Remember when Sammy got caught using a corked bat?
It was June 3, 2003.
Lou Piniella managed the Devil Rays from the visiting dugout at Wrigley Field. Mark Prior lasted eight strong innings, and the Cubs were racing towards the postseason under Dusty Baker’s watch.
Sosa, on the other hand, was struggling.
The downward spiral began in late April after the slugger was beaned in the head by Pittsburgh’s Salomon Torres.
He later missed 17 games after having a toe nail surgically removed, and then fell into a 2-for-15 slump after returning from the DL.
The league handed down an eight game ban against Sammy for using the corked bat. Although, he successfully appealed the suspension which was reduced to seven games.
Sosa’s first game back was June 18 at Cincinnati. At the time, I was working for the Reds.
Normally, the visiting team travels together on a charter bus from the team hotel to the stadium, but not Sammy.
Sosa arrives beneath the stadium riding shotgun in a tricked-out black SUV. His entourage falls out the back doors and quickly hauls his equipment bags to the visiting locker room.
The baseball world stops when Sosa is in the building. It’s hard, after all, to ignore a guy whose personality is bigger than his enormous home runs blasts.
As a member of the Reds staff, I’m instructed not to initiate conversation with the players. So like dozens of other Reds employees, my eyes are on Sammy, but my mouth is shut.
Sosa, feeling the tension, finally breaks the silence by joyously blurting out “What, we all make-ah mistake!!!”
Of course, the employee code of silence shatters like Sosa’s corked bat; we all want a chance to talk with the Dominican Superman!
I stood shoulder to shoulder with Sosa. He remains the closet being I’ve seen in the flesh to a real life superhero.
For a few minutes Sosa charmed us all. He was funny, animated, and appeared glad to be back with the Cubs.
Later in the evening, he crushed–and I mean crushed!–his seventh home run of the season, a go-ahead two-run shot against Jimmy Haynes in the fifth inning.
Sosa’s charm, however, never changed my opinion of him accidentally grabbing the wrong bat…or his much speculated steroids use. No way the great Sammy was clean–corked bat or not.
What remains most unfortunate about Sosa is his unwillingness to fess up about his PED use.
It’s cost him the opportunity to continue playing, and deprived baseball of one of its greatest personalities.
The corked bat can be overlooked. The league tested 76 of Sosa’s bats immediately following the incident, including five of his bats on display at the HOF, and not a single shred of cork showed up.
The speculated steroid use, however, is far worse for Sammy’s reputation. And the longer Sosa waits to come clean about PED use the harder it becomes to forgive him.
Who knows where Sosa will be next year, let alone when he becomes eligible for the HOF? Maybe he gets voted in? Maybe not?
Either way, we’ll always remember Sammy–for the good and the bad.