Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sosa: Villain or Victim

A lot has been made about comments that Sammy Sosa made in an interview for Chicago Magazine. If you want to read it, go ahead.

Sosa ripped into the Cubs organization for a number of things. And many of them I don't blame him for.

I very much want the Cubs to start reaching out to Sosa. Enough time has passed now that the man who pretty much put the Cubs in the fantastic revenue position they are now in (well, forget about the Ricketts’s debt for a moment) should be brought back and honored by this franchise.

Sosa’s number should be retired at some point.

He should have a day where he is honored at Wrigley Field.

But unless he comes clean about his steroid use…he should shut the hell up! It's not helping anything and it will only piss off the Cubs and lengthen the time before anything changes.

Many moons ago I said the Sosa should come clean and that would help start to lift the rift between the organization (and fans) and himself.

It appears the Cubs seem unwilling to make the first step in this reconciliation process, and I think that is a mistake. But neither side seems to have buried the hatchet yet.

All in all, I put more of this on the Cubs than on Sosa. The Cubs gave him the money…they gave him the freedom…they sold him to the public…and they cashed in on it all when they fielded some absolutely pathetic teams. The Cubs created the monster that Sammy became.

Then things changed and Sosa was villainized and run out of town.

In the end I blame two things on Sammy’s demise.

First was the hiring of Dusty Baker. For the first time in a very long time, the Cubs brought in a superstar manager. Baker was coming off a World Series appearance with the Giants and had a charismatic smile. Suddenly it appeared that the Cubs might actually be serious about winning for the first time since 1998 (when they brought in some fairly good free agents). Baker was paid very well, and then the Cubs started winning. Suddenly you had Wood and had Ramirez and Alou. Suddenly, Sammy wasn’t the only thing in town worth watching. The franchise’s focus moved from promoting Sammy Sosa to something very different…winning. And the fans followed suit.

The second thing that ruined Sosa was Solomon Torres. On April 20, 2003, Solomon Torres hit Sammy Sosa in the head shattering Sosa’s helmet. To me, Sosa was never the same after that. He hit only one homer between that time and May 10th when he went on the DL after he hurt his back sneezing.

Not long after he returned from the DL (and after struggling a bit from the plate immediately after the return from the DL), he broke his bat during a plate appearance against the Devil Rays…a bat that was corked. I always felt that Sosa did indeed do this on purpose because he had been struggling so much since his return from the DL. But it was more than that, Sosa started standing considerably further from the plate. Pitchers were painting the outside corner which Sosa could no longer get around on.

The plunk in the head completely changed Sosa.

But this is all stuff that we already know. The thing to remember here was that at this point, the Cubs didn’t need the showman that Sosa had become...they had a team now. But Sammy only knew how to be a showman at that point. Instead of helping him recover or alter his role on the team, he was blamed for selfish play and lack of production.

The Cubs had almost turned him into the next “Mr. Cub” Then the threw him away.

Between the division championship in 1989 and the wildcard in 1998 (the year Sosa became “superman”), the Cubs were bringing in about 2.2 million annually in attendance with an average daily attendance of about 27,000. After the 1998 season attendance at Wrigley pushed up to almost 2.8 million annually until 2003 with the daily attendance pushing 35,000. I can tell you one thing…this attendance boost wasn’t due to the Cubs being good. From 1999 to 2002, the Cubs had, in order, 67 wins, 65 wins, 88 wins (woohoo!!!) and 67 wins. With the exception of the 2001 season (Sosa’s best season as well), the Cubs finished 30 games out of first place each year. Yet they drew 35,000 people a game.

Because of Sosa, the Cub were able to increase their payroll to what is now the third highest in baseball. And because of that increase in payroll, fans now expect this team to win. Is Sosa solely responsible for this change in attitude? No…some division championships and a couple of high profile managers did that.

What Sosa’s role in Chicago did do was give the Cubs the financial ability to field a consistent winner (which they have failed to do by spending poorly) and bring in people that changed the overall expectations of the fans.

Yes, I was one of the people that wanted Sosa out of town in 2004. I felt he was a hindrance to this team’s ability to get to the World Series. I’m as much of a hypocrite as anyone. I cheered for him…bragged about him being a Cub no my non-Cubs fan friends…I was excited to go to a game just to watch him hit. And when things changed, I wanted him gone.

Was it fair? No. After he did so much to keep the Cubs watchable during some pathetic years, he didn’t deserve to be ushered out of town. Was he being a bit of a jerk about things at that point? Yes. But it was because we told him that was what we wanted from him for 5 years. He couldn’t do anything else. He didn't know how.

So now 6 years have passed since Sammy was exiled to Baltimore. Jason Marquis and Tyler Colvin have both worn Sosa’s 21 during those 6 years. Sosa turned white, then black again. Mark McGwire admitted to steroid use. And Sosa remains defiant.

And in the end, everything is the same as when Sosa was traded 6 years ago…

-The Cubs suck.
-They still draw 35,000 a game.
-And both sides are still pissed with each other.

This needs to stop.

Sosa needs to confess.
The Cubs need to force Tyler Colvin to wear a different number.

And the healing process can truly begin.