Chicago Cubs

Sosa's ego a problem ... again

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Sosa's ego a problem ... again

When I walked into Sammy Sosa's house in the Dominican Republic back in 2006, the former Cubs slugger was getting ready for his annual birthday bash, a lavish red-carpet affair that he threw every year that drew celebrities from the baseball world to Hollywood.

Salma Hayek was among the A-listers in attendance that year. I got a glimpse into the private life of a very public sports figure and knew immediately Sosa still thought himself larger than life, even after he had left the Orioles unceremoniously two years before and had his storybook career with the Cubs end bitterly.

He hadn't yet retired from the game, his comeback in the works, but his star was surely faded, yet his sense of self shined brighter than ever.

The first thing Sosa did when he greeted me at the door was give me a tour of his beachfront home in the private resort area Casa de Campo in LaRamana. Our first stop, the foyer where Sammy proudly pointed out the large portrait of himself hanging next to a large portrait of Jesus. I smiled at the obvious parallel he was trying to draw with his artwork and realized Sosa still believed he walked on water.

Egos like this aren't built in a day and aren't built alone. Baseball, the Cubs and fans all had a hand in the making of Sammy Sosa.

Sosa and former Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire are credited for 'saving baseball' back in 1998 when their home run race was celebrated and encouraged. The Cubs, the league and Sosa made a lot of money during that time and not a single person questioned it or balked at the audacity of it. Now that the full extent of the steroid era has come to light, that period went from being glorified to vilified faster than Sosa could whiff at a 99 mph fastball.

A guy like Sosa couldn't fully comprehend going from super famous to super infamous overnight, and so he maintained his innocence and his pride.

When I asked Sammy at his home in 2006 whether or not he had ever used performance enhancing drugs, he of course denied it and said, "there's no evidence of it". Three years later, in 2009, a New York Times article reported that Sosa had indeed tested positive for steroids in 2003. The slugger has never addressed the report.

The answer he gave me back in '06 may reveal why he hasn't refuted that story.

"I really don't have to worry about what these people thinking," Sosa retorted when asked about the perception that he used steroids. "Because this is not my problem. My own world, me, I'm happy. I know who I am. I don't have any control about these people and what they are thinking because they are going to think it anyway, so why should I worry about that, c'mon."

What Sammy said is true, people are going to think what they are going to think about him, regardless of what he says or does, but he is wrong about one thing: it is his problem because what people think is going to keep him out of the Hall of Fame. And believe me, Sosa thinks he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

"Do you think with my numbers I should not be in the Hall of Fame?" Sosa asked me incredulously back in 2006. "Hello?"

Hello? Sammy? Your haters are calling, can you hear them now? Baseball writers are sure to loudly reject Sosa's bid to Cooperstown based on suspected steroid use. I do not have a vote. All I ask of those who do is to decide what you want to do with the so-called steroid era and be consistent with it. Either they are all in based on numbers or they are all out based on what we know about drug use at the time.

You can not pick and choose which suspected steroid user gets in based on how well they refuted the evidence or whether or not they admitted it and how contrite they were. Did they cry during their admission (McGwire)? Or, are they still denying it (Sosa)?

None of that should make a difference. We have no way of knowing the full truth. PED's have forever tainted sports of all kinds and are still tainting the games today.

My sense is that the media and fans want to choose who gets admonished and who gets forgiven based on their own personal bias. Drug users like Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte and Ryan Braun are still playing and still being cheered on. Cheaters like Braun get to keep their MVP awards, but guys like Sosa are vilified. Even McGwire and Barry Bonds are welcomed back to baseball and their franchises with open arms.

Bonds, like Sosa, has never admitted wrongdoing, yet he attends Giants games at AT&T Park regularly. Sosa is persona non grata in Chicago, all because he maintains an arrogant defiance.

How dare he be so cocky? No vote for you until you admit everything and say you're sorry, and if you can manufacture some tears that would help us forgive you. And, after all of that we still won't vote you into the Hall of Fame because than you would be an admitted drug user, right now there's still some gray area.

Oh yeah, and if you can say you're sorry for leaving a Cubs game early back in 2004, you know the incident that ended your career in Chicago? Then maybe you can return to Wrigley Field without getting spit on.

We build our sports figures up to tear them down. Yes, Sosa made his own choices and his own bed so to speak, but standing in his living room six years ago it struck me how much he truly doesn't understand why some people hate him.

I have to admit, neither do I.

Yes, even after Sosa kept me waiting for three hours that day to sit down for the interview in which he made us change locations several times because he didn't want to sit in the hot sun, I rolled with the superstar punches because Sosa is no different than any other out-sized-ego-athlete I've dealt with. Only he's one people choose to hate.

In Sosa's mind, he only did what baseball asked him to do, produce home runs, bring glory back to the game and fans back to the seats. Nobody cared how he did it, until now. Sosa may never get into the Hall of Fame, but if he is living the same kind of life he was six years ago, he may not care.

"My own world, me, I am happy. I know who I am."

Are Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 vs. Nationals?

Are Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 vs. Nationals?

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Are the Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 against the Washington Nationals?

“I’m not even anywhere near that,” manager Joe Maddon said during Tuesday’s pregame media session with the Chicago media, immediately shifting his focus back to the decisions he would have to make that night – how hard to push catcher Willson Contreras coming off the disabled list, what the Cubs would get out of lefty Mike Montgomery, how the bullpen sets up – against the Tampa Bay Rays.

