Thursday, February 16, 2006 Updated: February 17, 9:49 AM ET
Sosa's pride, ego get in his way of trying
By Gene Wojciechowski ESPN.com
Nothing against agent Adam Katz, but he works for Sammy Sosa, not for you or me. So when he tells ESPN.com's Jayson Stark that Sosa has, "with reasonable certainty," played his last ball game, I check for verbal loopholes.
Sammy Sosa never got it going offensively for the Orioles.
Either you're retired or you're not, and Sosa is most definitely not retired -- though he played like it last season. Katz and Sosa conveniently decided not to place The Gladiator's name on the Major League Baseball retirement list, which means Sosa still can entertain offers, or in this case, offer. His Samminess has a standing invitation to play for the Dominican Republic in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. But apparently that's it for options.
Sosa, who is less accessible these days than Dick Cheney, could have signed a non-guaranteed $500,000 deal with the Washington Nationals, but decided to take a pass. Katz said the decision "was not a money issue," which means it had everything to do with the Benjamins. Whenever anyone in sports says it's not about the money ... it's about the money.
I know Sosa well enough to know he is a man of immense pride and ego. That pride and ego is why Sosa pouted when Dusty Baker had no choice but to drop him in the Chicago Cubs batting order during the 2004 season. It's why he ditched the Cubs on the final day of the '04 season -- and then lied about it. It's why you probably could steam a clam on Sosa's forehead these days.
Five months ago Sosa was making more than $17 million. Now he can't get anything better than a half-mil contingency offer from the NL East's last-place Nats. Katz can spin this any way he wants, but Sosa equates money with respect. Had the Nationals raised the figure and guaranteed the deal, Sosa would be preparing to report (late, knowing him) to the team's spring training camp in Viera, Fla. Instead, we get more of the drama queen.
The simple, stark truth of the situation is this: Exactly one big-league team was interested enough in Sosa to take a flyer. Ask the majority of general managers about giving Sosa a shot and you can hear crickets chirp.
There are rumors the New York Yankees might stick their pinstripes in the Sosa waters. If that happens, alert FEMA for disaster relief. Can you imagine how fast Yankees fans will turn on Sosa after a few O-fers?
Sosa is 37 and in the middle of a statistical free fall. In each of the last four seasons his numbers have taken it in the shorts. Home runs, RBI, runs scored, hits, slugging average, games played they're all tracking lower during this four-year span. And yet, Sosa can't fully understand why nobody wants him?
Katz said last year was "absolute misery" for Sosa. Hey, just think what it was like for Baltimore Orioles fans, who actually paid to watch Sosa struggle to hit .221 with just 14 homers. Of course, that's when Sosa was in the lineup. He missed 60 games because of injuries and DNPs.
I have zero sympathy for Sosa because he demands respect, but has often refused to give it. His diva days with the Cubs finally have tied his shoelaces together. His age and who knows what else have caught up with him. The man with 588 career home runs is stuck between indignation and self-pity.
There are no guarantees in sports, which is why Katz's remarks about Sosa's refusing to subject himself to the "possibility" of another 2005-like season are almost laughable. Baseball is a game predicated on failure. If Sosa has doubts -- and Katz said he does -- then the $500,000 Nationals offer was too generous.
Once again, Sosa continues to misread his place in the game. He has those 588 dingers, but he also owns some carry-on luggage that includes persistent rumors of Vitamin S use. His performance at the congressional hearings was Vince Vaughn hilarious. And sorry, but you can't discount his past temper tantrums.
Sosa should have taken the Nationals' deal and, in the process, taken a chance on himself. He could have shown he wasn't about the money, or pride, or ego. He could have played for something as innocent as his self-proclaimed love of the game.
But as usual, he does the E-Sosa thing. He doesn't understand there is no dishonor in trying and failing. The dishonor comes when you don't try at all.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.