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Excuse Me for Asking

July 08, 2002
July 08, 2002

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July 8, 2002

Excuse Me for Asking

It was a simple, straightforward question for Chicago Cubs
bomber Sammy Sosa.

This is an article from the July 8, 2002 issue Original Layout

"You've said if baseball tests for steroids, you want to be
first in line, right?" I asked him last Thursday at his Wrigley
Field locker.

"Yes," Sosa replied.

"Well, why wait?" I said.

"What?"

I wrote down the name and phone number of LabCorp, which has a
diagnostic test lab in Elmhurst, Ill., 30 minutes from Wrigley.
I told him what LabCorp had told me: If any person wants to be
tested for steroids, all he has to do is have his physician give
a written order and bring in a blood or urine sample. The lab
could have the results back within 10 days.

Sosa looked at the piece of paper as if it were a dead rat.

"Why wait to see what the players' association will do?" I
continued. "Why not step up right now and be tested? You show
everybody you're clean. It'll lift a cloud off you and a cloud
off the game. It'll show the fans that all these great numbers
you're putting up are real."

Sosa's neck veins started to bulge.

I tried to tell him how important I thought this was. How
attendance is headed for the cesspool. A former MVP told SI that
50% of the players are on steroids. The fans are starting to
look at every home run record the way people look at Ted
Koppel's hair. And there's the threat of a strike. Something
good has to happen. What could be more positive than the game's
leading home run hitter's proving himself cleaner than Drew
Carey's fork?

Sosa looked at me as if I were covered in leeches.

"Why are you telling me to do this?" he said. "You don't tell me
what to do."

I tried to explain that I wasn't telling him to do it, I was
just wondering if he didn't think it would be a good move for
him and the game.

"You're not my father!" he said, starting to yell. "Why do you
tell me what to do? Are you trying to get me in trouble?"

I asked how he could get in trouble if he wasn't doing anything
wrong.

"I don't need to go nowhere," he growled. "I'll wait for the
players' association to decide what to do. If they make that
decision [to test], I will be first in line."

But didn't he think a star stepping forward now, without being
told to be tested....

"This interview is over!" He started looking around for security.
"Over, motherf-----!"

(Note to young sportswriters: Always make your steroid question
your last question.)

The funny thing is, I doubt Sosa is on steroids. He has never
missed more than six games in any of the last five seasons. Most
nukeheads come apart like Tinkertoy houses.

But plenty of people wonder: Here's a guy who went nine years
without ever hitting more than 40 home runs. In the last four
seasons he's hit 66, 63, 50 and 64. Here's a guy who was once a
skinny, 165-pound, jet-footed Texas Ranger. Now he's a bulky,
230-pound Mr. Olympus.

"This was because of my tooth," he had said earlier in the
interview. "When I first came to Texas [in 1989], I had a bad
wisdom tooth. The doctor discovered this, and he fixed it. After
that, I start to eat much better."

What'd he eat, Fort Worth?

Sosa also explained that the extra muscle and added girth came
from feverish weightlifting, not a feverish pharmacist.

"I have a gym in my house [in the Dominican Republic]," he said.
"I work out every day, seven days a week. Sometimes at two or
three in the morning."

He said the media's suspicions have hurt him. "They think
everybody is guilty," he said. "They judge me, but they don't
know me."

That's about when I offered up my brilliant public relations
maneuver of having himself tested. Soon we were discussing my
relationship with my mother.

Maybe Sosa feels he would undermine his union's bargaining power
if he had himself tested. But when I asked him if that's why he
didn't want to do it, he again mentioned, rather crisply,
"You're not my father."

No, but if I were, I'd tell him to get tested. And I'd say it to
Barry Bonds and anybody else who says he cares about the game.
If they've got nothing to hide, why wait?

True, it would take some large cojones. Of course, if these
players are on steroids, they lost those a long time ago.

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA
"Why not step up right now and be tested [for steroids]?" I
asked Sosa. "It'll lift a cloud off the game."