Yo, what’s going on with Sammy Sosa?
Recently, Sosa made a very brief appearance on ESPN during their coverage of the Home Run Derby. Dressed in a pink button-up shirt with a fedora to match, Sosa looked Miami as hell. But that wasn’t what caused a stir.
Sosa’s skin complexion was lighter than anyone remembered. Like way, way too light.
— TheRuggedMale (@TheRuggedMale) July 24, 2017
Social media wondered what happened to their Dominican slugger. The millennial generation, myself included, grew up with Slammin’ Sammy and hadn’t heard from him in years. His skin complexion was just a jumping off point.
So, what’s happened to Sammy Sosa?
Let’s step back.
Sosa hit 609 home runs in his career, amassing seven All-Star appearances and an MVP Award in 1998. That year, he and St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire led baseball on a chase to break Roger Maris’ record of 61. What transpired was the game’s greatest home run race as Sammy hit 66 to Mark’s 70.
After 13 incredible seasons with the Cubs in 2004, Sosa finished his career with the Baltimore Orioles in 2005 and had a brief reappearance with the Texas Rangers in ‘07.
But the end had been coming slowly and painfully for Say It Ain’t Sosa. A corked bat controversy marred his 2003 season when his bat exploded on contact, exposing what appeared to be an illegal cork inside the barrel.
And then there were the steroid allegations: in 2009, a bombshell report from the New York Times outed several players, taking survey testing data from the 2003 season to expose steroid use in the game of baseball.
Sosa, among 103 other players, was nailed. Years earlier, at a 2005 Congressional hearing, Sosa, McGwire, and several other big leaguers vehemently denied any use of performance-enhancing drugs. But the court of public opinion had essentially found them guilty.
And it seemed Sosa in particular was more culpable.
Maybe it was the corked bat. Maybe it was that deep down, everyone suspected he was juicing and the testing data confirmed it. Sosa was in the same class as McGwire and Barry Bonds but somehow outside it, not remembered quite so fondly and brushed aside as a cheater far more easily.
Sosa was out of the game by 2007, 18 years after he made his debut with the Texas Rangers.
In 2009, two years removed from baseball, Sosa reappeared looking a little … different.
— Chicago Informer (@chicagoinformer) July 6, 2016
Fans noticed that during public appearances that year his skin was noticeably lighter. Like, way too light to be normal aging. Naturally, people were worried he was suffering from some awful skin disease.
Fortunately, no. Rather, Sosa applied a bleaching cream to his face because he liked it. It was strange in its nature, yes, but also sad because it immediately changed the public’s perception of Sosa — former All-Star slugging machine to a guy who kinda does the Michael Jackson thing.
“It’s a bleaching cream that I apply before going to bed and whitens my skin some,” Sosa said at the time, according to ESPN. He added that he’s ‘not a racist’ and that he ‘lives his life happily.’”
The image of a whiter-than-we-remember Sosa circulated the internet for several years as Sosa quietly drifted away. Fans, and Hall of Fame voters, also pushed into the background the Steroid Era of which Sosa was a major player. We moved on.
From a statistical perspective, Sosa posted a career worthy of the Hall of Fame. But when he first became eligible in 2013, he received just 12.5 percent of the vote, well short of the necessary 75 percent threshold. By 2016, he polled at just 7.5 percent.
In an interview with blogger Chuck Blogerstrom in February 2017, Sosa offered long, winding descriptions of his life after baseball, his wish to return to Chicago, and the fact that he “never failed a test” and that baseball had “nothing on me.” He lamented the fact that he wasn’t in the Hall of Fame but said he was happy with all his money, anyway.
Oh, and then Sosa compared himself to the Messiah when Blogerstrom asked Sosa if he felt persecuted by people who continue to assume he took steroids.
“Chuck, it’s like Jesus Christ when he came to Jerusalem,” Sosa said. “Everybody thought Jesus Christ was a witch – and he was our savior. So if they talk sh-t about Jesus Christ, what about me? Are you kidding me?”
Well, that did it. The Cubs and owner Tom Ricketts had considered bringing Sosa back for a reunion, but once they heard of Sosa comparing himself to Jesus Christ they closed the book.
“The Cubs declined to comment on Sosa’s latest remarks, but Ricketts and other high-ranking officials apparently weren’t happy with the interview and have decided to stop talking about him,” wrote Paul Sullivan from the Chicago Tribune. Apparently, they’d had enough.
And now, here we are. Sosa’s skin is lighter and his chances for the Hall of Fame are thin. As fans we include him less and less in the “best home run hitter” discussions, even though he’s one of nine players to hit 600 homers.
He cheated, I get it. But didn’t the other guys? That’s a conversation for another day I suppose.
Sammy, I hope you’re healthy. I hope the projects in the Dominican Republic and Panama are going well. I’m sorry that baseball is forgetting you but that’s the nature of it. Maybe get a little sun, too. You’re scaring us.