CHICAGO — Former Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa, whose Twitter handle is @therealmr609, likely will be denied election to the Hall of Fame this year because of the questions about just how real all of his 609 homers were.
While his camp pondered having Sosa issue a statement Friday about the Hall of Fame voting, I recalled how talkative he was in 2006, when I visited his beachside resort home in La Romana, Dominican Republic. He threw an extravagant birthday party for himself, employed the country's most popular band and invited high-ranking politicians and entertainers such as actress Salma Hayek.
I can't help but wonder how Sosa's public image might improve if he were to show contrition or provide further explanation for his improbable power surge and bulging biceps, beyond his flippant reference to Flintstones vitamins.
Mark McGwire came clean after years of no comment. And while he and Barry Bonds might never be voted into the Hall of Fame, McGwire is able to hold his head high in public with a clear conscience and has returned to the game he loves as a batting instructor.
McGwire and Sosa waged a memorable assault on the single-season home-run record in 1998. McGwire prevailed with 70 homers and Sosa hit 66, both eclipsing Roger Maris' mark of 61. Bonds now owns the single-season record of 73, to which many baseball purists want to attach an asterisk.
I remember asking Sosa seven years ago about McGwire's qualifications for the Hall of Fame.
The legal supplement androstenedione was found in McGwire's locker during the season when he broke Maris' record. Asked about steroids during a congressional hearing in 2005, McGwire repeatedly said, “I am not here to talk about the past.”
Sosa supported McGwire's forward thinking.
“Mark McGwire is Mark McGwire, no matter what happens,” Sosa said. “In this world, nobody is perfect. But one thing I can say about Mark McGwire is … the numbers don't lie. I don't say you should vote for him or not. But I believe he is a Hall of Famer, in my heart. Whatever decision somebody will have to make, I have no control over that.”
Speaking to me in quite understandable English, Sosa second-guessed McGwire's strategy at the House hearings.
“(McGwire) could have been more prepared when he went to the hearings,” said Sosa, who had an interpreter at that session. “People have to understand that he is kind of shy, for real. He was born like that. He doesn't like the publicity. He don't like to be up there. Sometimes when you have to do something like (testifying), you don't feel comfortable. People probably expect you to say so many things that you don't say. He didn't answer the appropriate questions.”
Sosa sounded proud that he knew how to play the game as far as influencing people. But he became a bit agitated when I pressed him about McGwire using performance enhancers and the fact that rampant speculation continued about his possible use.
How could any baseball writer vote for any player who used PEDs?
“I understand your point,” Sosa said then. “Remember, I am not a writer. I am a baseball player. And no matter what happens, we are family. Mark is part of my family. My opinion is always going to be in a good way when I refer to someone in my family. I am not going to sit here and say, ‘Do this and don't do that.' Because I am not like that.”
I know Sosa would love to become part of the Hall of Fame family. But he needs to come clean.