- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- It's time to bring Sammy Sosa back to Wrigley Field.
Sosa's isolated status with the Chicago Cubs has been debated for years by fans and the media. But with the Cubs saluting the '90s during the homestand that opens Tuesday as part of their season-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field, it's time to welcome back the franchise's most iconic player from that decade.
The 20th anniversary of the 1994 labor strike that wiped out a memorable season passed last week, a reminder of how frustrating it was that I couldn't watch my favorite team on a daily basis. And I'm reminded how happy I was in the following years to be able to watch Sosa knock homers out of the park every day when I got out of school and flipped on WGN. The post-'94 strike era in baseball will be forever defined by the performance-enhancing drugs that permeated the game. Twenty years later, the game is still tainted because of the decisions of players like Sosa to allegedly use illegal substances.
A New York Times story reported that Sosa was on the 2003 list of players who flunked tests for PEDs.
I don't think fans should suddenly forget about the decisions Sosa, Mark McGwire and others made in regard to PEDs, and I don't think the Cubs should forget the way he treated people within the organization as his star rose -- and ultimately fell -- in Chicago. But enough time has passed to at least recognize Sosa for what he accomplished in a Cubs uniform.
He gave fans huge doses of the one thing that has been missing from Wrigley the last few years: joy.
He made the games interesting, and he made people happy. I thought it was a joke that the organization didn't invite him back to Wrigley for the 100-year anniversary in April.
"There are some things Sammy needs to look at and consider prior to having an engagement with the team," Cubs spokesman Julian Green said at the time.
As my colleague Jesse Rogers noted in April, "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."
I've heard enough stories in the last few years to know that Sosa, who told ESPN Deportes in April that he is willing to make amends with the Cubs, wasn't always the nicest guy to teammates, coaches, media, etc. But the organization's stance doesn't make sense to me as someone who watched many games in large part due to Sosa and his ability to lift the team.
For an ownership looking for any way to monetize various aspects of its team, wouldn't a Sosa day at Wrigley be worth it? The stands would be packed, and the people at Cubs Authentics could have a field day selling an assortment of Sosa paraphernalia. More than that, it would bridge a gap between the old franchise and one of its most important players.
I wish that Sosa hadn't allegedly used PEDs to lift his game to new levels, and I wish that he had been a much better teammate at times during his tenure. I don't think he's ever getting into the Hall of Fame, and I don't think his 66-homer season should count in the record books because I don't think it was earned without the help of those PEDs.
But as somebody who has lived and died with the Cubs for 30 years, I believe Sosa is owed an olive branch from the team that has turned its back on him. The numbers may be washed away over time, but the memories never will be. It's time for Sosa to get at least one day to be honored by the people who used to adore him. I don't feel the same way about him as I used to, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't stand and cheer when he returns.
Sosa is a flawed character, but everybody is in some regard. He's paid a price to the game and will continue to do so because of his link to PEDs and the way he handled his business on the way out. But it's time to forgive him for those past transgressions and remember the happiness he brought to people for years on a daily basis.