Sosa is powerful presence in first year on Hall ballot
CHICAGO -- Since his last big league at-bat on Sept. 29, 2007, Sammy Sosa has been busy. He welcomed his fifth child, a daughter, in December 2011. He's become involved in business ventures, including Riverhead Homes, which provides homes built to withstand natural disasters. Riverhead is attempting to develop a residential community in Jamaica.
He's moved on after hitting 609 home runs over 18 seasons in the Major Leagues, including 13 with the Cubs. On Wednesday, Sosa will find out if he will be inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame. The former shoeshine boy from San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time.
Sosa charmed fans with his dashes to right field, mammoth home runs, and post-homer heart taps. He basked in the national spotlight in 1998, joining Mark McGwire in a record-setting home run race.
"It's so much fun to watch him," said Jeff Pentland, who was the Cubs' hitting coach that season. "It's not supposed to be that easy."
McGwire finished the season with 70 homers; Sosa closed with 66. The Cubs slugger is the only player in Major League Baseball with three 60-homer seasons. He also clubbed 64 in 2001 and 63 in 1999. Think about it: Babe Ruth had one 60-homer season.
Sosa also edged McGwire in the National League Most Valuable Player balloting, winning the 1998 award as he led the league in RBIs (158), runs scored (134) and total bases (416).
A seven-time All-Star and six-time Silver Slugger winner, Sosa won the Roberto Clemente Award in 1998 for his humanitarian efforts in the Dominican. He's the only player in NL history to have six consecutive seasons of 40 home runs. He is the Cubs' all-time home run leader (545), passing Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo.
Sosa's career also had other elements for Hall of Fame voters to consider. According to a New York Times story in June 2009, he allegedly was among 104 Major League players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003. Sosa never was found guilty by an official MLB entity.
In 2005, he joined McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Jose Canseco at a hearing before Congress regarding drug use in baseball. Sosa's attorney testified on his behalf, saying the slugger never had taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
"I think you have to judge people for the era they were in," said Jim Hendry, who was the Cubs' general manager at the time. "Unless all the facts are in, speculation is a waste of time. You'll never be able to go back and figure out who did what for sure. I'm not condoning it at all. As long as there is competitive athletics and people can get away with things, they'll try to get a competitive edge."
A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote from eligible Baseball Writers' Association of America members to gain election to the Hall of Fame. Shortstop Barry Larkin (86.4 percent) earned his ticket to Cooperstown on the 2012 ballot. Starting pitcher Jack Morris (66.7 percent) and first baseman Jeff Bagwell (56 percent) are the top returning vote-getters from last year's ballot.
Sosa also was involved in a scandal in 2003 when he was ejected for using a corked bat. MLB confiscated the bat and tested 76 others, and all were found to be clean. He eventually served a six-game suspension.
After playing for the Cubs from 1992-2004, Sosa spent one season with the Orioles in 2005, missed a year, and ended his career in '07 with the Rangers, the team that had originally signed him in 1985 out of the Dominican.
"I'm always happy that I could come to this country and get the opportunity to be who I am," Sosa told MLB.com in an interview in 2011. "I always appreciate what America did for my family. I never forget who took care of me in the tough moments I went through in my career.
"This is the land of dreams," he said. "The hope and accomplishments you can make here is incredible. America will always for me be No. 1."
The Hall of Fame does have several souvenirs from Sosa's career, including some of the bats he used to hit his monumental home runs, plus the jersey he wore when he hit his 400th.
However, the "Sammy Sosa Inspiration Field and Cubs Care Park," unveiled in September 2002 at the New City YMCA in Chicago, is gone -- it was demolished for a proposed retail complex -- and his No. 21 jersey has been handed out to Cubs players such as Jason Marquis, Milton Bradley, Tyler Colvin and Joe Mather.
Last year, Sosa took another step in his effort to make a difference. He became chief executive officer of INJEX 21, which has created a needle-free drug delivery system designed to help people afraid of needles who must subject themselves to daily self-injections, such as diabetics. His motivation was personal: Sosa worked at a hospital in the Dominican when he was young and remembers getting poked by used needles in the garbage. He knew a lot of diabetics who dreaded their daily injections. He also put off seeing a dentist because of his fear of needles. Dentists now can treat their patients and ease that fear by using the needle-free device.
Sosa always had good timing. On June 20, 2007, Sosa, then with the Rangers, faced the Cubs in an Interleague game, and he connected on his 600th career home run. He's one of eight Major League players to reach that number, joining Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Ruth, Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. and Jim Thome.
"Not bad for a guy from the Dominican Republic," Sosa said after the feat. "It's a great opportunity and a great feeling to be among the greats. When I leave this world, people will remember that I'm among guys like that."