Sunday, January 30, 2005

Not this Way

What was supposed to be a season of high expectations, became an embarrassing, pressure packed, franchise changing 6-month long soap opera, featuring outlandish managerial comments, players feuding with announcers, players whining constantly to umpires, and false injury diagnoses. It all culminated with a near catastrophic fall from world series contender to a 3rd place wildcard finish. Seemingly taking the blame for all the 2004 failures was the team captain, Sammy Sosa. After being riddled by boos for the entire summer, Sosa skipped out on the team in the first inning of the final game of a lost season. What ensued was the fiasco that turned into the end of the Cubs' Sammy Sosa era.

For all us that grew with the Cubs back in the 80s, this is the end of an era. The last ties to the Harry Caray era are gone. Steve Stone is out. Chip Caray is gone. And now the only player that was a Cub in a game called by Harry has gone in an ugly divorce.

As a skinny kid in the Texas Rangers system, Sammy just wanted a chance. He finally got that chance after one of the most memorable trades in Cubs history. Sammy Sosa and Ken Patterson were sent to the northside, while George Bell went South.

In his first full season with the Cubs, Sosa showed all of his touted 5 tools. He blasted 33 homers. Stole 36 bases. Played solid defense splitting time between CF and RF. And he gunned out 17 runners from the OF. Yet, that wasn't enough.

Cubs fans wanted less free swinging and more walks. Two years later in 1995, Sosa did just that, putting together his 2nd 30/30 season to go with a then career best, 58 bases on balls. Yet, that wasn't enough.
Cubs fans wanted Sosa to develop all that superstar potential and lead the Cubs to the playoffs. Just 3 years later, Sammy obliged and began an unprecedented 5-year run as one of the game's top 5 offensive forces. In 1998, Sosa literally put a mediocre supporting cast on his back, with the best season in the prestigious history of the Cubs, on the way to the organization's first playoff appearance in 9 years. Yet, that wasn't enough.
Sosa was due a huge payday after being severely underpaid for 2 MVP caliber seasons. Three more years, and again Sosa outdid himself with his best season ever solidifying himself as a future Hall of Famer. He did all of this while taking a joke of an offensive supporting cast (hit between Ricky Gutierrez and Ron Coomer) to the 5th best record in the National League. Only Bill Mueller and Rondell White, of the regular players, still have ML starting jobs; and they missed a combined 150 games in 01.

For every person worshipping Sammy Sosa, there was just as many people who anxiously awaited his downfall. Over the years, I have heard Cubs fans use every excuse possible to try and justify their dislike for Sosa:

-"He beat his wife".....despite the fact that charges were never pressed, and his wife still denies it ever happened

-"His charity was a fraud"......though he was not directly involved in the operations and was never suspected of fraud

-"All he does is swing for the fences"......meanwhile, he had 5 straight seasons of 70+ walks, including 116 in 2001...while lowering his strikeout total each season.

-"He's not a team player, because he doesn't do the little things".....when no other middle of the order hitter in baseball tries to bunt, steal bases, or move runners along...and even though he finished 2nd in sac flies in 2001.

-"He doesn't come through in the clutch, and only hit HRs when they don't matter".......despite leading the league in walk-off HRs and the now defunct stat of game-winning RBIs for a 7-year span.

-"He strikes out too much".....even though 4 of the top 8 hitters in Ks are in the Hall of Fame

-"He's a cheater because he used a corked bat"......his apology and reasoning weren't accepted, even after none of his clubhouse or Hall of Fame bats had any traces of cork, and he continued to put up great numbers after returning from suspension.

-"He's on steroids".....even though he has no ties to the Balco scandal and has never knowingly been tested positive for steroids.

Well, all of those Sosa haters got their wish. Sosa's days as a Cub are over.

I am dumbfounded at the fact that Sammy Sosa has never gotten the support from his hometown fans that other superstar have had. Mark McGwire never got anything but support from Cardinals fans, despite becoming an oft-injured, all-or-nothing hitter in his final two seasons. Barry Bonds still gets the full support of the San Francisco fans, despite admitting to a grand jury that he indeed did use performance enhancing drugs. Heck, Cincinnati fans still love the biggest black eye on the game, Pete Rose. People still worship baseball heroes of the past who have proven to be alcoholics, womanizers, and racists. Yet, Cubs fans could never give Sosa the respect that he so dearly earned.

Sosa deserved better. Never has there been a player who has worked harder for himself, for the Cubs, for the city of Chicago, and for the game of baseball itself. This is a man who helped bring baseball back from sports armageddon. Dominican born and raised, Sosa carried the American flag around the bases after his first HR after 9/11 to show his support for a country that has allowed him the opportunity to play the game he loves for millions of adoring fans. Sosa went out and gave his all every single day. He brought enthusiam to Wrigley, by sprinting out to his RF position to start every home game, always with a huge grin on his face. He constantly thanked the fans of Chicago for supporting him, and did everything in his power to send each and every fan home with a similar grin.

So, this is how it ends? The most productive player in Cubs history gets traded, and the majority of people in the city of Chicago don't even bat an eyelash. Some fans are even happy at getting rid of a Chicago icon. When all is said and done, it comes down to not sitting in the clubhouse for the only meaningless Cubs game in 2 seasons.

All parties involved should be ashamed at the way things have transpired in 2004-05. There was never any effort by the organization to dispell the rumors that management wanted Sosa out of town. There were lies all over the media that the Cubs fully expected Sammy to man RF for them in 2005, and would only be traded if the team were made better. Sosa deserved better. He deserved a final chance, in the last year of his contract, to take an at times woeful organization to an elusive World Series. He deserved to go out in gracefully like Michael Jordan and John Elway. He deserved to watch his jersey number get raised up the RF foul pole with other Cub greats. He deserved to hear a non-stop ovation from the fans appreciating his tenure as the best Cub ever. He deserved to go out a champion. Not this way.

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