Throughout the 1990s and early-to-mid 2000s, baseball boasted no greater fraud than Sammy Sosa.
If you go back in time, nobody was more beloved by fans than Sammy the Cub. The way he sprinted to the outfield; the way he did that kissie thing after home runs; the way he behaved during the ’98 home run chase, when he was like a big puppy in a 100-foot bowl of sausage links.
Sosa was a fraud. An enormous fraud. The fans didn’t know it, but we did. We, the media. We, the community allowed to glimpse behind the curtain. With rare exception, Chicago teammates loathed Sosa. He was selfish, arrogant and dismissive. No matter the desires of others, he blasted his Salsa music throughout the tiny Wrigley Field clubhouse at ear-splitting levels. If you didn’t like it, well, to hell with you. He was Sammy Sosa, you were, oh, Todd Walker. Your opinion didn’t count. If people wanted Sammy’s time, it had to be granted. He wasn’t nearly as bad as Barry Bonds, who reigned over the San Francisco clubhouse like a third-world dictator. But he demanded your respect. And if it wasn’t offeredâ€”to hell with you.
And yet, Sosa’s abhorrent behavior isn’t why I was happy to read that he was finally implicated to have used performance-enhancers. No, I was happy because Sosaâ€”more than Bonds, Clemens, Giambi, Manny Ramirezâ€”was (I believe) a product of performance enhancers. The aforementioned players were studs before they began using. Certainly, the PHD provided a huge boost. But they had undeniable skills that reached the highest levels. Sosa, however, was merely … OK. He hit 15 home runs in 532 at-bats with the White Sox in 1990, and another 10 with the club in 1991. He was a tall, skinny kid with a pretty swing but only so-so potential. As much as I’m loathe to credit George W. Bush for anything, his trading Sosa from the Rangers (with Wilson Alvarez and Scott Fletcher) to the White Sox for Harold Baines (and Fred Manrique) on July 29, 1989 wasn’t the brain freeze the president long stated it to be. Hell, Bainesâ€”even at age 30â€”was a significantly better talent than Slammin’ Sammy.
No, steroids and growth hormone made Sosa into the terror he became. His swing never changed, but his size and power did. He went from George McFly to Bob Backlund in a matter of monthsâ€”a preposterous transformation that, for some reason, few of us questioned.
I first knewâ€”without questionâ€”that Sosa was full of it during his congressional testimony on March 17, 2005, when he hid behind laughably broken English. I’d spoken with Sosa before inside the Chicago clubhouse, and he understood absolutely everything. Suddenly, he was two days off the boat. It was preposterous.
What continues to bother me most about all this is the damned silence. In reaction to yesterday’s news, Brian McRae, Sosa’s former teammate with the Cubs, told USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale that, “It’s not like it’s a shocker. I think with the top 10 guys you most suspected, he was one of the top three or four on everybody’s list. It’s not like you were thinking, “Nah, he never did anything.’ The guys that were around him, and saw him every day, you suspected something. He just didn’t look right.”
That’s all fine and dandy, but where was McRae’s voice in 1998? 1999? 2000? 2001? Where were any of the clean players when the game needed them to speak up? The usage of PHD damned the game. But the silence was equally crippling.
Oh, well. There’s always the NFL …