Cubs

Sammy Sosa crosses the Ernie Banks line, and there’s no going back (to Wrigley)

I’ve been done with Sammy Sosa for years, having seen him for what he was a long, long time ago. But now he has brought Ernie Banks into his warped attempt to paint himself as a victim, and it should be the final straw for any self-respecting Cubs fan.

In a recent Sports Illustrated article that tried hard to portray the former Cubs slugger as an unfortunate prisoner of the franchise’s refusal to honor him, Sosa eventually unmasks himself because he always does.

‘‘I passed Ernie Banks for most home runs in Chicago Cubs history,’’ he said. ‘‘He has a statue, and I don’t have nothing. So, what the f—?’’

The statue of Banks that sits outside Wrigley Field honors not only Banks the home-run hitter but Banks the man. It honors his humanity, his humility, his good cheer, his grace, his basic goodness.

Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa (left) and Cubs legend Ernie Banks acknowledge the crowd prior to the team's home opener in 2003. Sosa and Banks were honored for being the only Cubs players to each hit 500 career home runs. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Sosa physically might be able to put his fingers on that statue, but he can’t touch it.

The late Banks spent a lifetime bringing joy to people. There was no deceit in him. Sosa is full of it. Deceit, I mean. Many of his Cubs homers, a franchise-record 545, were built on performance-enhancing drugs — or ‘‘Flintstone vitamins,’’ as he mockingly told us. You know it. I know it. And Sosa knows it.

But he spent much of his career and all of his retirement telling people that he didn’t do steroids, that he never failed a drug test and that he has been maligned. There would be little to lose in admitting he was a fraud and everything to gain: a possible concession by team chairman Tom Ricketts and a ceremony honoring the Prodigal Slugger. But no. Sosa’s massive self-regard won’t let him utter words that would elicit a no-kidding shrug from just about everybody: ‘‘I cheated my ass off.’’

He did bring joy to people with his tape-measure homers, his smile and his joyous sprints to right field at Wrigley. In that regard, he was a modern-day Banks. But if it was built on PEDs, then the whole thing was a mirage. Or, worse yet, a pharmaceutical freak show. Banks’ career was built on excellence and decency.

For Sosa to pull Banks into his orbit shows how disconnected Sosa is from reality. Here’s the difference between the two: Ernie was beloved, and Sammy wanted to be loved. That need to be loved, that need for daily affirmation from crowds, very well could have led him to pick up a syringe for the first time.

Some people, maybe lots of people, still are holding on to their memories of Sosa from the late 1990s and early 2000s. It makes them feel warm all over. He was part of their lives, and they would prefer that slice of their being not be repudiated. Who wants to be told what they embrace so tightly is fake? Nobody, so they remember how they choose to.

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But remember this: ‘‘I passed Ernie Banks for most home runs in Chicago Cubs history. He has a statue, and I don’t have nothing. So, what the f—?’’

Some things can’t be forgotten. Those words shouldn’t be. Never mind Sosa’s unofficial banishment from Wrigley; it’s time to banish this con man from your brain.

To my media brethren: Please stop interviewing him. He clearly has no intention of admitting anything. His ego will not allow it. What we’ve had, then, is a merry-go-round of denials, blanket apologies that amount to nothing, vague descriptions of his international business dealings and ridiculous comments.

But let’s say the planet stops rotating and Sosa decides to admit he used steroids. After all the nonsense he has put everyone through, would it mean anything? Or would it look like what it almost certainly would be, a calculated attempt to gain favor with Cubs ownership and Cubs fans? I’ll go with Door No. 2. After the years of denials, you can bet he’s not sorry for anything, other than the fact some people remember him going from a skinny baseball player to, in the space of a year or two, a beast with bulging biceps.

Sosa does not deserve his day at Wrigley. The artificially produced power numbers were bad enough, but his stubbornness in refusing to acknowledge what everyone already knows makes it impossible for the Cubs to honor him.

But if they had even the tiniest inclination to want to recognize him publicly for cheating better than most players of his era, his inability to see the difference between himself and Banks should seal the deal. That difference is called genuineness. It always comes through.

Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their candid, amusing takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or via RSS feed.