SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Sammy Sosa views himself as The Prodigal Son who will someday return to Wrigley Field. Barry Bonds might have provided the roadmap.
The “Game of Shadows” star stepped back into the spotlight on Monday, putting on a San Francisco Giants uniform again and beginning his week as a guest instructor for spring training. After a seven-year hiatus, the Bonds reality show returned to Scottsdale Stadium, with a satellite truck parked outside and the national media taking over the press box.
Bonds hung around the cage during batting practice, gave presidential waves to the fans above the dugout and watched the Cubs beat the Giants 3-2 in front of a sellout crowd (10,545) in Old Town.
The Sosa camp has reached out to express interest in reconnecting with the Cubs, according to a source familiar with the situation, but no formal talks have taken place and there is nothing on the front burner now.
Sosa doesn’t have a personal connection to Theo Epstein’s front office, and a club source said there are no immediate plans to get the franchise’s all-time home-run leader (545) involved in baseball operations at any level.
A third official said the Cubs aren’t planning on the Sosa circus being part of Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary celebration this season.
Still, the possibility exists for a reunion down the road. There is a feeling inside the organization that the 1998 National League MVP could have some value as an instructor in spring training. At the very least, there is a recognition that the time will come where it won’t make sense to completely ignore Slammin’ Sammy anymore.
Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins addressed all the players in camp last month. Senior advisor Billy Williams, another Hall of Famer, is a visible presence at the new Mesa complex. Rick Sutcliffe is there working with the organization’s pitchers. Ted Lilly came to work as a special assistant to Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, a new role carved from conversations at this winter’s Cubs Convention.
Sosa has been estranged from the organization, though there have been signs there could be a thaw in the cold war. A decision like this would be made at the ownership level, and chairman Tom Ricketts recognizes this is a difficult balancing act.
“With Sammy, it’s awkward,” Ricketts said at last year’s Cubs Convention. “I think over time there will be a good solution for all this stuff.
“We saw what happened with the Hall of Fame voting this year. I don’t know. It would be nice to put this chapter to rest and just welcome back all the guys who were from that era who were suspected of doing whatever.”
Sosa received 12.5 percent of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote in 2013, and dropped to 7.2 percent in this year’s class, meaning it’s almost impossible to see him getting elected to Cooperstown.
A 2009 New York Times report identified Sosa as one of 104 players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs during the anonymous survey in 2003. That same year, he got busted for using a corked bat. He didn’t convince the skeptics during a 2005 Congressional hearing.
The Cubs have restructured their entire organization since the smashed boom box and Sosa’s walkout during the final game of the 2004 season. Tribune Co. filed for bankruptcy and sold the team. There aren’t that many holdovers from the Jim Hendry administration. Rick Renteria is the fifth different manager since the Sosa vs. Cubs divorce.
Mark McGwire, the other marquee attraction in the 1998 home-run chase, came clean during an interview with Bob Costas on MLB Network in 2010, admitting he used steroids. McGwire worked as the St. Louis Cardinals hitting coach for three seasons before taking the same job with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Bonds – who was convicted of obstruction of justice during a federal investigation into the BALCO drug ring – didn’t drop any bombshells during Monday’s news conference.
Outside of a Pinterest page that went viral, Sosa has kept a very low profile. His Twitter account – @TheRealMr609 – hasn’t posted a new message since July 31 last year. He’s not on the restaurant/TV/radio circuit that draws in so many ex-athletes in Chicago.
Sosa took questions for “5 Outs…,” the Comcast SportsNet documentary that premiered last October and looked back on the 2003 Cubs team that came so close to reaching the World Series. During a sit-down interview in Miami, Sosa went Biblical and predicted you’ll see him again at Wrigley Field.
“It was my house for many years,” Sosa said. “It’s like the father got the son home. The son leaves for many, many years.
“All of a sudden, 10, 20, 30 years later, the son comes back to the house. That’s my hope and expectation. So one day, I will go back to my house.”