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Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Updated: February 16, 2:18 PM ET
Sosa passes on Nats; likely to end career

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

There was no teary press conference. No wave goodbye. Not even a word or a sighting of the man himself.

But barring something shocking, Wednesday marked the final chapter in the historic, controversial, always-riveting career of Sammy Sosa.

Right Field
Baltimore Orioles

Profile
2005 SEASON STATISTICS
GM HR RBI R OBP AVG
102 14 45 39 .295 .221
CAREER STATISTICS
GM HR RBI R OBP AVG
2240 588 1575 1422 .345 .274

Sosa didn't formally announce his retirement Wednesday. He merely notified the Washington Nationals that he was respectfully passing on their much-publicized one-year, $500,000, non-guaranteed contract offer.

But even Sosa's agent, Adam Katz, didn't attempt to pretend there's some stunning comeback on Sosa's horizon. Not with the Nationals. Not with the Yomiuri Giants. Not even for a few weeks, with that WBC dream team from the Dominican Republic.

Nope. This, Katz said, was clearly it.

"We're not going to put him on the retirement list," Katz told ESPN.com. "We decided that [not putting him on that list] was the best thing to do. But I can say, with reasonable certainty, that we've seen Sammy in a baseball uniform for the last time."

Assuming that's true, Sosa will head for the golf course just 12 home runs away from the 600 Homer Club -- a club with only four ridiculously famous members (Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds and Willie Mays).

At the moment, no one stands between Sosa (at 588 homers) and Mays (660). So Sosa will rank No. 5 on the all-time list for the foreseeable future -- at least until Junior Griffey (536) or A-Rod (429) or someone else passes him by.

Sammy Sosa: All-Time Ranks
HR 588 5th
RBI 1,575 27th
Ks 2,194 2nd
RBI were not counted as an official stat until 1920

Those 12 home runs were dangling out there, as incentive for Sosa to play. But apparently, they weren't enough incentive for him to risk embarrassing himself on his way down the exit ramp.

"Sammy spent a lot of time ruminating on this," Katz said. "And it basically came down to this: He has such high expectations for himself, and last year was absolute misery for him, the way he under-performed. Sammy just didn't want to put himself through the possibility of going through something like that again. He still thinks he can do it. But there's some doubt there."

There also weren't enough dollars there to help him cushion the fall -- if there was going to be a fall. But Katz flatly rejected any suggestion that Sosa walked because the money wasn't worth his while.

"This was not a money issue," Katz said. "The Nationals were very respectful throughout this thing. Was the money fabulous? No. Was it part of the decision-making process? Absolutely. But it basically came down to the expectations Sammy sets for himself.

"I'm not going to sit here and say money wasn't a consideration in the decision-making process. But by no means was it the only thing involved. In the end, the money was a secondary, maybe even a tertiary, consideration."

Once, Sosa owned this sport. Once, he was more popular in the city of Chicago than deep-dish pizza. Once, he seemed to be a symbol of all that was good about baseball.

His page in the encyclopedia will show he had more 60-homer seasons (three) than anybody who ever swung a bat. In the eight seasons, from 1996 through 2003, he averaged 51 homers. And nobody else in the sport was within 40 of him in that astonishing slice of baseball time.

But it's been one messy tumble down the mountainside over these last three years. Cork exploded out of his bat. Clouds hovered over his accomplishments. He got subpoenaed by Congress, and suddenly forgot how to speak English.

The Cubs all but booted him out of town. His final season in Baltimore was a nightmare (.221, 14 HR, 45 RBI and just a .295 slugging percentage). And it wasn't just painful every time he looked at the stat sheet. A nasty foot infection made it difficult for him to walk, let alone pound baseballs onto Eutaw Street.

But as he headed over the horizon Wednesday, Katz wasn't thinking much about Sosa's stumble toward the finish line. Katz called him "a humble and decent man" who made massive contributions to his sport.

"We don't need to restate those contributions now," Katz said. "They were powerful and prolific. Everyone who is an athlete, their career comes to an end at some point. And regardless of what others may think, I think Sammy has conducted himself with a great deal of dignity."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.