By Tim Baffoe–
(670 The Score) Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts didn’t bring up the subject of Sammy Sosa during the team’s convention over the weekend. He’d probably rather ignore any Sosa talk at all, as is typical of powerful people and sticky subjects.
But Ricketts was inevitably asked by a fan about Sosa on Saturday. Sosa has been persona non grata at Wrigley Field since a sour breakup shadowed by assumptions of performance-enhancing drug use to help set club slugging records.
“We have to be sympathetic to that era,” Ricketts responded without mentioning Sosa by name. “But the players owe us some honesty too.
“The only way to turn this page is to put everything on the table. That’s the better answer in the long run.”
Ricketts later told the media, “I just think we need to put everything on the table and move forward.”
The gist of Ricketts’ reply isn’t all that different from what he has said of the Sosa situation in the past few years, though his thoughts in 2014 were a bit different.
“You would hope that there would be circumstances that you can entertain that discussion,” Ricketts said then of welcoming Sosa back. “I’m not sure we’ll ever get there.
“I do think it’s a little weird that we just kinda take some of these guys and pretend they never existed…
“I think any type of discussion along those lines will really have to balance how people feel about that, too. As you guys know, that issue brings up so many emotions with so many different people.”
Most of those people who are Cubs fans would be in favor of Sosa being some sort of team ambassador or even just throwing out a first pitch as a symbolic burying of beef. Sports for better or worse is usually overforgiving, but the mending has to be given an opportunity. The Cubs have never seemed willing to acknowledge that Sosa’s time with the team produced far more positives than perceived slights since. Otherwise this issue would have been resolved years ago.
This time around, though, it’s Ricketts’ first person plural use that’s interesting. There’s no actual “we” in Ricketts’ ideal scenario. Any sympathy toward “that era” clearly doesn’t exist from Ricketts if he’s still so cold toward the most notable Cub from it. The “putting everything on the table” involves only one party.
And that’s Sosa. What tangible thing it would accomplish to make the man with 609 career home runs prostrate himself before Almighty Ivy or whatever is unclear. Besides maybe serving Ricketts’ own sensibilities.
See, Ricketts is a lifelong Cubs fan who has fulfilled the dream of all sports fans who couldn’t play for their favorite team — he instead owns it. He’s a businessman, and his primary focus is what’s best for Cubs business. Winning is the obvious, but good PR is near the top of non-baseball activities. Having one of the greatest home run hitters in the game’s history wave and blow kisses around Wrigley Field and at other team functions seems like a no-brainer in that regard.
It must then be some personal soreness Ricketts holds toward Sosa stemming from the betrayal all fans felt when their joy of the 1998 homer race between Slammin’ Sammy and Mark McGwire was retroactively soured by reports that the two and other players had tested positive for PEDs in 2003. As a kid swept up in that 1998 season, my adult self felt cheated for a time that I was unwittingly emotionally invested in something so dishonest. Ricketts probably still has a bit of that fanhood sting in him, too.
This is unique to baseball culture, where statistics are held more sacred than in other sports and where asterisks are demanded for the tainted as a way to quarantine ourselves from something poisonous in that which we love. Alleged steroid users have “disrespected” the game, or so goes the common chiding. The notion of respect in sports is always severely subjective and often coded in other underlying problematic feelings, and playing the game “the right way” in baseball has long been rooted in some weird hypocritical ideas of player subordination. Baseball’s history is full of cheats and liars before syringes and creams entered clubhouses, and we’ve collectively looked away from some truly awful Hall of Fame personalities so long as between the chalk they were on point.
Sosa’s crime was being a willing Frankenstein’s monster — condoned by the commissioner’s office at the time and certainly the bean counters at Wrigley Field who saw the turnstiles spinning in large part because of No. 21. And like the fictional monster, Sosa felt betrayed by his creators later on and speaks ill of them even today, and he’s notably incapable of being self-aware regarding this and other matters. The dude did strangely compare himself to Christ last year, after all. He’s no martyr.
So Sosa does need some contrition for exacerbating the situation, but it shouldn’t be hard to empathize with a player who gave baseball and its fans what they wanted, grew a literal and figurative big head in the process and then was excoriated for it later. The drug he was on most was fame and making people happy — and that has a tendency to corrupt — but Ricketts was made happy like the rest of us while cheering in the bleachers 20 years ago.
Ricketts spoke of turning pages. That’s puzzling in 2018 when multiple pages have been turned since the Sosa era in Chicago, including a change in ownership now represented by Ricketts himself, a Wrigley culture that has shifted from beer garden to perpetual high expectations, hiring former superstar and PED user Manny Ramirez to work with young hitters, winning a World Series that rinsed away all the narrative unpleasantries of Cubs yesteryear, signing off on acquiring Aroldis Chapman to get there and even giving Steve Bartman a ring for it. Ostracizing Sosa still today seems silly after all that and more a hubristic staring contest than anything else.
What’s assumed of Sosa is already on the table, and what his feelings are about coming back into the Cubs fold are documented. What the Cubs and Ricketts have to gain with the paternal “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed” thing after all this time serves no practical purpose.
Therefore, it’s not “we” that needs to move forward on this matter.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for 670TheScore.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not Entercom or our affiliated radio stations.