Dear Sammy

There was a time when the gulf in talent between Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds did not seem that large. From 1998-2001, Sosa's statistics held up against Bonds' in most offensive categories – except walks of course. Entering the 2002 season, some speculated that Bonds was entering the twilight of his career, and that Sosa was still immersed in the prime of his.

Bonds entered 2002 coming off a record-shattering 73-HR affair the year before. What was left to prove? How about a batting title? Bonds, whose career batting average entering the 2002 season was below .300, hit .370 that year, .341 the year after that, and .362 this past season. His home run totals the past three years, while down, were still remarkable given the mediocre offense talent surrounding him on the lineup card.

During the same three-year period, Sosa headed the other direction. His batting average dropped a whopping 40 points from 2001 to 2002, 9 more points the next season, and 26 points in the 2004 campaign. His runs batted in and runs scored between 2001 and 2004 dropped in half (though he did play 34 less games this past season), while his batting average plummeted 75 points. The only category remaining consistent is a dubious one: strikeouts.

These are ugly numbers, but until the final game of the season, forgivable by many fans who appreciated his contributions to the franchise and the city during his 13-year career on the North Side.

Fans applauded his hustle, his genuine enthusiasm for the game, and his role for many years as a clubhouse asset, rather than a liability. This is the same man, after all, whose reputation, at least among Cub fans, survived a corked bat and the "sneeze felt round his back."

Sosa and Bonds were connected by more than numbers, though. Each endured a healthy share of adversity: Bonds with the BALCO steroids rumors and Sosa with the corked bat.

But Bonds showed an ability to separate what happened off the field with his performance between the white lines, while Sosa's sprint out to right field seemed to slow the past two seasons, perhaps because he shouldered the full burden of his demons.

When I reflect on the legacy Sosa will leave behind if he is traded this winter, I cannot help but think of Presidential candidate Ralph Nader. Long before he was a candidate, Nader served as one of the most significant consumer advocates in the history of this country in the area of automobile safety.

Yet, to many Democrats who blame him for the outcome of the 2000 election, his legacy means nothing. Years of public service are a distant memory for those that could not get past his final salvo as a Presidential spoiler.

And, much like Nader, who continued to insist throughout the 2004 election season that he was not siphoning votes away from John Kerry (even though every poll showed he was), Sosa continued to insist throughout the 2004 campaign that he was not slumping.

Newsflash Sammy: 7-for-52 is a S-L-U-M-P.

Listening to Sosa this off-season, one would think that his manager, team, and city abandoned him. In reality, the exact opposite is true.

Sosa's final disappearing act spoke volumes far louder than his boom box. Consequently, his contributions to this franchise, which may not be forgotten, will at the very least be heavily obscured by the way he has chosen to handle controversy and failure.

Dear Sammy,

If it is so unbearable for you to play in front of Cubs fans, then leave. We steadfastly cheered for 12 ½ of your 13 seasons with the team, paid your salary, and bought your jerseys. It is clear that when we booed you for a handful of games that your fragile ego was shattered. You turned up your boom box even louder to drown out reality, but it did not work.

After enduring years of bottom-dwelling with the franchise, you now appear poised to run away when the Cubs finally appear on the cusp of establishing a winning formula.

For thirteen years, it was hard to imagine a productive Cubs lineup without you. Now, it is hard for me to imagine one with you. I hope that the Cubs can give you what you so desperately want: a goodbye."

Brian Lustig has been with the staff of ITI for nearly two years. Agree or disagree with Brian? E-mail him by clicking here.


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