Whether he knows it or not, Sammy Sosa is getting exactly what he wants — attention
We’re talking about him (again) because he’s denying (again) that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his career.
Maybe Sammy Sosa is brilliant and his lack of a MacArthur genius grant is a scandalous oversight. Maybe he knows exactly what he’s doing.
But I doubt it.
What he really craves is acceptance, and the way to it, he believes, is for the Cubs to tell him that all is forgiven. He longs for their invitation: Please, please, please come back to Wrigley Field and reunite with 40,000 of your formerly closest friends.
But even if he were to admit to what everyone knows — that he was a walking medicine cabinet as a player — it would not bring acceptance from the masses. The unforgivable part is not just his reliance on performance-enhancing drugs and the gaudy power numbers he put up because of them. It’s his two-decade-long refusal to acknowledge his PED transgressions.
A second cousin of acceptance is attention. Perhaps somewhere inside Sosa is the recognition that, for an emotionally needy person, attention can be as powerful as acceptance and that infamy can get you as much as love can.
But I doubt it.
If he took a step back, he’d understand that his continued pleas for a return to Wrigley keep him in the public eye much more than throwing out a ceremonial first pitch ever could. Pete Rose knows how effective this strategy is. But it takes self-awareness. Someone with self-awareness doesn’t have a massive painting of himself in his home, as Sosa did in his Dominican Republic villa back in 2006. You could walk into that portrait and not be seen for weeks.
Sosa is back in the news because ESPN decided to explore the 1998 home run race between him and Mark McGwire. The “30 for 30” documentary “Long Gone Summer’’ debuts Sunday. Whatever excitement the Sosa-McGwire battle produced 22 years ago was based on a complete lie. Steroids fueled it. Therefore, it was a fraud perpetrated on the American public. So the documentary should last about two minutes. Instead, it runs two hours.
Ah, but the biceps competition brought happiness to so many people, the romantics will say. True. Also true: It wasn’t real. That means the happiness it created wasn’t real, either. The whole thing was like a mind-altering drug. Yes, those are very pretty psychedelic flowers you think you’re seeing but really aren’t.
But Sosa wins again, even if he doesn’t realize it. We’re talking about him. Mostly, we’re talking about the fact that, once again, he doesn’t own up to his PED use. You shake your head at the man’s stubbornness. But we’re talking about him.
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He has become adept at stringing reporters along with promises that he’s about to tell all. One of his representatives reaches out to a media member, saying that Sammy finally wants to come clean. The reporter shows up at one of Sosa’s fabulous homes and finds an uncooperative witness.
“I never failed a drug test,’’ he told Sports Illustrated in 2018. “So why are you asking me about that when they don’t have nothing on Sosa?”
The best quote from that story is one that speaks to who he is more than any denial or painting or 500-foot home run ever could.
“I passed Ernie Banks for most home runs in Chicago Cubs history,” Sosa said. “He has a statue, and I don’t have nothing. So, what the (expletive)?”
That’s the Sammy we know. That’s the Sammy who can’t help himself. It’s the Sammy who can’t understand why people aren’t more focused on his home runs, his joyful sprints to right field between innings and his heart taps. He believes those things are his essence.
Many of us believe his essence was the need to take drugs to become a feared hitter. To be noticed. To be loved.
But, again, if the object is to remain in the public consciousness, to gain attention, he certainly has pulled it off, hasn’t he? The Giants forgave Barry Bonds, he got his chance to be cheered by adoring fans at a welcome-back day and it didn’t bring him much peace. He can’t get in the Hall of Fame, and he can’t get a real foothold in the game in retirement.
“I feel like a ghost,” he told The Athletic in March. “A ghost in a big empty house, just rattling around. ... My heart, it’s broken. Really broken.”
Our guy Sammy needs a lot more than a day at the park.
I wish we in the media would stop going back to the Sosa well. It’s as dry as a dust storm. There’s no story unless he admits to having used steroids, and even then, I’m not sure it’s a story. Will everything be forgiven if he decides to admit that all his denials of the past two decades were bogus? We already knew they were bogus. Tell me why the Cubs would want to honor him for that?
I say we don’t answer the phone the next time he calls. What will he do with himself then?