Commentary: Sosa’s story career closes in sad fashion

Like most Cubs fans, I loved Sammy Sosa. He emerged as one of baseball’s most lovable figures in 1998, clubbing 66 homers, winning the NL MVP and leading the Cubs in an improbable run to the Wild Card.

His sheepish smile, his dugout-to-bleacher sprints out to right field, the way he said, “Baseball’s been very, very good to me” – Sammy was just Sammy – and he was everything a professional athlete should be.

But with a little cork and the crack of the bat in June of 2003, the cracks in Sosa’s foundation began to show. And before long, Sammy was crumbling.

He rebounded from the corked-bat incident to finish 2003 with 40 homers and 103 RBIs. He hit .308, went deep twice and drove in six runs in the National League Championship Series, but the Cubs’ legendary collapse in game 6 would serve as a sad symbol for the disappointing end to Sosa’s career. Both left Cubs fans brokenhearted, betrayed and bitter. Both left Cubs fans wondering what went wrong.

In 2004, Sosa feuded with his manager. He clashed with teammates. The year culminated with the Cubs captain, angry with being left out of the starting lineup in the season finale, skipping out early during what would be his final game in Chicago.

The Cubs traded Sosa – and his $17 million salary – to Baltimore. Both sides seemed grateful for a fresh start.

But Sosa’s tenure with the Orioles began as tumultuously as his time with the Cubs ended. In March, amid rumors of rampant steroid use in baseball, Congress called Sosa and other big-leaguers to testify about the drug’s prevalence in the game.

Finally, Sosa would have a chance to rebound – a chance to remind baseball fans why they fell in love with him, not Mark McGwire, as the two giants pushed each other toward Roger Maris’ home-run record seven years earlier. But Sosa, a man who once soaked up the spotlight like a sponge, suddenly forgot how to speak English.

Through an interpreter, Sosa said he never used illegal performance-enhancing drugs, but his inept dodging act and shallow denial reminded everyone what a shell of a superstar Sosa had become.

Fourteen home runs and 45 RBIs later, Sosa has turned down a meager minor league contract offer from Washington and has likely donned a Major League uniform for the last time.

I don’t know how I’ll remember Sosa, having seen him first as a spry, skinny 21-year-old roaming right field for the White Sox in 1990; then watching him cross town and morph from an inconsistent speedster, to a pure slugger, to one of the game’s most complete offensive forces.

Sosa’s heroics catapulted the Cubs franchise to legitimacy in 1998; turning the Cubs from the National League’s laughingstock to one of baseball’s power players. He racked up 545 home runs and drove in 1,414 runs with the Cubs. He defined the franchise for more than a decade.

But time didn’t stand still. His bat broke open, exposing him as a cheater. It became harder to chalk up his suspicious addition of bulk to hard work and dedication in the gym. His unique character and fun-loving antics, once endearing, began to look more and more like an act designed to cover his underlying selfishness.

Few in my baseball-watching life have captured my imagination and admiration like Sammy did. It’s just that none have let me down like he has either.

News editor Mike Dwyer is a senior news-editorial journalism and history major from Des Plaines, Ill.