Sammy Sosa has been shunned by the Chicago Cubs organization since 1998. Instead of restoring Sosa’s legacy, he was again neglected in ESPN’s Long Gone Summer.
Major League Baseball was an endangered species in the mid-1990s. After the 1994 World Series was canceled as a result of a labor strike, the sport and the Chicago Cubs were on life support for the better part of three years.
Attendance and viewership were down, the future looked bleak and the sport was perilously close to becoming a National Time of the Past instead of the National Pastime.
For years, the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals have been heated rivals on the field. They compete for a division championship year after year, battling each other on the field for a spot in the playoffs.
But in 1998, everything was different. Instead of fighting for an NL Central title, two men were fighting to save the game of baseball itself. Sosa and McGwire were chasing history. And regardless of who won, both teams were cemented in history together thanks to a 162-game battle for immortality.
Despite the fact that McGwire ultimately ended up on top of the home run record, the 1998 season was much more successful for the Cubs than for the Cardinals.
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Sure, Big Mac topped the leaderboard. But the Cubs bested the Cardinals in the NL Central and proceeded to reach the postseason thanks to a tiebreaker win over the San Francisco Giants for the Wild Card spot while the Cardinals spent their October on the couch.
It was the first time the Cubs reached the playoffs in the 1990s and only the third time since 1945 that the North Siders found themselves in the postseason.
The entire year could be described as the glory days. Just a few weeks into the season, rookie phenom Kerry Wood struck out 20 batters in what is often described as the greatest pitching performance in baseball history.
The following month, Sosa had the most successful slugging month ever in clubbing 20 home runs. To this day, no other player has hit 20 dingers in one month.
It was a dream season for the sport. The entire nation found themselves glued to the chase, keeping track of every round-tripper for most of the year. The Cubs hit 2.6 million in attendance for only the second time in franchise history.
Sosa said it best in his quote from the ESPN documentary Long Gone Summer. “I always say Michael Jordan is the man. But I’m the man right next to Michael.”
Indeed, the Summers of Jordan quickly turned to the Summer of Sammy. Just two weeks into Sosa’s most successful month of June 1998, the Bulls won their final championship thanks to Jordan’s shot over Byron Russell in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. Ironically, Long Lost Summer debuted on the 22nd anniversary of Jordan’s legendary shot.
That’s no disrespect to Harold Baines. Baines had an incredible career himself. But what Sosa did for the Chicago Cubs and for the game of baseball is worlds beyond what Baines accomplished.
Though 1998 was a storybook season for the Cubs and Sosa, the fairytale would soon come to an end. All of Sosa’s contributions would ultimately be forgotten by the same franchise that he helped put at the forefront of news headlines for numerous years.
After two playoff appearances and coming closer to the World Series than the franchise had come since 1945, Sosa and the Cubs would endure one of the ugliest break-ups, and one of the most stunning falls from glory in 2004.
Sosa hasn’t been welcomed back to Wrigley Field since that infamous day. He hasn’t been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. His contributions to the Cubs and to Major League Baseball have been disregarded by countless fans.
While the Long Gone Summer was an ideal opportunity for his image to be restored, Sosa and his accomplishments were again overlooked. Instead of acknowledging his incredible season and memorable career, Sosa was portrayed as a side story to McGwire’s record-breaking season.
I mean, come on. The guy was overwhelmingly voted the 1998 NL MVP.
Despite already having 207 home runs prior to the 1998 season, the documentary described Sammy as a “nobody” prior to the 1998 home run race.
Of course, any Cubs fan knows that Sosa was far from an unknown. Sosa had totaled 137 home runs combined in the previous four seasons.
In fact, Sammy had finished in the top twenty in MVP voting three seasons in a row prior to 1998 and had already won a Silver Slugger and been named to an All-Star Game.
Unfortunately, Sosa’s portrayal in Long Gone Summer was an all too accurate analogy of his actual reputation. Despite playing a crucial role in the resurrection of baseball and catapulting the Chicago Cubs to the top of the sports world, Sosa was neglected in an unbelievably upsetting fashion.
Let’s hope that this is the end of Sammy’s time as the villain and the beginning of his redemption of what he really is…a personable, talented player whose value to the sport and Cubs was immeasurably significant.
It’s far past time to welcome Sammy back to the Friendly Confines. After all, it’s hard to describe Wrigley as the “Friendly” Confines if one of the most important players in franchise history isn’t welcome in his own house.
Sammy isn’t perfect, but he helped make the Cubs what they are today. He gave an entire generation of Cubs fans some of their fondest memories and made young kids fans for life. And he and Big Mac helped save baseball from the brink of extinction one home run at a time.
Sammy is a Cubs legend whether the current front office likes it or not. And with baseball fighting for its existence in perhaps more than ever, now is the perfect time to welcome Sammy back to Wrigley Field.
How perfect that baseball and the Chicago Cubs could be saved by Slammin’ Sammy Sosa once again.