Northside For Life

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Bitter End


So Sammy Sosa announced through his agent that he's hanging it up at age 37. Well sort of. Basically no one is offering a guarnteed roster spot and millions of dollars, so he's decided to take his massive ego and go home. He's not filed on the retirement list, but he's not going to play anywhere either.

Not for no stinkin' $500 grand anyway. Sammy don't play that, see?

Despite the picture I've posted on the left, I'm not going to bash the man. Rather that picture represents what I feel was the moment the downward spiral began. That Easter Sunday in Pittsburgh when Salomon Torres nailed him in the coconut. After that Sammy seemed to dig his feet in halfway to the on-deck circle when he came up to bat and really wasn't the same ever again. Later that year was the cork incident. He got past it as the Cubs went on to win the division. Sammy hit a couple of monster homeruns early in the NLCS \and then disappeared. As did the Cubs.

The next year the fans' love affair with Sammy began to fall apart. Sammy was swinging out of his shoes on every single at bat. He was striking out in key situations while swinging for the fences. He whiffed at the freaking Home Run Derby! He hit a long drive to right field in Pittsburgh, did his little home run hop, and then watched the ball bounce off the wall and back into play. Due to his premature hopulation, he was held to a single on what should have been a two bagger. After the game he dismissed the play arrogantly, essentially saying that was his style of play, deal with it. He started getting booed at Wrigley, where he previously could do no wrong. As the K's piled up, the boos got louder. And to top it all off, he left the park during the first inning of the team's last regular season game, then lied about it. On Fan Appreciation Day to boot. And booted he was, shipped off to the Orioles in an acrimonious Trump-like divorce. From hero to pariah in the course of one season.

We'll all remember Sammy for helping breath life back into baseball during that magical 1998 season. But as the homers piled up, Sammy's head swelled to massive proportions. He brought monster numbers to the table, but along with it a monster ego and thus began believing his own hype. This is the point in the movie where the musical montage featuring Paul Engermann's "Push It To The Limit" comes on, with Sammy blowing kisses, hitting homers, breaking records, making curtain calls, making piles of dough, getting married in a humongous mansion and then taking everybody to his massive backyard to see the new pet tiger he just bought. Everything got bigger and bigger. Eventually Sammy wasn't on the Cubs. He WAS the Cubs.

Everybody remembers that loud ass, merengue and salsa playing boom box he had in the locker room. There wasn't a postgame interview in the locker room where you wouldn't hear that damn thing in the background. Teamates -Mark Grace in particular- hated it, but he just played it louder. For a while he started to sulk, wanting to be traded to the Yankees. The Trib thought better than to trade their main gate attraction and instead signed him to a massive contract that ended up biting them in the ass years later.

Yeah Sammy Sosa left here under bad terms. I was one of the biggest Sammy Sosa fans you could find. But as the years went by, the man started to lose his luster. We began to see him for the arrogant asshole he was underneath all the smiles and blown kisses.

However I'm going to look past that for a minute. Past all the steroid bullshit too. Let's look at what Sammy did in a Cub uniform and let's give him at least some respect.

Sammy Sosa was one of the most electrifying players the Cubs have ever had. He definitely was their biggest superstar. Yes you can make a case for the all-time greats like Ernie Banks, but they played in a different era, before superstations, SportsCenter and the internet. They weren't necesarily nationwide household names The Cubs had never really had a Prime Time player of Sosa's magnitude before. Even in the down years, Sammy played his ass off, starting all 162 games and slamming homer after homer, driving in runs by the truckload. Maybe he became too fixated on the homerun, but you have to admit he was exciting to watch. He was the rare breed of player who made you stop whatever you were doing whenever he came to bat. Even if you'd had about 6 beers in the last hour and your bladder was about to burst, you held on until the at-bat was over. He brought an energy to the park that very few Cub players have.

Most everybody hates Sammy now. A lot of people will say "Oh I always knew he was an ass. They should have traded him when he still had value", "He was a clubhouse cancer. I'm glad he's gone". Chances are you might have thought he was an ass during his peak years, but you loved him nontheless. You loved the bombs onto Waveland. You were digging it when he would blast out of the dugout to take his place in right field. You cheered him on when he ran the bases with the American flag after 9/11. At one point you know you loved Sammy. You rocked the 21 jersey. You bought the bobblehead. You chuckled at his goofy-ass Pepsi commercials. It's fine to be disappointed after all that's happened. The cork. The steroid suspicion that will never be confirmed. The attitude. The way he left. But don't forget how he made you feel from 1998 through 2003. At that time he was The Man. He was the face of the Cubs. There's no taking that away.

Now he's retiring because he's not wanted. No press conference, no farewell tour. No Sammy Sosa Day at Wrigley. Not yet anyway. Just a statement from his agent saying he doesn't want to play. After all the years of adulation and fame, he goes out like a punk.

What a damn shame.

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