For the most part, the PED-using and PED-suspected sluggers of the 1990s and 2000s have been welcomed back into the fold in baseball. Barry Bonds has coached and is having his number retired in San Francisco this year. Roger Clemens shows up at spring training and various events. Mark McGwire has coached for eight years now.
Sammy Sosa is a different story.
Sosa left baseball following the 2007 season and has been separate and apart from the game ever since. Despite the massive number of butts he put in Wrigley Field seats in his thirteen years in Chicago — and despite the fact that he was a primary reason there were some good Cubs teams in the 1990s and early 2000s– the Cubs have not held “Sammy Sosa Day” or anything like that.
The primary reason: team owner Tom Ricketts wants Sosa to apologize. Partially for the ignominious end to Sosa’s Cubs career — he left the team early on his final day as a Cub in 2004 — but more for his presumed PED use. Ricketts said a few years back that “[p]layers from that era owe us a little bit of honesty . . . the only way to turn that page is to put everything on the table.” Since that has not happened — Sosa has never spoken publicly about his widely suspected PED use — there has been no reunion.
Recently Dave Kaplan of NBC Sports Chicago sat down with Sosa for an in-depth interview, and Sosa touched on Ricketts’ expectation of an apology.
While Sosa was not openly hostile to Ricketts’ request for an apology, he seems to pretty clearly believe he does not owe Ricketts anything. Sosa says “I was playing for a company many years ago, it was the Tribune Company, so after I retire I formed my own company, so I’m not looking for a job.” I don’t think you have to have a degree in reading between the lines to think that is a more polite way of saying “who is Tom Ricketts anyway?” After all, Sosa was long gone before Ricketts took over the company in 2009.
Sosa doesn’t want a job from Ricketts, but he would like to at least be invited back for the fans, and believes that there is something owed there. “If one day I come back to Chicago, I’d come back for the fans,” Sosa said. “I owe those people something.” Whether that’s an apology remains vague, but it certainly seems like more than he owes Ricketts.
Personally speaking I don’t think Sosa owes anyone anything. Or at least much of anything.
There are likely a lot of fans who were none too pleased about PEDs in baseball, so if he wanted to say some words about that I’m sure it’d be welcome, but fans certainly got what they paid for during Sosa’s prime. He provided more entertainment for Cubs fans and more money for the Cubs franchise in terms of ticket sales, merch sales, TV ratings and general hype than anyone had for a long, long time. Ricketts, like any other team owner, paid for some goodwill when he bought the team, and a whole lot of that goodwill was created by Sammy Sosa too. There has always been a pretty strong current of fans and baseball officials wanting to have their cake and eat it too when it comes to homers and PEDs and all that surrounded that stuff in the 1990s and early 2000s, and this all falls under that umbrella. They cheered Sosa and his homers like crazy for over a decade and now some expect an apology? Please.
As Kaplan notes in the column, it’d be one thing if Sosa wanted a job with the Cubs, some position of prominence in their marketing efforts or some larger ambassadorial role. Sosa does not want that, however, It seems to me that the most he wants is to return to Wrigley Field for a day, perhaps, to wave to the crowd and take a look back at his glory days. That the Cubs have placed conditions on that is a bit much for me. That their doing so has caused a lot of people who may not feel too strongly about it to side with ownership and pretend like they’re owed an apology for Sosa’s time in Chicago is even worse.
It would cost the Cubs nothing to invite Sosa back for a little celebration and would make a lot of people happy. If the Giants can do it with Barry Bonds, there is no excuse for the Cubs not to do it here.