Sammy Sosa has a real problem. A year ago one would have thought the problem would have been attributed to his borderline embarrassing performance in front of congress at the steroid hearings. But now, Sosa has a problem few would have believed before last season. He has a baseball problem.
Forget the steroid allegations (which, I admit, are pretty difficult to ignore) and his questionable attitude. This offseason, the player with 588 career homers has received little interest from anyone for his baseball ability. Sosa was a bust in Baltimore last season. He played just 102 games and hit an uninspiring .221. He also managed just 14 homers. In fairness, Sosa was hampered by injuries.
But at 37-years old, few have wanted to bring the former superstar in, even for an incentive-laden deal.
Part of the problem may be Sosa himself. The man who made national magazine covers and had videogames named for him just a few years ago made over $17 million last season. You’d have to think taking a $15 million pay cut (although lord knows I’d work for the league minimum) is hard for him to swallow.
The Nationals offered Sosa a contract. It has been rumored to be incentive- heavy and for less than $2 million. Sosa turned down the deal. Now, it’s been reported Sosa will retire. If Sosa does call it quits, it will have been a fast fall. Everyone remembers 1998 and the Sosa-Mark McGwire race to break Roger Maris’ mark of 61 homers in one season. But Sosa did not exactly fade after that. Sosa has hit at least 35 homers in six of the last seven seasons.
Now, after one bad season, he may be done.
It has often been said that someone who can play will always be given opportunities, no matter how troubling their character is. But with Sosa, it’s hard to see his character not being the main reason for his unemployment. One can only speculate the reasons for Sosa’s fall. But, just 12 homers away from 600, he apparently has decided another season is just not worth it.
But what of his legacy? There are only four players in the history of baseball who have hit more homers. Only one of those players, Barry Bonds, is active. Dealing with Bonds’ legacy is another issue altogether.
The other three –- Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays -– were assured not only of the Hall of Fame, but also a spot in the discussion of the greatest hitter ever.
And consider some of the hitters Sosa has passed: Mickey Mantle, Harmon Killebrew, and Frank Robinson.
In any other time, Sosa would be signed simply to boost gate receipts. Instead, Sosa is just a name that nobody really wants. It’s sad in some ways. And yet, it’s simply a reminder that no star shines forever, and some burn out faster than others.