Slamming Sammy Sosa

Slamming Sammy Sosa

Slamming Sammy Sosa

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The stadium scene.
July 12 2000 3:00 AM

Slamming Sammy Sosa

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So Slammin' Sammy Sosa won the All-Star Home Run Derby Monday night. Hit 26 balls out of the park during the three rounds of the derby, including a couple of 500-foot-plus shots off the upper deck. Crushed Ken Griffey Jr. 9-2, in the final round. Had the fans on their feet as he launched one prodigious homer after another. Well, whoop-de-do.

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What got me, though, was listening to Sammy afterward, talking to the ESPN guy (and the Fox guy, and the CNN/SI guy, etc., etc.), and making it sound as if winning the derby was some kind of redemption for the "difficult" year he's had so far. What a joke. The Home Run Derby is about as meaningless as a sporting event can be—sports as marketing gimmick, pure and simple—and any slugger who views it as anything else has to be a pretty narcissistic jerk. Oh, right. This is Sammy Sosa we're talking about.

Like many professional athletes, Sosa has an almost unlimited capacity for self-pity, so naturally he's cast his troubles this season as a matter of the Cubs no longer wanting him. In truth, his problems—if you can really call them that—have been almost entirely self-inflicted. They began when his new manager, Don Baylor, had the temerity to say out loud what has long been known about Sosa—that, notwithstanding his home-run-hitting abilities, he's a lousy right-fielder who strikes out far too often. Rather than taking this criticism to heart—and perhaps even trying to do better—Sammy instead began pouting. He told the press that if the Cubs didn't love him anymore, maybe the team should trade him. (Of course, it turns out that Sammy has been feeling unloved for a while because he "only" makes $11 million a year, and his contract expires in 2001, and he can't understand why the Cubs haven't "taken care of" him by extending his contract for a whole lot more money.)

But when the Cubs called his bluff and sought to trade him—after getting Sammy to waive the no-trade clause in his contract—they found that almost no one wanted him. The Red Sox professed interest but then never made an offer. Several other teams did likewise. Only the Yankees made a serious effort to get Sammy, offering four players (no stars, though) for the Cubs right-fielder. But when Cubs management demanded a fifth player, the Yankees pulled their trade offer and got Dave Justice instead. Rather than continue this humiliation, Sammy has recently reinvoked his no-trade clause, and now says he wants to re-up with the Cubs, where he hopes to spend the rest of his playing days.

The truth about Sammy is that it's not just his fielding that makes him a liability. What baseball people know—but won't say publicly—is that he's poison in the locker room. He shows up for games in a stretch limo. He blares his music so loud no one else in the locker room can hear himself talk. He has very little to do with the rest of his team. He seems utterly absorbed with his personal statistics and appears not to care whether the Cubs win or lose. (Then again, this may be a healthy attitude when you play for the Cubs.) Yes, he can hit home runs—and yes, he can put fans in the seats—but having Sammy on your team is not going to help you get to the World Series. On the contrary: He's the kind of self-absorbed star who will hurt your team more than he'll help it—no matter how many home runs he hits. That's why there was so little interest in Sosa when he was on the block earlier this year.

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So I guess it's a good thing he won the Home Run Derby. It's probably the only title he's going to win in his career. 

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Joseph Nocera is an editor at large at Fortune magazine.