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Cubs, White Sox Thursday spring training report

MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 30: Michael Capponi, Sammy Sosa and Gideon Kimbrell attend InList's 2nd Anniversary Party Celebrating Moishe Mana's Birthday, Presented By Stoli on November 30, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Romain Maurice/Getty Images for InList)

Where would Sammy Sosa be today if the Cubs hadn’t melted down in the 2003 National League Championship Series?

It’s a question worth asking this week as Sosa continues to dominate the Cubs’ landscape more than 12 years after his famous final-game exit. It’s hard to believe Sosa would be such a pariah in Chicago — and in America — had those Cubs broken through to the World Series.

While other Steroid Era bad guys such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are gaining respect among Hall of Famer voters, Sosa remains a bottom-feeder on the ballot.

In that disastrous NLCS against the Marlins the year before his famous exit, Sosa led all Cubs batters (those with at least four at-bats) with a 1.031 OPS, hitting .308 with two home runs and six RBI. If fans hated him then, they did a great job of concealing their emotions. If that Cubs team broke through, Sosa would have achieved landmark status in Chicago.

Sosa returned to the headlines this week when he spoke at length with former Cubs front-office official Chuck Wasserstrom in a wide-ranging interview for Chuck’s personal blog. In that interview, Sosa said he would love to return to Wrigley Field, but his pride is too much for him to ask for an invite — hint, hint.

So we reached out to the Cubs for a comment. After almost a full business day of mulling the question, a Cubs spokesman got back to us saying they would prefer to decline comment. That speaks volumes about how Sosa is seen by the Ricketts ownership group.

Sosa remains a lightning rod in baseball circles, but former Cubs teammate and current ESPN baseball analyst Doug Glanville wrote a thoughtful, detailed defense of Sammy that was posted this morning. Glanville also reached out to Sosa and — thanks to his close relationship with the slugger — got some revealing quotes.

Chicago Cubs’ Doug Glanville, center, and Shawon Dunston, right, congratulate Sammy Sosa (21) after hitting a home run in the eighth inning Sunday, Aug. 24, 1997, in Chicago. Sosa’s home run help defeat the Expos 12-3. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Chicago Cubs’ Doug Glanville, center, and Shawon Dunston, right, congratulate Sammy Sosa (21) after hitting a home run in the eighth inning Sunday, Aug. 24, 1997, in Chicago. Sosa’s home run help defeat the Expos 12-3. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

“One thing I do not understand: A lot of teammates, I helped them a lot, but they have me like I was one of the worst people in the world,” Sosa told Glanville. “Regardless of what happened, nobody will scratch my number from the board. I have no problem with Chicago or the new front office. It is a surprise [how things are today]. … I gave them all my life when I was playing. I asked myself, I really ask myself, ‘What have I done so wrong that the people today sometimes treat me like I don’t deserve what I did?’ ”

Glanville, who shared a clubhouse with Sosa as a teammate, provided some interesting perspective that quiets Sammy’s boom-box critics (think Kerry Wood and Mark Prior):

“I played with Sosa for about three seasons with the Cubs. I still saw a player who loved the fans, played with a smile, produced prolifically and followed many rituals — from the time he hit in the cage every day to the number of cups of water he needed to splash on his face and the song he ordained for the half of the season to carry us through. ‘Killing Me Softly,’ ‘I Believe I Can Fly,’ ‘Return of the Mack,’ ‘In Da Club,’ even an entire collection of Whitney Houston songs, long after her peak, blasted incessantly in the clubhouse.

“I know eventually there was beef over his boom box, but while I was there, it didn’t seem nefarious. He just seemed to be a guy who survived on routine.”

It’s hard to imagine Sosa existing in the current climate of the Cubs’ clubhouse. There’s not much room for a me-first attitude in there. There’s no question Sosa saw the world revolving around him, but that’s partially a product of the super ego the front office and fans — not to mention WGN’s TV cameras — helped create.

And those same writers who celebrated Sosa in 1998 — all the way through 2003 — are showing a double-standard now by leaving him off their Hall of Fame ballots.

Love Sosa or hate him, Glanville’s column is worth a read.

LEADOFF BY COMMITTEE?

Finding a replacement for Dexter Fowler atop the Cubs’ lineup will be a major task for manager Joe Maddon early this season. We all remember the saying, “As Dexter goes …” Well, Dexter’s gone

So who will set the table for the Cubs’ potent lineup? Kyle Schwarber and Jon Jay are the early leaders in the derby, but it’s clear this will be a revolving door for the Cubs, as our Gordon Wittenmyer explores the issue this morning.

MORE CORE ON THE WAY?

The Cubs can boast their core group of young players, but they also want to remind you that there is more core where that came from. Power-hitting outfielder prospect Eloy Jimenez represents that next group of young prospects ready to emerge.

Jimenez is only 20 and played last season at Class A, but that doesn’t stop him from expecting to break camp with the big-league club this spring training. Gotta admire his confidence. That’s why manager Joe Maddon calls him “a different cat, man.”

FOR OPENERS …

We are creeping closer to the start of Cactus League play and the Cubs have tabbed Mike Montgomery as their first starter. Montgomery, who nailed down the final out in the World Series, is aiming to be the Cubs’ fifth starter this season.

SOUTH SIDE CELEBRATION

The White Sox are honoring one of their fan-favorite pitchers this summer by retiring Mark Buehrle’s No. 56. Buehrle will be the 12th White Sox player to have his number retired, joining former teammates Paul Konerko and Hall-of-Famer Frank Thomas.

Not bad for a 38th-round draft pick.

TILSON UPDATE

Charlie Tilson entered camp with the inside track to win the starting center-field job for the White Sox, but a sore right foot has put him behind. Within this notebook, Daryl Van Schouwen gives us the latest on Tilson’s comeback.

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