Editor’s note: If you aren’t impressed with what I can do with two stolen pictures and a free Internet-based graphics program, you should stop reading…now.
The ‘90s came and went late last month during the #Wrigley100 celebrations, and this week should wrap up the ‘00s. Lost in the celebrations of those two decades was the Cubs all-time home run leader, Sammy Sosa.
For more than a decade, Sammy Sosa, it can be argued, was the face of the franchise. People craved homers, and he delivered, both in distance and quantity. The 1998 home run race with Mark McGwire captured not only Chicago and St. Louis, but a nation reluctant to welcome back baseball with open arms after another burn notice.
Everyone seemed to love the celebratory gestures and fun-loving persona, but cracks began to form in the facade. Word started to leak out about friction between Sosa and his teammates, the front office and even some of the fans. In 2000, he was so close to being traded to the Yankees, a source close to the team tells me his locker was packed, on a pallet and ready for shipping to the Bronx. The Yankees changed their tune at the last minute and opted out of the trade, instead concentrating on pitching, which the team actually needed.
And the Cubs were left with Sammy, who still put up solid numbers for the next four years, providing the fans with many more of those home run hops and two-fingered kisses to the dugout camera.
The rest, as you can say, is history.
Walking out on his team at the end of the 2004 season, resulting in his boombox meeting someone’s bat several times.
The trade to the Orioles.
The Mitchell Report and his sudden loss of the English language when testifying before Congress. (Although not officially named in the report, lawyers close to it indicated that he was one of the players who tested positive in 2003.)
And so, Slammin’ Sammy eventually disappeared. Some say he went into witness protection in Miami and took on the appearance of a vampire. I think that’s just speculation, but I’m also lacking in reputation, so I’ll go with it.
Then a couple years ago he said he wanted back with the Cubs and his fans in Chicago. An olive branch was extended to a new ownership group in hopes of regaining the love he had once felt from the team and the city. Perhaps he wanted to be a part of something magical, as this Cubs franchise goes through a complete rebuild.
Back-channel talks between the front office and Sosa’s camp began, leading fans to believe there could be a return.
Fast forward to the present.
With the ‘90s and the ‘00s wrapped, the window of PR perfection for an emotional return appears to be closing. So, will Sosa make that surprise return to the Wrigley infield, two-finger kissing to the crowd while holding the ball for the ceremonial first pitch? Will he sprint to his old spot in right? Shed some tears perhaps?
According to my sources with close connections to this situation, the answer is “No way.” At least not anytime soon.
There is speculation that all Sosa needs to do is own up and apologeye. Admit to being a part of a culture that was the Steroid Era. Apologeye to former teammates for being less than the best in the clubhouse. Apologeye to fans for leading them on and letting them down.
Imagine if he did that? What do you think the reaction from Cubs Nation would be? My guess: he would be welcomed back with open arms by the vast majority of fans and, in time, the whole thing would go away. Sosa banners would hang in the concourse. Replays of his dingers would crowd our Cubs broadcasts. Imagine the cork-free wine bottle promos Binny’s could run. Times would be great for Sammy and Cubs nation.
But he just won’t do it. He won’t own up to his mistakes, accept accountability and move on.
Perhaps he’s waiting to see if he comes off the Hall of Fame ballot next year. He barely had enough votes (41, or just north of 7%) to stay on the for 2015 voting, as players need a minimum of 5% to be on next ballot. My prediction for the next vote is he joins the finger-waving Palmiero, who received just 4.4% of the votes for 2014—the next player below him on the last ballot–and disappears again from 2016 ballot like the family picture in Back to the Future.
Maybe at that time he will reconsider. Say he wants to be like Ronny, who called his flag on the foul pole his Hall of Fame. Tell the Ricketts, the media and the fans what they want to hear.
You know what? None of it will be sincere, and I don’t think even worth our time.
The Cubs are going through an exciting and cleansing change now, with players coming up through the ranks who will far outweigh Sammy in popularity. They will play the game right and clean, treat teammates, the game and its fans with respect, and put team ahead of personal accomplishments.
What message do you send this team by celebrating someone who cheated the game? How is that part of The Cubs Way?
Go ahead, make the argument about the Manny signing, but it will fall on deaf ears. Manny cheated, but he came clean, admitted to his wrongdoings and asked for a chance to play the game he loves and to talk to the young players about playing the game the right way.
There is no room in this franchise for Sosa. Not anymore.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe Sammy shoud be remembered for his ego, icy relationships with teammates and the front office, showing up last for spring training or turning his back on autograph-seeking fans during a contract-required Cubs cruise. That would be petty.
I believe Sammy should be recognized for his numbers and statistics: the smoke-and-mirrors, sleight-of-hand tricks and Three-Card monte games they were.
Sorry, Sammy, but there just isn’t room for you at the inn, and I don’t apologeye.