honorary Hose Monster:
I don’t know why exactly, but I believe Sammy Sosa. I believe him when he says he made an accidental mistake Tuesday night in playing with a corked bat that he only intends to use during batting practice.
Oh, I can identify easily enough why I want to believe Sammy – I am a Cubs fan. I have a feeling most Cubs fans at least want to believe him as well, if not blindly believe that he really just made an innocent mistake and leave it at that. As Cubs fans go, I admit my status as a relative novice Cubby follower; I have not spent enough time following the team as I could have and my re-emerging interest in baseball as a spectator sport has only moved into puberty lately. I still await my first date at Wrigley this year with eagerness and hope to the baseball gods that I don’t wake up that morning with pimples all over my face.
As a Cubs fan, I don’t want to see my team’s best offensive weapon suspended from the team, especially when the Cubs bats have sputtered and the starting pitchers cannot win a game if they give up more just three runs. As a fan, I don’t want to have to wait another two weeks like I did when Sammy sat on the 15-day disabled list to watch a game and feel that something special could happen any time one player in the game steps to the plate. And most importantly, I don’t want Corey Patterson, who many still seem to think is the next great Cub but who seems to strike out way too much and generally only produces in non-crucial times, and Moises Alou, who has turned out as a huge disappointment to the North Siders thus far, to bear the lion’s share of driving in runs for a beleaguered offense. (Of course, I don’t want Sammy to carry this responsibility on his own either, but since he’s done it more or less on his own for the last four seasons, I feel a little more comfortable about his ability to drive home important runs.)
But as a rejuvenated fan of baseball, I don’t want to see the cult of Sammy Sosa destroyed. His enthusiasm is infectious, and he has revitalized the game for quite a few players and fans. In 1998, when he suddenly hit the national scene during the great home run race with Mark McGwire, Sammy quickly endeared himself to the right-field bleacher bums at Wrigley with his offense, but with his sudden decision to sprint out of the dugout all the way to right field and cut a big 60-yard loop in front of the seats, pointing into the crowd and smiling. At the time, it seemed a little like grandstanding, but you know, the country felt good with an economy just humming along, and baseball had its best draw in years playing out in front of the national eye.
But Sammy has kept it up, every day, even when the Cubs have fallen way out of the division race, even when greeting the fans means very little. On that last day in the year, when the Cubs are 15 ½ back of the Cardinals and the Brewers have come to Wrigley, Sammy still sprints out there to right, because that’s how he likes to start the game. Little things like that make such a huge difference nowadays, when the majority of the personal news we learn on the players deals with domestic violence, racial slurs or players acting like such asses that fans want to throw cell phones at them.
Sammy himself makes the fans want to believe him. It helps when Major League Baseball confiscates 70-80 of his bats, x-rays each one and finds nothing amiss. It helps when you see Sammy not raise an argument at the game after the incident but just sit in the dugout and hope his mistake didn’t cost his team too greatly, or fire off excuses or claim that he didn’t know the bat had cork in it but simply apologize for his mistake and give an explanation that to this point the evidence has supported. These things taken in sum make me want to believe Sammy.
But at the end of the day, I think maybe I do believe Sammy, rather than just wanting to believe him, because he plays baseball the way I think the rest of the league should play. Many guys do, but maybe only one or two other baseball superstars always play the game in sync with tradition and the larger necessities of the team.
Sammy had three straight 60 home run seasons, sure, and outside Chicago, people know him as a slugger. Yeah, Sammy is a slugger, and yeah, Sammy does strike out on occasion. But more often than not, Sammy also gets the clutch base hit with runners on or starts an inning going with a double in the gap. (This season serves as an exception to all this; Sammy has been fighting injury all season long and has only recently started to look like himself at the plate). When he was younger, Sosa stuck out all the time, and even in that fabled 1998 season, he often hit the ball out of the park or he didn’t make contact at all. He’s matured with his talent and his ability into a bigger team player. He takes walks and works the count. He generally at least makes contact with the ball when he has runners on base.
He does the things that make Barry Bonds the best hitter in baseball (and I hate admitting that, since I hate Barry), but he does it without the arrogance of Bonds and without exuding an aura that he is Hank Aaron’s legacy to baseball.
And unlike Barry, he never seems to lollygag. He runs out ground balls. He slides hard to break up double plays. And while he may not have the greatest skill as an outfielder, he always hustles and has his own respectable highlight reel of great catches in right, whereas Barry often looks like if he has to run more than about twenty strides in left field, he’ll just give up the base hit and assume he’ll either walk the next inning or hit it out of the park. And perhaps best of all, Sammy doesn’t get in shouting matches and almost come to blows with members of his own team in the dugout.
Yeah, I believe Sammy because he treats the game of baseball with respect and appears, at least to this humble observer, to work hard every day at his craft. The unsaid words of these actions make a huge difference to me.
I think Sammy made on honest mistake on Tuesday night, not because he says so or because MLB has seemingly confirmed his story, but because he says non-verbally every day that the game is greater than himself, and he plays it accordingly.