MESA, Ariz. - Sammy Sosa was once one of baseball’s most popular figures, a prodigious home run hitter who raced enthusiastically to his position and tapped his heart to salute adoring fans in the Wrigley Field bleachers.
Now one season after his bitter departure from the Chicago Cubs, the 37-year-old Sosa is probably headed to retirement, his days of circling the bases over.
If that is the case, he leaves behind a conflicting legacy.
“I imagine it’s frustrating when you get to this point in your career and you can’t get a guaranteed contract. I can’t imagine what that would be like for him and I feel for him, I really do,” Cubs catcher Michael Barrett said.
“He’s had a great career and unfortunately with the way the game has gone — let’s be truthful — the way the game has gone, it hasn’t helped him in any regard and I feel for him in that way, too.”
Sosa and Mark McGwire helped energize baseball and fill the stadiums with an epic home run duel in 1998, four years after a strike left many fans disillusioned.
But with baseball mired in accusations that star players used steroids, Sosa was among the players called to testify before a congressional committee last March. McGwire refused to answer questions about past steroid use. Sosa said he never used illegal steroids.
“And a lot of people are judgmental, judging that he was a steroid guy and they said a lot of things that I feel are not appropriate at this point in his career. I don’t think it’s fair. Say what you want to say about the corked bat, that’s one instance. That was one mistake he made.
“But overall you look at the career he had, and he had a tremendous career. He gave a lot to this organization and the organization gave a lot to him.”
Sosa is 12 homers shy of 600 — 545 of them with the Cubs. From 1998-2002, Sosa hit 292 homers. And he is the only player in major league history to have three seasons of at least 60 homers.
Slowed by a sore back brought on by violent a sneezing attack, he batted just .253 and in 126 games finished with 35 homers and 80 RBIs in 2004. Boos began to pour down.
His quirks — a home run hop, blowing kisses in rapid succession after retuning to the dugout, tapping his heart and racing to right field like a sprinter before each game — grew old to some.
And it was no secret that his boom box that often sent out loud music throughout the clubhouse was not always popular with his teammates.
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