By Anthony Harris
Updated: October 11, 2004

Sammy Sosa

NEW YORK, NY—One of the things I really like about this wide world of sports is that it reveals character.

For anyone can stand up and proclaim himself a bad dude after a three-pointer or quarterback sack in the early stages of a contest.

However, it is what is done in “crunch time”, and how one handles success or failure, which truly separates the bad from the bad.

You know, Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Michael Jordan, Reggie Jackson, Joe Montana, Larry Bird, Earvin Johnson, Doug Williams, Derek Jeter, Tom Brady, Adam Vinatieri, Robert Horry, Mario Elie, Mariano Rivera, to name just a few.

Conversely, there are those moments when an athlete, playing the part of a clutch performer (usually based primarily on salary), fails to deliver the goods.

Take the behavior of Chicago Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa as proof of coming up small and short on two fronts.

With his once peerless offensive numbers in decline – he’s the only player in history to hit 60 or more home runs three times – Slammin’ Sammy felt the ire of long suffering Cubs fans in the 96th edition of wait ‘til next year.

From the black cat to the Billy goat to Leon Durham to Steve Bartman, the angst had reached the boiling point and many fingers were pointed at Sosa.

In fact, there were several incidents during this latest late season swoon that called for closer examination if not outright criticism.

During a late September game in Pittsburgh Sosa gets out of the batters box late after doing his patented hop after hitting what he clearly thinks is a homer, unfortunately the ball stays in the park and he’s thrown out at second.

When confronted about the play, in a game the Cubs eventually won in extra innings, Sammy did his best Leon impersonation.

I have been doing that a lot of years and I’m not changing now. Why should I change, because of this happening one time? The ball just missed being a homer and it came off the wall just right for the outfielder. It shouldn’t have been that big a deal because we won the game.”

In the following series against the lowly Mets, Sosa had no hits in 12 plate appearances including six strikeouts. Chicago lost two of the three games.

He finished the season with stunning offensive lows.

His .253 batting average, worst since 1997.

Those 35 home runs and 80 runs batted in, worst since 1994.

So, as the team prepared to play its final game, the man known for sprinting to his outfield position, packed his bags and raced for the exits while his teammates closed out the season.

Sosa says he told a team trainer that he wouldn’t be able to play the season finale because of soreness.

Manager Dusty Baker, much to his credit, shielded Sammy from criticism most of the season and never added fuel to an already simmering situation.

However, after the latest stunt he stated the obvious that Sosa should be here (for the last game), and that since it was an unimportant finale he wasn’t going to be playing anyway.

Baker, who is known as the proverbial players manager and is quite accustom to massaging the fragile egos of stars (managed Barry Bonds), routinely ran interference for his $17 million slugger.

Remember how he flaked off the embarrassing corked bat incident from last summer?

As this season came to a close the only harmful comments he made about Sosa’s disappointing campaign was that he needed to get ready for next year both mentally and physically because it is very important.

Sammy responded by saying he didn’t leave early, and that he was tired of being blamed every year for the team’s failures.

Since he never took responsibility for his actions it forced the team into a corner they were determined to get out of.

Continuing the tit-for-tat, Cubs management released a security tape that showed Sosa leaving moments after the start of the game.

They later docked him $87,000.

Let me point out here that the native of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic is being rebuked for his on-field behavior.

What he has done in that community for his people where baseball is very popular is exemplary.

Now, I don’t live in Chicago and I don’t have the opportunity to listen to the rabid cries from the sports talk shows, but I do think had he come clean with Baker it could’ve been handled better.

Word has it that Sosa is concerned for a relative dealing with a criminal matter.

Nevertheless, this inability to stand up and acknowledge anything borders on cowardice.

Especially when you so willingly play to the crowd during those moments of success.

Sosa’s sensitivity to criticism is human and perhaps warranted, particularly when you consider the overkill in regards to the disproportionate amount of interest sports stars and other celebrities get in comparison to more important matters.

Yet, rightly or wrongly that’s where we are, and some level of accountability is sorely needed.

Remember the list of names I provided as “crunch time” players?

Well, the one thing about them, and I’m sure some others, is that they rarely went/go out of their way to anoint themselves as “the man”.