“Players can do that kind of stuff. I don’t think managers can. Honestly, I don’t want to say I don’t care about that. I just don’t worry about that, because there’s nothing to worry about yet. Because first of all, he’s got to be well when he pitches, too.”

Arrieta had just completed a throwing session at Tropicana Field and declared himself ready to face the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday at Miller Park. That would be the Cy Young Award winner’s first start since suffering a Grade 1 right hamstring strain on Labor Day. It would set him up to face the St. Louis Cardinals next week at Busch Stadium and start Game 162 against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.

“The plan is to be out there Thursday,” said Arrieta, who would be limited to 75-80 pitches against the Brewers and build from there, trying to recapture what made him the National League pitcher of the month for August. “The good thing is the arm strength is there – it’s remained there – and I actually feel better for maybe having a little bit of time off.

“The idea is to be able to be out there the last game against Cincinnati – pretty much at full pitch count – and to be ready for the playoffs.”

Five days after that would be the beginning of the NL divisional round and what could be a classic playoff series between the defending champs and Dusty Baker’s Nationals. The Cubs started Jon Lester in Game 1 for all three playoff rounds during last year’s World Series run and their $155 million ace could open a Washington series with an extra day of rest.

“It’s inappropriate to talk about that now,” team president Theo Epstein said. “We have a lot of work to do, and those would be the guys that would help get us there in the first place. If you’re lucky enough to get into that situation, you’d just use all the factors. You guys all know – who’s going the best, who matches up the best, the most experienced – and we figure it out and go from there. But we’re still a good ways away from figuring that one out.”

Untouchable: Javier Baez showed why Cubs built around him during takeover at shortstop

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AP

Untouchable: Javier Baez showed why Cubs built around him during takeover at shortstop

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Imagine Javier Baez wearing a New York Mets uniform or playing in an empty Tropicana Field and where the Cubs would be without their backup shortstop.

The trade speculation still lingered into this season, even after Baez blossomed into a National League Championship Series co-MVP and a World Series champion. Maybe it was just out of habit since Theo Epstein’s front office spent years collecting hitters and planning to deal for pitching, or a perception issue for a prospect who wasn’t drafted by this regime and has a “flashiness” to his game that recently got this unfair, narrow-minded label from a Pittsburgh Pirates broadcaster: “A difficult player for me to root for.”

But the Cubs never traded Baez to the Tampa Bay Rays for one of those starters who usually seems to be on the rumor mill – Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Jake Odorizzi, Matt Moore – and that decision continues to look better and better in hindsight.   

Baez again showed why he is essentially untouchable while Addison Russell slowly recovered from a strained right foot and plantar fasciitis, starting 41 of 42 games at shortstop between Aug. 3 and Sept. 16 and hitting .282 with eight homers and 27 RBI during that stretch.  

Deep down, Baez still views himself as a shortstop – “yeah, for sure, if I get the (chance)” – while deferring to Russell (who was activated over the weekend) and understanding that the Cubs can again have an elite defensive unit when he moves back to second base.

“When I play short every day, obviously, I’m going to be ready for it and making all the adjustments to be there,” Baez said. “I do my best to help the team. Addie’s a big part of the team.”

Remember how shaky the defense looked up the middle when Russell missed the 2015 NLCS with a hamstring injury and the Mets swept the Cubs out of the playoffs?  

The Cubs created enough depth – and room to grow – to stash an All-Star shortstop on the disabled list on Aug. 4 and go from being a 57-50 team with a 1.5-game lead in the division to running a season-high 17 games over .500 heading into Tuesday night at The Trop.  

Even though Joe Maddon lobbied for Baez to make the Opening Day roster during his first post-Rays spring training in 2015, the manager also made a point to say he didn’t run an entitlement program.

Maddon would not anoint Baez as an everyday player heading into this season, even after he started all 17 games at second base during last year’s playoffs and starred for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.

“If you had done that with him two years ago, he would have buried himself,” Maddon said. “Absolutely. I don’t think he would have made the same adjustments at the plate. You would have seen a lot more mistakes on defense. You would have seen a lot more routine plays not handled routinely. You would not have seen the same base running. Even though he had it in his back pocket, I just think that he’s learned how to really pick his moments there, too. He wasn’t ready for all that.”

There is something to the idea of taking the good with the bad with Baez. Except there are no perfect players and so few have his mind-blowing combination of skills, love for the game and sixth sense for highlight-reel moments.    

“You don’t teach those things – that’s just God-given talent,” catcher Alex Avila said. “He’s been able to put it together. You see those plays. But the work that goes into it – as far as being in the right spot, having the right first step, anticipating the ball, things like that – all that kind of gets you the result.

“(It’s not only) making sure he’s making the routine plays, but he has the athleticism and the wherewithal to be able to make the spectacular plays as well.”

Instead of focusing on the tattoos or the hairstyles or a swing that can get out of control at times, remember that this is someone who already has 22 homers and 70 RBI in the middle of September – and a .791 OPS in his age-24 season that represents a 54-point jump from the year before – for an iconic team with World Series expectations.

“You could see there was a lot of stuff for Javy to iron out,” Maddon said. “He’s worked them out. It’s a lot of repetition. It’s a lot of good coaching. But it’s about the player himself, being able to make those adjustments. I honestly think his path has been a good one. And I think the way we did it last year was perfect.

“Everything’s happened as it should organically for him."