It's been over 10 years since Sammy Sosa first entered the 60-homer stratosphere, and nobody really celebrates that anymore. It hasn't been a full 8 years since he last hit 60 home runs in a season. It has been nearly 5 years since his early exit from the final game of the 2004 season, and for some reason that's the image of Sosa that seems to linger in Cubbie memory. And the release of the Mitchell Report was just a year and a half ago, but most people have apparently forgotten that Sosa's name wasn't on it.
There has never been any hard evidence linking Sammy Sosa to steroids. The obvious one—the simple fact that he hit a ton of home runs and they went a really long way—is a fair enough point, but that's hardly damning testimony. The usual argument I hear is, "Look at the pictures. Compare Sammy the twig from his early years with Sammy the hulking hero circa Y2K, and the difference is stunning."
Here's the problem, anonymous hypothetical accuser: the photos don't incriminate Sammy.
The above link (and the following link) is a Chicago Tribune photo gallery of Sammy Sosa over the course of his career. I expected it to show me a wiry Sosa no bulkier than the average Jheri Curl. And I expected the '98 photos to be bursting with musclebound, acne-ridden Sosa power. And, of course, I expected the photos from his final years with the Orioles and Rangers to show a completely deflated version of the fallen slugger.
What I saw instead was an early photo of the same glowing, goofy smiling head supported by a neck that was just as thick in the late '80s as it was in the mid '00s. He was definitely skinner as a kid, but not as much as I imagined. And he was ripped in '98, but not huge (the SI Cover of Sosa and McGwire, photo 11 in the gallery shows just how much smaller Sosa was than McGwire in height and bulk). To be frank, his legs looked like tree trunks pretty much his whole career. And in his last few years in baseball, Sammy didn't look skinny . . . he just looked like a dude in his late 30s who had kind of let himself go a little.
I've heard other people talk about Sammy's injury history, which I don't understand at all. From 1997 to 2002, Sammy played in at least 150 games every season, including two years ('97 and '99) in which he played 162 games. Sammy was a horse who made every effort to play every day for most of his career.
Here's what I'll remember about Sosa:
- Sammy played hard and performed at a high level from the instant he stepped out of the dugout and raced into right field.
- He seemed to be able to hit home runs at the most dramatic moments (if not the most important ones from a baseball standpoint): his flag-waving homer in the first game after the 9/11 attacks; later that season, he homered the day after Arne Harris died; in his first game back in Chicago after leaving the Cubs, he doubled and homered against the Sox; again with the Rangers, he hit his 600th career homer against the Cubs).
- Every at-bat was important to Sosa. For him, the show was always on.
- He couldn't cork a bat to save his life; seriously, that thing was a mess. If that's how he cheated, his idea of taking steroids would likely involve poking his biceps with a sewing needle dipped in berry juice.
- He became too big for his own good . . . but what do you expect when a guy gets worshipped for six years straight?
I guess I just feel like Sammy got the shaft. If he gets excluded from the Hall of Fame because of his association with the Steroid Era, I just want to know . . . where's the association?