Kaplan: My conversation with Sammy Sosa


When the name Sammy Sosa is mentioned to a Cubs fan the range of emotions he evokes is staggering. While every fan remembers Sosa’s three 60+ home run seasons and tape measure blasts that thrilled crowds for many seasons at Wrigley Field, they also remember the corked bat incident in 2003, Sosa leaving the team on the season’s final day in 2004 before the game ended and the rampant speculation about alleged PED use.

I have covered Sosa since the 1993 season and got to know him very well when I joined WGN Radio in 1995 where I hosted the Chicago Cubs pre-game and post-game shows on radio for his final 10 seasons with the Cubs. Sammy is a complex individual but there is no denying that every time he took the field he gave 110 percent. He was always working on his swing and his approach and his work ethic was off the charts.

Along with a film crew of four, I traveled to Miami Beach, FL last week and spent four hours with Sammy at his waterfront penthouse condominium. It is the 20 year anniversary of Sosa’s epic 1998 MVP winning season when he produced an offensive outburst rarely seen in Major League Baseball and we decided to produce a tribute titled the Summer of Sammy.

While we had the highlights of each and every one of his 66 home runs from that season we needed to talk with Sammy himself. We needed to get his reflections on that amazing summer that saw him surpass the 60-home run mark while driving in 158.

"To have that great year that I have in '98, changed everything," Sosa told me.  "I mean Mark (McGwire) and I shocked the world."

Most of all, we needed to hear from him on why he is a stranger in a town and to a franchise that once adored him.

I was raised by parents that told me that your boss makes the rules and that if you don’t like the rules then find somewhere else to work. With that mindset I believed if Sosa wanted to reunite with the Cubs and work for the franchise in some capacity he had to follow the rules that Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts has clearly spelled out over the past several years. 

Ricketts wants Sosa to apologize for some of the mistakes that he made while he was a Cub. That includes leaving the team early on the season’s final day in 2004 and a perception that Sosa used performance enhancing drugs during his time with the Cubs. 

However, Sosa made it clear to me that despite some people’s perception that he wants a job from the Cubs, he wants nothing from the organization other than to be welcomed back. 

"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," Sosa said. "When I call somebody the first thing that I say is, 'I'm not looking for a job. Just called you to say hello.' So I have my own company, I'm comfortable."

Sammy Sosa remains a popular topic among Chicago Cubs fans with many longing for his return. However, there are also large numbers of fans that side with Ricketts and want Sosa to apologize for some of the mistakes that he made. As we talked it became obvious that Sammy Sosa is in a good place in his life. He seems happy and he is a successful businessman in the real estate world. 

He also made it clear he holds no ill will towards the Cubs. While he would like to return to Wrigley Field and the place he calls “my house,” he is at peace if it doesn’t happen. 

Sosa has received a lot of attention for the changes to his appearance. His skin is noticeably lighter, but he is still in outstanding physical condition and as he approaches his 50th birthday this November and still looks like he could play. His appearance is nowhere near what people have perceived it to be after seeing a handful of photos online over the past few years. 

So after much thought and after spending several hours with Sosa I was left to ponder how the Cubs should handle his situation. As I said earlier, I had always believed that if Sammy wanted a job with the Cubs whether it was as a coach, front office executive or as a team ambassador then he needed to play by the rules that Tom Ricketts has made clear.

"The ownership they have to understand that I’m a humble man, I’m not a man to have ego, when I was playing I was a little bit because I was focused on what I was trying to do," Sosa said. "But right now I’m gonna be 50 years old. I’m a granddaddy, I'm a grandparent, so things change. So if I made a mistake, I don’t have to say that but if I made a mistake, I didn't want to offend any body I don’t have a problem with that, I’m sorry because you know, I was in my zone."

However, Sammy Sosa wants nothing more than to be welcome in a stadium that he helped to fill for many seasons on a daily basis. He played hard everyday and helped to turn many baseball fans into Chicago Cubs fans. Sammy wants to feel the love he felt when he was thrilling Cubs fans with his play. He wants to hear the cheers of the crowd once again. 

"If one day I come back to Chicago, I'd come back for the fans," Sosa said. "I owe those people something."

No matter the reasons for the estrangement, I believe the time has come to end it. Sammy Sosa played a large and important role in the history of the Chicago Cubs organization and that is undeniable. 

Many years have passed since Sosa last wore the uniform of the Chicago Cubs. He has no interest in a job. He simply wants to feel connected to an organization and a fan base that he played such a vital role for. The fact that he hasn’t set foot in Chicago since 2007 seems unbelievable. It’s time both sides extended an olive branch and moved past their issues. It’s time for Sammy Sosa to come home.

"If they invited me, I would be more than happy to be there," Sosa said.

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