Wednesday, February 02, 2005

So long Sammy...

I'm a resident of the Chicago area, and an avid fan of both the sport of baseball and the Chicago White Sox. I have followed the rise and fall of Sammy Sosa, a member of our cross-town rivals, the Chicago Cubs. It's an article of faith here that White Sox fans are supposed to hate it when anything good happens to the Cubs and cheer when something bad happens to them (Q. As a White Sox fan, who are you rooting for today? A. The White Sox and whoever is playing the Cubs). These feelings are mirrored, of course, by Cubs fans. I'm a bit of an oddball in that respect. I actually root for the Cubs, except when they play the White Sox. My ideal World Series would be the White Sox vs. the Cubs, with the Sox taking it in 7 games (and with the 7th game being a blowout of mythic proportions so that we could celebrate early and often).

So, writing as someone who generally does support the Cubs, the overriding feeling I have about Sammy being traded to the Orioles is that it was such an ignominious end to a great career here. Sammy was lionized in this town in a way that few other sports heroes were. He's one of the great home-run hitters of all time. He's a first-ballot lock for the Hall of Fame. He's gone out of his way to be "fan-friendly". How did it all go so wrong? It was, of course, incredibly, monumentally, unbelievably stupid and selfish of him to walk out on his teammates and fans on that last day. The team had collapsed in the final week and a half. They had blown a wild-card berth to the playoffs which was all but locked up. It was a choke job of epic proportions (and no one could blame Steve Bartman this time). There was feuding going on between some of the players and the TV Broadcasters. Everything was going sour. And when the playoffs were officially out-of-reach, Sammy capped it off by deserting his team. If this had been an isolated incident, it may have been overcome. A heartfelt, public apology on his part to his teammates, the fans and the owners, along with a promise to make 2005 a great year, might have gotten him another chance. Scottie Pippen quit on the Bulls at a crucial time, but at least he didn't leave the floor. And, it was an isolated incident, one he apologized for and never repeated and, after being traded away to Portland, he eventually returned to Chicago as a fan favorite. For Sammy though, this was not a first-time offense. There was the corked bat fiasco (and his lame excuse for it) the previous year. Many of the local sports writers had long been on Sammy's case, calling him a phony, or worse. Through it all, the fans and the team remained supportive of Sammy. But the corked bat incident made people suspicious and his walk-out tipped the balance.

When you are obviously guilty of stupidity and selfishness like Sammy was, it made the rumors/stories of spousal abuse and the collapse of the Sosa Fund amidst charges of corruption much more believable. Then, of course, there were the steroid rumors. Sammy played for 9 years, never hitting more than 40 home runs, then had 4 years in a row with 66, 63, 50 and 64.

As an aside, does anyone else remember the Home Run Derby at last year's All-Star game? Remember all of the cutaway shots of Sammy "focusing" and getting ready by taking his mighty practice swings? And then, once it was his turn at the plate, his performance was akin to the drunk trying to get it up for the hooker - pretty pathetic.

In his recent column, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports summed it up pretty well;

Some of the criticism of Sosa is unjust, considering all that he has accomplished over the past 16 seasons. But when you cork a bat, feud with a popular, charismatic manager and generally transform yourself into Sammy Diva, then walk out on your team on the final day of the season, you lose your right to a fair trial.
I hope Sammy recovers his cool and has a great year (except when the Orioles play the White Sox). He still has talent and the potential to put up some decent numbers. I truly wish him well. But he wore out his welcome here, big time...

So long Sammy. I don't know if the rumors regarding you using steroids are true or not, but you've often said that you would be "the first in line" to take these tests once the Players Association approved them. Well now's your chance. I hope you pass them with flying colors so that when you do break the 600 home run barrier and make it into Cooperstown, some of the luster will be restored. And, if you're lucky, maybe some of your Cub teammates will attend the induction ceremonies.

How will Sammy's exit affect the Cubs playoff chances? Not by much, IMHO. With players like Ramirez, Barret, Garciaparra, Burnitz (good pickup), Lee, Walker, Patterson, etc., they still have plenty of bats (I think they'll miss Alou more than they'll miss Sosa). And, if it turns out that they do need another hitter, I have no doubts that Hendry will find one. For the Cubs to make the playoffs and to go deep into them, Prior and Woods simply have to stay healthy enough to significantly improve their combined 14-13 WL record of last year. If they do, and they can produce a reasonable closer from their bullpen, this team has the talent to win it all. But if it's close at the end, Dusty will have to do a better job of choke-management than he did last year...

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