Sammy Sosa's exclusion from Wrigley Field centennial lessens the occasion
Wednesday's Cubs-Diamondbacks game was preceded by festivities celebrating the centennial of Wrigley Field, which opened under the name Weeghman Park exactly 100 years ago for a game between the Federal League's Chicago Chi-Feds and Kansas City Packers. A group of notable former Cubs was on hand, but beyond the four Hall of Famers in attendance, one absence was particularly glaring: The franchise's all-time home run leader, Sammy Sosa, who reportedly wasn't even invited to the celebration. Apparently, there's a limit to how friendly the Friendly Confines can get.
Sosa spent 13 seasons with the Cubs (1992-2004), earning All-Star honors seven times, winning the NL MVP award in 1998, clouting 545 homers and helping the Cubs to two of their six postseason appearances since 1945. Yet he wasn't part of the pregame "Alumni Take the Field" presentation prior to the ceremonial first pitch, in which players returned to their former positions. That group included included Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Andre Dawson, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams, with the late Hall of Famer Ron Santo represented by Sam and Spencer Brown, two of his grandchildren. Also included were several other former Chicago notables: Glenn Beckert, Ryan Dempster, Bobby Dernier, Randy Hundley, Gary Matthews, Milt Pappas and Lee Smith. Kerry Wood was scheduled to be in attendance but didn't show up, while Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg was busy managing the Phillies (currently playing in Los Angeles), and both Rick Sutcliffe and newly-elected Hall of Famer Greg Maddux fulfilling other obligations within baseball.
Given his resumé and the lengthy list of indelible moments he left at Wrigley, Sosa deserved to be among that group, or at least to be invited. Of course, it's not difficult to see why the Cubs would be hesitant to include him. He left the team on relatively unhappy terms, cutting out during the final game of the 2004 season after they had been eliminated from contention, with his notorious clubhouse-dominating boombox smashed in his wake to signify the end of an era. In June 2009, the New York Times reported that illegally leaked documents showed that he was among the 104 players who had tested positive for a performance-enhancing drugs during the supposedly anonymous 2003 survey testing. However, he never tested positive once the game's drug policy was put in place, and was never disciplined by Major League Baseball.
If players actually suspended under baseball's drug policy such as Melky Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta and Bartolo Colon can ink new multimillion dollar contracts, and if controversial PED-tinged characters such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens can be welcomed back to their former teams (Bonds served as an instructor for the Giants this spring, Clemens has done the same for the Astros) — to say nothing of Mark McGwire working as the Dodgers' batting coach — one would at least think that the Cubs could let bygones be bygones and welcome Sosa back for a one-day appearance. Beyond the PED issue, if the Red Sox can bring back 1986 World Series scapegoat Bill Buckner for Fenway Park's centennial, as they did in 2012, the Cubs should have been capable of putting on their collective big boy pants to include their signature slugger.
Back in March, when the Giants were welcoming back Bonds, chairman Tom Ricketts expressed hope that Sosa could one day return. Via CSN Chicago's Tony Andracki:
"You would hope that there would be circumstances that you can entertain that discussion," Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said Wednesday on the Kap and Haugh show. "I'm not sure we'll ever get there.
"I do think it's a little weird that we just kinda take some of these guys and pretend they never existed...
"I think any type of discussion along those lines will really have to balance how people feel about that, too. As you guys know, that issue brings up so many emotions with so many different people."
Ricketts' words suggest that he's not the one standing in the way of a Sosa return, but it's hard to imagine that president Theo Epstein and executive vice president/general manager Jed Hoyer, both of whom were hired in late 2011, are the obstacles. Via ESPN Chicago's Jesse Rogers, who reported via Twitter that the Cubs didn't extend an invitation to the slugger, somewhere in the hierarchy, the team is of the belief that it's Sosa who's standing in the way. Rogers quoted Cubs spokesman Julian Green as saying, "There are some things Sammy needs to look at and consider prior to having an engagement with the team." Green didn't elaborate as to who held that position; if the buck stops with ownership, then one has to circle back and attribute the position to Ricketts.
Note that this isn't about Sosa's claim on baseball immortality via the Hall of Fame, which he doesn't figure to make anytime soon. With 7.2 percent of the vote during the 2014 BBWAA election cycle, he's in more danger of falling off the ballot than of being elected. As I wrote with regards to his case back in December: The shame isn't that he'll be excluded or that the gaudy numbers that placed him in such select company will be largely disregarded. It's that the joy that he brought to fans and throughout the game during his considerable peak has been so easily swept aside as though it meant nothing at the time. Do you really want to pretend that a moment such as Sosa's home run in the first game at Wrigley Field since 9/11 doesn't still stir the blood on some level?
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CORCORAN: The 10 greatest games in Wrigley Field history The PED problem owed as much to Commissioner Bud Selig, the owners, the media and the fans as it did to the players. To pretend otherwise is a whitewashing of history. To pretend that Sosa's tenure in Chicago was perfect isn't accurate, but it's no less revisionist for the Cubs to suggest that a superstar who helped them turn handsome profits and pump up the value of the franchise into the stratosphere meant nothing. Warts and all, Sosa deserved to be at that centennial celebration.