Apparently for Sammy Sosa, the chance to reach 600 career home runs is not worth the “humiliation” of earning a roster spot in spring training or not being given a starting job.
It’s been reported that Sosa is considering retiring rather than accepting the only contract offer he’s received this offseason, from the Washington Nationals. (Which, if he does accept it, would make him the first big-name player to play for both the Baltimore Orioles and the Nats. Keith Osik, Hector Carrasco, Deivi Cruz and New Jersey native Jeffrey Hammonds became the inaugural members of that club last season.)
[Note: On Wednesday, he did reject the offer.]
While there are some parallels to Sosa’s situation and that of Jerry Rice, who retired last year rather than accept a limited role as the fourth receiver on the Denver Broncos’ depth chart. The one that stands out most to me is that Rice retired despite needing just three receiving touchdowns for 200 in his career, a number he probably could have reached even as a fourth receiver. Sosa needs only 12 home runs to become just the fifth player in major league baseball history to slug 600. He hit 14 last year in 102 games.
But Sosa has another significant factor, that of course being steroids. He was an Oriole last year when Rafael Palmeiro — one of the players with whom Sosa appeared before Congress nearly a year ago — was revealed to have tested positive, an announcement that came just days after his milestone 3,000th career hit. Not only would Sosa now be playing his home games in front of some of those same members of Congress, but he would certainly have to put up with further speculation as he neared the magical 600. Or maybe he’s just afraid that hitting 600 would bring more recognition from Congress.
If Sosa wants to retire, that’s certainly his right. There’s no doubt he’s made enough money to secure himself for the rest of his life, especially in his native Dominican Republic. Heck, he “earned” $17 million for batting .221 last summer. I’m sure with the right advisors and investments, I could make $17 million last the rest of my life, and I’m eight years younger than the 37-year-old Sosa. There are, however, three notable players — former superstars — who have swallowed their pride and accepted what they might consider to be below-market, even “humiliating” contracts to keep playing, perhaps because they have something to prove: Mike Piazza, Nomar Garciaparra and Frank Thomas. Piazza and Thomas could have easily retired with their respective 397 and 448 home runs rather than accepting $2 million from the Padres for this season (as Piazza did) and $500,000 from the Athletics (Thomas, though it could reach $2.6 million with bonuses).
I used to like Sosa. In 2003, I wanted to believe that his corked bat episode — which came to light just two days after Congress’ resolution congratulating him on 500 home runs — was a mistake, one of the few things to which I’ll admit I agreed with Bud Selig. But Sammy seems to have grown cranky in his old age. Remember when he blew up at Sports Illustrated‘s Rick Reilly in 2002 when the columnist asked him to take a steroids test? Looking back, maybe that was the beginning of the end for the Slammin’ One. That was before the corked bat, before the sneeze that broke his back, before the man who once knew enough English to understand the humor in saying, “Beisbol has been berry, berry good to me,” left his statements before Congress to his lawyer.
At this point, however, I don’t really care how he goes out. In a what-have-you-done-lately world, Sosa’s more than used up the goodwill from the Great Home Run Chase of ’98. It’d be nice to see the milestone of 600 home runs — he’d be the first Latino ballplayer in the club — because if Barry Bonds can be praised for it, Sosa deserves to be too. But I’m not going to lament his absence from the game if he’s taken his last at bat.