In 1998, Chicagoans from all walks of life had their eyes on one sports figure. “Slammin” Sammy Sosa was a baseball player of epic proportions. When Sammy Sosa first signed on with the Cubs through a trade with the Sox back in 1992, there wasn’t too much fanfare about him joining the roster. By the end of the 1993 season, people knew Sosa as a force to be reckoned with. By 1997 he had earned a reputation as a home run hitter. In 1998 he had a famous home run derby with St. Louis’ Mark McGwire and stoked the flames of one of Chicago’s greatest sports rivalries.
Even, all the way down in Florida I felt the pull of his influence.
Although I was born in Chicago, I moved with my family down to Florida when I was four years old. I was 6 years old when Sosa started playing for the Cubs. Although I watched games with my family, I had more important things on my mind, like my studies at pre-school and playing with toys.
But it seemed that as I grew up, Sosa grew to be a larger and larger figure in my life. For starters, if I try really hard, I can recall a lot of fanfare about Sammy Sosa being a 30-30 player (30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in a single season) in 1993. Something that’s a bit easier for me to recall is when Sosa again managed to be a 30-30 player in 1995.
Before long, I was glued to the TV whenever a Cubs game would come on. My favorite baseball player, and even sports player in general, was Sammy Sosa. He was hitting an average of 30-40 home runs a season and for anyone who watches baseball, home runs are the equivalent of advanced pyrotechnics. They’re feats of super human strength. Particularly if you’re a kid, home runs are soooooo cool.
Metropolis could keep their Super Man. Chicago had Sammy Sosa.
In 1998, a super villain emerged to counter Chicago’s super hero (maybe super rival is more accurate, but in the melodrama of a child’s perspective on sports, McGwire was a villain). The two competed to see who could get the most home runs. At first McGwire had the lead, but it eventually became a grueling back-and-forth. Although both ended up beating the previous home run record 0f 63, McGwire landed 70…while Sosa only scored 66. It was a tough blow, but we still had hope.
In 1999, Sosa and McGwire again went head to head. Again, McGwire took the lead with 65, while Sammy Sosa trailed behind by 2 with 63. But trailing behind by 2 was a lot better than trailing behind by 4. Things were getting better. It was only a matter of time before our hero Sosa would win!
In 2000, Sammy managed to net the highest amount of home runs in the league. His total of 50 was not nearly as head-turning as his previous score, but it was still impressive achievement, especially so, because it beat McGwire’s total of 32 HR.
In retrospect, I realize these home run match-ups were just as lucrative for the wallets of the baseball clubs as it was for the spirits of fans. But there’s no way that they can take away from the sense of investment that I, my family, and so many other baseball fans felt.
Although Sammy Sosa still performed well, his career slowly wound down in the next several years, with the coup de grace being the cork-bat scandal that he was found not guilty of. Then in 2005, he suffered a back injury that really took its toll on his play, and by that time it seemed that Sosa was ready to move on. When he was traded to the Orioles in 2005, it was a blow, but it was something that seemed at that point inevitable.
Sammy Sosa was more than an amazing player, he was a figure that united a team and a city around him.