Sammy Sosa Announces He'll Make an Announcement

Tab BamfordSenior Writer IJune 4, 2009

In a move that was typical of the strange ending of his baseball career, Sammy Sosa announced Wednesday that he'll announce his retirement sometime soon.

That's right, an announcement that he's going to make an announcement.

Sosa has seen an incredibly awkward fall from grace on Chicago's North Side, where he became one of the greatest power hitters in the history of the game.

Between 1992 and 2004, Sosa was the overwhelming face of the historic Cubs franchise. He came to the Cubs in a now infamous trade for George Bell before the 1992 season and was an intriguing player upon his arrival. Sosa was a good defensive right fielder who had batted leadoff for the White Sox and showed 30-30 potential.

In 1993, Sosa's first full season at Wrigley Field, he would hit 33 home runs and steal 36 bases. He also had 12 outfield assists, showing off his strong arm and establishing himself as a premier defensive outfielder in the National League.

The future was looking bright for Sosa and the Cubs.

As his career progressed between 1995 and 1997, Sosa would continue to put himself into the conversation of the elite run producers in the National League. Over those three seasons, Sosa would hit 112 home runs and drive in 338 runs.

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While Sosa was starting to come into his own, baseball was struggling to come back from the strike. Cal Ripken had continued to spark interest in his streak of consecutive games played, but there wasn't a nationally marketable image for the game.

Then 1998 happened.

Sosa and Mark McGwire would rewrite history books as they captured the interest and excitement of the entire sports nation. Both players would blow past one of the most hallowed records in sports, Roger Maris's 61 home runs in a season. Sosa wouldn't win the home run crown, but he did win the MVP award and lead the Cubs into the playoffs.

Between 1998 and 2001, Sosa wouldn't hit fewer than 50 home runs in a season and would drive in more than 138 runs in each season. In fact, Sosa would hit more than 60 homers in three of the four seasons.

In 2002, Sosa came down to earth and hit 49 home runs and drove in 108, his lowest RBI total since 1996. Not a reason for concern at that point, but certainly a drop-off from the previous four seasons that were biblically good.

The dynamic in the Cubs clubhouse had started to change in 1998 due to more than just the home run race. Perhaps the most dynamic pitching debut season in 20 years took place in Chicago as a kid named Kerry Wood burst onto the scene, striking out 20 Astros in mid-May.

In 2003, the marketing of the Cubs had moved past Sosa, and the national media machine had followed suit. It wasn't Sosa on the cover of big magazines any more; now it was Wood and Mark Prior.

Despite his numbers falling again, this time to 40 home runs and just 103 runs batted in, Sosa would again play in October in 2003 in a season that ended in a historic collapse against the Florida Marlins.

It would turn out that 2003 was the end of the happy marriage between the home-run-hopping, sprinting-into-right-field-to-start-the-game Sosa and the Wrigley Field fans.

Soon there would be a corked bat, injury issues, and an infamous departure on the final day of the season before the first pitch was thrown. Sosa had bailed on his teammates as the 2004 season fizzled into a disappointing September end.

In a swift departure from the commitment the organization had shown to the kid from the Dominican Republic in 1993, the Cubs unloaded Sosa in a trade to Baltimore that would bring only fringe players in return. There wasn't even consistent agreement from fans and the media that Sosa had any trade value at all.

Sosa was no longer considered an elite player, just three seasons after hitting 64 homers and knocking home 160 runs.

Sosa had, however, become a one-dimensional player. The 30-30 kid the Cubs acquired for Bell stole 18 bases in 1998; he would steal 17 in the final eight seasons of his career combined. His once Gold Glove-caliber defense had become a liability as well, leading to him spending most of his time in Baltimore and, later, Texas as a designated hitter.

He was now all or nothing at the plate.

Then came the accusations of steroid use, as most of the elite players of the 1990s and early 2000s were linked in some way to performance-enhancing drugs. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Rafael Palmeiro have all seen their images disgraced by rumors and appearances before Congress. Sosa's no different than those players.

In his announcement of an announcement, Sosa made a point of again trying to separate himself from the steroid image of his generation. He doesn't want to be associated with drugs, Sosa claimed; he'll just wait for Cooperstown to call.

It has been more than a full season since Sosa was in the major leagues, and five years since he was a relevant player. As much as Sosa might want to keep his image from being tarnished, that once larger-than-life image has become as much a ghost from the history books as it once was the billboard for the game that was "very, very good to [Sosa]."

On the night when a guy with 609 career home runs announced he intends to retire, he was a laughed-about footnote on ESPN's Baseball Tonight program. One of the greatest home run hitters in the history of the game planning to retire is a footnote on an average Wednesday of baseball.

Over the next days and weeks—indeed, between now and when his name appears on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time—there will be whispers about steroids and where Sosa's speed and arm went. The era he played in won't help Sosa, either; he might become the poster child for "Guilty by Association."

Chicago Cubs fans will remember two Sammy Sosas.

One was the free-spirited, hopping-after-crushing-the-ball-into-the-suburbs Sosa that the entire nation fell in love with in 1998.

The other was the increasingly surly malcontent that left his team behind on the final day of the season, leading to his subsequent trade to Baltimore and eventual anonymity.

How the Hall of Fame voters, and the rest of baseball's fans, remember Sosa will fill the final pages of the history book he has created for himself.