Cubs can't erase absent Sosa's impact

April, 23, 2014
4/23/14
3:37
PM CT
Greenberg By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com
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Sammy SosaJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesBarry Bonds and Mark McGwire have been welcomed back to baseball. Will Sammy Sosa?
CHICAGO -- What do Sammy Sosa and I have in common?

Neither of us was at Wrigley Field for the 100th birthday celebration.

I was busy, but Sosa wasn't even invited.

While all I do is make jokes about the Cubs, and write the occasional cloying article about the grandeur of Wrigley Field, Sosa helped make the Cubs a hot ticket for many lucrative years.

As his fame reached international proportions, Sosa was, according to my sources, a jerk to a lot of people and a bad teammate.

Many fans and reporters are still aghast that he was accused of being a major juicer in the so-called steroid era. As if he was alone.

But while St. Louis embraced Mark McGwire, Sosa's partner in the Great Home Run Chase of 1998, and San Francisco has brought back Barry Bonds, and plenty of other allegedly and admittedly juiced-up sluggers have found work and acceptance in baseball, Sosa is on the periphery.

The only test he reportedly failed was in 2003, as baseball was trying to clean up its own mess. Red Sox slugger David Ortiz was also reportedly on that list, though he has denied using any PEDs. Ortiz is bigger than the Green Monster in Boston.

Of course, he's also a remarkably nice guy and a civic hero. Sosa is Sosa, the archetypal selfish superstar.

"There are some things Sammy needs to look at and consider prior to having an engagement with the team," Cubs spokesman Julian Green said.

ESPN Chicago reporter Jesse Rogers wrote, "Sources indicate one thing Sosa has to do is make amends with some former teammates for his actions at the end of his Cubs career."

So he's not invited because he was a jerk? Maybe there's some poetic justice there -- the importance of the Golden Rule and all that -- but I wouldn't be breaking news to tell you there are a lot of jerks in the world of professional sports. I didn't realize there was a "Jerk Ban" at Wrigley. They still let me in.

As far as allegedly using performance-enhancing drugs: If he did use them, should Sosa apologize, as so many others (including McGwire) have? I suppose it would help. But who is he apologizing to? And would he really mean it? How many guys are just apologizing for getting caught?

Rogers' story noted the Cubs are looking to bring him back for their next centennial celebration honoring the Cubs moving into Wrigley in 1916.

Given the current non-relationship, I suppose it wouldn't have made sense to them to invite him to Wednesday's ceremony. But by not doing so, they are ignoring a major contributor to their history.

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Sosa and McGwire didn't save baseball, because the sport was never in danger of going anywhere. What they did is to spur short-term interest in a sport obsessed with its own milestones.

No matter how you view Sosa's 545 home runs as a Cub, they happened. This isn't Stalin's Russia or the NCAA; you can't just whitewash history.

There aren't many singular draws in baseball -- that is, players who sell tickets, not to mention beer and hot dogs, by their very existence. But Sosa was one of them, and he helped make Wrigley Field a party in the late '90s. He hit a record 293 homers at Wrigley, three more than Cubs great Ernie Banks.

If you were at Wrigley in those years before everything soured, before Sosa ended his tenure by leaving a game early, you remember what the park was like when he was hot. Chemically enhanced or not, those memories still exist.

In the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college, I lived in Evanston, Ill., and vended at Wrigley with my college friend. This was 1999 and the Cubs were hideous by early June. But Sosa still packed the park, and every time he came to bat, everything stopped. Fans stood and cheered and Sosa took heroic whacks at baseballs.

Whatever his inspiration was, this was entertainment at its most basic form.

That's what sports are really all about: entertainment, a distraction from regular life.

You can tack on all your extra connotations -- fairness, teamwork, the purity of competition -- but professional sports is just for fun. And Wrigley Field was Sosa's playground.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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