By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) I have a terrible secret I need to share with you—I own a Sammy Sosa bobblehead doll. Yeah, yeah, point and laugh, but it’s not what you think. The Sosa bobblehead collects dust in my basement as a token of one of life’s small victories.
See, I got it for lying on a credit card application. I was at a Cubs game as a teen, and there was this promotional giveaway on the concourse at Wrigley, and I was a bad kid who dealt in credit card fraud. It was a dark period in my life, okay?
It wasn’t about the bobblehead itself. It was about “Can I pull this off?” I’d have scammed that intern working the promo table if she was giving away paper clips instead. In the same way an otherwise well-to-do kid will shoplift, it wasn’t out of need; rather, it was about beating a system, even if, like most teenagers, I didn’t even exactly know what the system was that I was trying to beat.
Ironic that it was Sosa himself who long beat the system, altering his body chemistry and never being exposed as an active player for doing so to become one of the most beloved Chicago athletes of all time—for a period of time—and one of the faces of what is now dubiously referred to as baseball’s Steroid Era.
Another reason I have yet to toss the bobblehead in the trash—it’s not displayed for guest viewing or used as a conversation piece the way people make a cutesy poem about the warmth of home prominent on a wall or make photos of children inescapably noticeable because people need other people to compliment two-dimensional images of their kids as some validation of their purpose on Earth—is because it serves as an homage not so much to the former Cubs outfielder himself but instead to what he represented and maybe still represents. As much as baseball fandom’s screaming conscience wishes otherwise, Sammy Sosa hit 609 major league home runs. That statistic has not been erased. Many of those home runs and other hits and RBI of his affected the outcomes of games, as did his 2,306 strikeouts. Those outcomes cannot be undone.
Normally an athlete with such numbers who was the toast of a town for so long would still be a symbol of the team even in retirement. He’d be shaking hands in the stands and appearing at team-sponsored charity events and singing the seventh-inning stretch during at least one home game a year. Not Sosa, though.
He has been tossed in the trash, expelled from the game’s good graces by crusty college deans in a sport that pretends to be of some high academia but is played by boorish fraternity bros. Chicago has largely turned its broad shoulders away from his that helped crack all the dingers in those sweltering city months of sun and suds. He’s less than a homeless person who would otherwise be urinated on by fans save for his fame for making obnoxious noises (and instead just urinates on himself). And why?
Because the man in the entertainment business lied. Because in the end people are salty that the great and powerful Oz was just a dude behind a curtain of needles and creams and pills.
This is a city that has welcomed back with open arms spousal abusers and philanderers and criminals and addicts as ambassadors of teams and games. Hell, statues have been erected, monuments to the Disney movies people demand sports be and get dramatically offended by when that damn pesky reality proves otherwise. But Sammy Sosa abused the sanctity of the game, right? He cheated on the innocence of the fans. He felon—man, that is all so stupid.
I want Sammy Sosa back at Wrigley Field. Not the kid version of me who watched his homers in awe and bought into the kiss-blowing and hopping and swinging at every damn low and away slider ever thrown to him. The jaded quasi-adult me wants him back because he represents an era that the game is trying to whitewash. The boycotting of the era by haughty writers and the half-assed cries that cheating needs to stop—it’s all a losing battle that suffers another blow time and time again. Those writers benefited from it, either professionally or as fans prior to taking up the pen.
And fans who now condemn the likes of Sosa are just as hypocritical. He is responsible for many of the greatest moments in the pathetic history of what has long been a laughing stock organization. I cheered every damn crack of his bat, and so did many of you. He made baseball fun again after the scars of the strike still stung. And, no, he didn’t do it “honestly,” whatever that word means in sports anymore.
The honesty that the fans really matter? That “4th Phase”-style marketing bunk that teams use to make you think you’re any more important that the money you can fork over? (Because Chicago fans have a long history of being such a positive influence on their teams.) The honesty that players and coaches always exude with microphones in their faces? The charity work that gets so much publicity?
Football is getting safer. The NHL loves its fans. Baseball is cracking down on PEDs. Come back baby. We promise we don’t do you like that again.
Okay, fine, but this time we really mean it.
Sooner or later one must stop lying to oneself. I did a while ago. Sports are not Disney, no matter how much a large Disney-owned network tricks the dumb into thinking it is and pretends to get just as up in arms as the dumb when it gets proved again and again that it is no fairy tale.
With the news yesterday of the anther drug lab providing PEDs to a bevy of ballplayers, when do fans of the game—and sports in general—finally accept that it’s not pure? And after that, when does a guy like Sosa, a guy responsible for benefiting the game immensely and bringing joy to so many, cease to be a pariah for merely playing the game within the game.
Because that’s what it was and what it continues to be. “Chicks dig the long ball… but, oh, we’re so disappointed in our players doing whatever it takes to fulfill our game’s actual @#$%ing advertising campaign.” Kiss my needle-less ass. Benevolent bumbling butthead Bud Selig presided over one of sports’ greatest charades. The strike of 1994-95 had baseball PR on life support, and he just looked the other way as some vim and vigor was… “injected” back into it. And it continues today. The average fan wants runs and points. Lots of them. What’s a league to do?
Say the right things. (“Steroids have no place in our game.” “We’re constantly exploring ways to make the game safer.” “You have a plethora of piñatas.”) Pretend to crack down. And, most importantly, create a scapegoat.
Sammy Sosa is one of those scapegoats. Oh, he chose to cheat for sure, and he has to live with that. But he was playing the game within the game. He was loved for it even in naïveté. And now he’s public enemy numero uno because Major League Baseball has left him twisting in the wind while it reaps the benefits Sosa, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and all the other juicers of old and new have sowed with their laboratory labor.
Too bad he didn’t beat his wife or get caught with a bunch of cocaine. Then he could be respected if not embraced, right?
Sosa is tainted goods, an illness that must be quarantined from the pure, glistening game of baseball. He cannot be associated with the Cubs, even though his personality lends itself to public relations. He pushed a product that was readily consumed and was vilified for it later on by Puritans who wake up from their drunken stupors, all the while his maker—the holy Church of Baseball, not a needle—has sold him out and has let him become a clown. Performance-enhancing drugs made his body, but we made the hero and the monster. He is one of the game’s Marlboro Men, a mascot of old that seems so wrong today.
Wrong like an adult with a bobblehead doll. A toy I certainly don’t love but won’t let go of because not only does it symbolize beating a system—perhaps a system dirtier than what it claims to be trying to clean up—but it also represents a period of history, a time that happened and should be acknowledged and accepted for its ugliness. An ugliness that I rooted for instead of an ignorance that would make me a hypocrite.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget, but please don’t follow him in real life. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.