he would have helped to swing the momentum back the Cubs’ way. But it was not to be, and Beckett worked through the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, to effectively seal the win for the Marlins. Sosa had a chance to make himself a hero, but he didn’t take advantage of it.

Would I now support Sosa for the Hall of Fame, if things had gone differently back in 2003 or 2004? Sadly, I won’t get to know the answer for certain, but I have to think that I would. Seeing the Cubs play in the World Series, to say nothing of actually winning it, is something I never have seen, and may never see before the inevitable occurs. The sour taste left by 2003 is something I hold against a lot of people, and Sammy Sosa is included in that group. He’s probably even at the head of line.

Since Moises Alou, Eric Karros, Aramis Ramirez, and a dozen other players from that team either aren’t yet on the Hall of Fame ballot–or never will be on it in the first place– Sammy Sosa’s candidacy is the time to let those feelings of disappointment out. Those are the breaks, I’m afraid.

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2 thoughts on “Sammy Sosa and the ghosts of 2003

  1. I never liked Sosa because of what the steroids did to him. He was originally a 5 tool player and after steroids all he could do was hit HR’s. I used to hate how much Cubs fans loved him. I think when he left that game before leaving the team, it sank in with a lot of them about who he really was.

    But I think your right with most Cubs fans, I think had he saved that game and eventually the series against the Marlins, he would be a Cubs legend regardless of the steroid outcome. Because love them or hate them, Cubs fans are the most loyal out there.

    P.S. Thanks for the package, I received it today.

    • Thanks, Jeff. I loved doing the salaam to Andre Dawson in the right field bleachers, and didn’t like it when Sammy got them. But then nobody asked for my permission, either. Thanks for reading and commenting. Glad to hear the package arrived, too.

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