My earliest memories of my childhood all seem to revolve around baseball. The earliest I remember is playing baseball in the living room with my older brother... or my dad... I don't exactly remember which, just hitting the ball and running like hell. Of course my brother would tell me much later that I often ran the bases backward, but that's his fault for not teaching me right.
I remember falling asleep on my dad's shoulder as a very young kid at a White Sox-Yankees game. I must have been about three years old, but I remember sitting along the first base line at Old Comiskey Park and loving every minute of it... until I fell asleep of course.
My love for the game only grew with age and I remember very vividly who my first "favorite" player was; White Sox right fielder, Sammy Sosa. My brother, nine years my senior, was already a blossoming baseball nut, and would give me his scouting report. I would go to school and tell my friends about the great Sammy Sosa, who led the AL in triples, and could throw a player out with a strike from Right. He failed to mention that Sosa was a strikeout king who swung for the stars on every pitch, but I doubt that would have mattered to a child of just six.
But then the off-season of 1991-92 rolled around. The darkest time in my life to that point. Sammy Sosa, the apple of my eye, was traded. But worse, he was traded to, of all places, the Chicago Cubs. "Oh wretched and cruel fate!" I remember screaming, "Take this pain from mine heart, let me die here, so I feel no more!"
Okay I wasn't quite that eloquent, but I cried like a baby. I was seven. That's how I knew how to express my anguish. It was my first introduction to the cruel business side of baseball. It was the end of the world to a little kid, and a disappointment in sports that was only matched later by Jordan's first retirement, the loss of the 1993 ALCS, and Barry Sanders retirement (I'm a die hard Bears fan, but Barry was one of my favorite players all time).
Of course, my life went on. The White Sox got George Bell who filled the DH role quite handily in '92 and '93, helping lead us to the playoffs in ‘93. Sosa went on to bigger things on the North Side.
It wasn't long before Sosa became larger than life, literally. This skinny speedster with a huge smile, blew up into a massive behemoth who still swung with all of his might, except when he made contact, it actually went somewhere.
Sosa became the darling of the North Side, and for a while no one questioned his home run prowess. The more his legend grew at Sheffield and Addison, the more my distaste for him did too. By the time he was chasing history with McGwire, I was spewing hate his way. He wasn't the same player I rooted for as a child, and although "steroids" accusations never passed my lips that season, it just never seemed right.
I rooted for McGwire that year. I rooted against the Cubs in the playoffs, the last time I would. Sosa had gone full circle. He was once my absolute favorite, and had now become my absolute least favorite.
It was more than Cubs-Sox, he became the representation of everything I grew to distaste about baseball. He was the cruel business side of baseball to me, the side that takes a childs favorite player away from its favorite team for payroll reasons or any reason, really. And as the steroid scandals heated, Sosa became the representative for that too. Not that he was ever directly implicated, but it was that uneasy feeling, something's just not right. He was the representative of the hidden evils in baseball. His hat size and shoulders had ballooned beyond proportion and it was tough not to say the word steroid when his face was on TV. Still he was loved, and cherished, and celebrated. But not by me, not anymore.
We all know what happened. Steroids scandals picked up heat, Sosa went to the Orioles, struggled and disappeared. He showed up again, where he started, in a Ranger uniform. I paid him little attention, until he stuck his thorn in my side again, his walk being the only blemish in Mark Buerlhe's no-hitter. Sosa finished off an unimpressive season and found himself jobless at the end of the year.
This morning I read a little rumor that made me smile; "According to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, the Royals decided to pass on Sammy Sosa's offer to play for them."(MLBtraderumors.com) Sammy Sosa's OFFER to play for them. His career, to me, marks an end of a dark period in baseball. He's one of the golden boys of this juiced era. The one everyone had questions about but never seemed to be able to peg down. It will never be a dead issue. It will stand out in our minds like Sosa's 600+ HRs do in the record books. But though his stats will never have an asterisk, his legacy is forever tarnished.
And Sosa still clamors for a place to play, somewhere to fit in, somewhere that he can have one more foot hold. But you just kind of get the feeling that his career is at a close, and all of my anger at him, seems to be fading with it. Baseball, it seems, is nearing a new Sosa-less era, much brighter than the days before. At least a fan can hope.