Sammy Sosa and the Thing That Never Was

So now the dirt on Sammy Sosa has finally come to light, which is all shocking and awful and whatnot, but if you want real outrage you’ll have to look further than the Congressional hearing. You’ll have to look further than a grown man blowing kisses at a camera. You’ll have to look further than teammates singling out Sosa in their Hall of Fame speeches.

Think back to that magical summer of 1998, where the home runs flew wild and free, battle lines were drawn and no one really knew where they stood when it came to what they saw on the field.

No, not at Wrigley. At Comiskey.

While Sosa and Mark McGwire elevated juiceball to a whole new level, you may recall that Frank Thomas and Albert Belle very quietly launched a combined 78 bombs and drove in 261 runs. Ray-Ray had one of the best seasons of his South Side tenure, Mike Caruso became a .306 hitter, Robin Ventura remained awesome and a young Magglio Ordonez solidified an already mighty lineup.

And yet all they had to show for it (thank you, Jaime Navarro) was a meager 80-82 record good enough to put them nine games out of first behind eventual ALCS loser Cleveland Indians.

Now let’s play rearview GM for a second and imagine the Sox had never traded up-and-coming speedster Samuel Peralta Sosa to the other Chicago team. Assume Sosa continued down his path of “training” and made the same “nutritional” decisions he later made while helping the Cubs win all those World Series (ha!). Imagine the 1998 edition of Sosa surrounded by all those devastating South Side bats instead of Mark “ten years of singles” Grace and Sosa’s juice machine-in-arms Glenallen Hill:

Durham, 2B
Caruso, SS
Thomas, DH
Belle, LF
Sosa, RF
Ventura, 3B
Wil Cordero, 1B
Ordonez, CF
Chad Kreuter, C

That’s a 250-home run team right there, possibly playoff-bound at a time the Sox needed it most, but more importantly that is also easily the most-hated baseball team in the history of modern sports. Not one born of envious hatred, the kind we all have for the Yankees (and, lately, the Red Sox), and not the cultural disdain so many of us have for the team that made Sosa famous, but actually reviled on a personal level: Frank the eternal nemesis of media and fans alike, Sosa the poster child for cartoonish medical abuse, Belle’s laundry list of psychotic episodes and Wil Cordero’s whole trouble-at-home thing.

(Even the alternate lineups scream scandal, as pretty good CF Mike Cameron made headlines of his own a decade later.)

Sure, their pitching still would’ve been terrible but so what? With that kind of firepower, who needs decent arms? They would’ve been awesome, and they would have been hated; in short, they would have been the perfect modern sports enterprise. Alas, young Samuel had to put his workout regimen off for a few years long enough to be shipped out of Comiskey, and instead all we Sox fans are left with is another undying reason to laugh at the Chicago Cubs. All told, that’s not such a bad way to end up.

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