The relationship between Sammy Sosa and the Chicago Cubs can best be described as "frosty." Despite starring on the North Side for 13 years, Sosa remains unwelcome at Cubs games and events since he retired in 2007, thanks in large part to accusations of performance-enhancing drug use that have dogged him over the last decade. And if team owner Tom Ricketts has his way, Sosa will stay on the outside looking in until he owns up to his steroid sins. Via the Chicago Sun-Times:
Ricketts said Saturday during a panel at the Cubs Convention that Sosa needs to “put everything on the table” regarding his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs, a stance Ricketts has maintained since the issue first arose.
“Players of that era owe us a little bit of honesty, too,” he said. “I feel like the only way to turn this page is just to put everything on the table. That’s the way I feel.”
As the Sun-Times notes, this is nothing new on the part of Ricketts or the Cubs, who have more or less mandated that Sosa's return to the team's good graces can only happen when he apologizes for using PEDs. "A few things have to happen before he comes back, and we'll see how that goes," Ricketts told Cubs fans at 2015's fan convention. As such, he's been left out of the team's recent resurgence; he wasn't invited to the franchise's 100th anniversary celebration of Wrigley Field in 2014; and his uniform number has remained in circulation. Sosa, meanwhile, has expressed his willingness to reunite with the team and to discuss his acrimonious departure, but nothing has come of that. Things weren't helped when, last February, Sosa gave an interview to a former Cubs employee in which he said he would not beg for forgiveness from the team (and, at one point, compared himself to Jesus Christ); his comments apparently upset Cubs ownership enough to end any talks of bringing him back into the fold.
All of this is understandable, both because of Sosa's PED connection and because of the way his exit in 2004 (and his conduct, frequently seen as selfish, in years previous) rankled both his teammates and the front office. Sosa also hasn't won anyone over by being as truculent as he has or by occasionally trashing the team, as he did in a 2010 feature in Chicago Magazine where he said the Cubs "threw me into the fire" and "made [people] believe I'm a monster." It's also fair that the Cubs, with their World Series drought finally broken and with a core of young, talented and popular stars, would want to leave the past in the past and have nothing to do with a surly steroid cheat.
On the other hand, the Cubs' stance is rather two-faced. For years, the team profited handsomely off Sosa's home runs and stardom, raking in millions of dollars in jersey sales, tickets and national exposure. His and Mark McGwire's chase of Roger Maris' home run record in 1998 wasn't just one of the seminal moments in baseball history, but it brought life back to a moribund franchise that hadn't made the playoffs since 1989. But the moment Sosa became a problem, and once it became clear that steroids had become the game's third rail, Sosa was exiled. There's also the bizarre idea of Sosa having to apologize for something he was never convicted of doing. Recall that Sosa never once failed a drug test or received a suspension; the only proof we have of his PED use is his name appearing on a leaked 2003 list—obtained by The New York Times in 2009—of players who tested positive for steroids (and the legitimacy of those results has been called into question by Rob Manfred himself).
What exactly does Sammy Sosa owe the Cubs? The team got rich off of him, regained relevance because of him, and then kicked him aside without a second thought and without ever acknowledging their own complicity in looking the other way as he clobbered home runs. They've more or less written him out of the team's history, and the current owner—who wasn't a part of the team during Sosa's tenure—wants him to admit wrongdoing for something that was never proven (and which Sosa adamantly denies he ever did). And the steroid era was not some simple black-and-white reality, something even Ricketts admits: "I think we owe them a lot of understanding.... We have to put ourselves in their shoes and be very, very sympathetic to everything, all the decisions they had to make." To play morality police after the fact reeks of the Cubs wanting to have their cake and eat it, too.
But Sosa is no dewy-eyed innocent, and it's unlikely that any team would want anything to do with a player who carries such heavy and controversial baggage and refuses to address it. The Cubs don't want or need the headache that is Sosa or all the media attention his return would bring, and there's presumably a fair chunk of the fanbase that has written him off as well. Should he be welcomed back with open arms just because he was a star back in the day and despite all the angst and bad feelings built up over the last 15 years?
There's no good answer to this conundrum. Sosa seems incapable of swallowing his pride and apologizing, and the Cubs seem like they'd rather wash their hands of him and move on. It's easy to see both sides of that stalemate. But it's still sad that one of the greatest players in Chicago franchise history remains out in the cold. As SI's own Jay Jaffe so eloquently put it in his JAWS writeup of Sosa's Hall of Fame case: "The shame of it all isn't that Sosa is unlikely to wind up in Cooperstown, or that the gaudy numbers that placed him in such select company will be largely disregarded. It's that the joy he brought to fans and throughout the game during that considerable peak is so easily swept aside, as though it meant nothing at the time."