Wednesday, I posted the text of an email Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts had sent to fans.
Many of the comments to that post had to do with the relationship, or non-relationship, between Ricketts and former Cubs star Sammy Sosa.
So I thought it’s time I addressed this issue.
Let’s stipulate a few things right here and now.
Sammy Sosa hit 545 home runs as a Cub, which eclipsed Ernie Banks’ 512 and is now the franchise record. He stands as the only player in MLB history to hit 60 or more home runs three times. All of this helped the Cubs make the postseason twice, and fill Wrigley Field many times.
There are some who say that achievements on the field by players accused of PED use should somehow be “erased” as if they didn’t happen. This is utter nonsense. The games were played, they were won and lost, the home runs were hit, witnessed by thousands in person and millions on TV. They exist, you can’t pretend they didn’t.
Did they give thrills and excitement to Cubs fans? Absolutely, yes. Did they help fill ballparks again after the bitterness of the 1994-95 strike kept people away for a couple of years? Also yes, and here’s where things begin to get a bit murky.
There is no doubt that steroids and other PEDs were in use by baseball players from as early as the late 1980s until (around) 2010. No MLB rule existed at the time to prevent their use, and it’s generally acknowledged that baseball officials, particularly then-Commissioner Bud Selig, turned a blind eye to them because, well, they were helping fill the ballparks and helping owners make money.
Could owners and the Commissioner’s office have done something about it then? In 2016, Selig, by then retired as Commissioner, was teaching a history class at the University of Wisconsin. The subject of PEDs came up. Jayson Stark, then writing for ESPN, was there. And this happened:
Bud Selig wrestles with those doubts to this day, because after giving his side of this story for 11 minutes, he then turned to me.
“Now let me ask you a question,” he said. “And I’m being serious. If you had been me then, what would you have done?”
Frankly, I was amazed that he asked. But I also had no trouble admitting to the commissioner emeritus that I thought back on those times a lot. And like a lot of members of the media, I carry a deep sense of guilt about that era and the way it was covered. I told him I wish I’d done more. I wish I’d asked more questions. I wish I’d learned more. I wished I’d said and written more.
So that, I told him, was what I thought he could have done. He was the commissioner. So the one thing he could have done, without needing a bargaining table to do it, was raise this issue, speak about it more, admit to it earlier and bring it to the forefront.
“That’s fair,” Selig replied. “That’s very fair.”
A moment later, he looked me right in the eye again. “Maybe you’re right,” he said. “Maybe I should have said more.”
To me, the so-called Steroid Era is a blight on baseball history. I’m glad that players have finally agreed to collectively bargain to keep PEDs out of baseball, and over the last decade or so, have largely succeeded. Players who have used them have been suspended, some for long periods of time — Alex Rodriguez, for example, for the entire 2014 season, after trying for a time to fight MLB in court.
And that brings me back, in a way, to Sosa. A-Rod denied, denied, denied... until he finally admitted he had done PEDs, and issued a written apology:
To the Fans,
I take full responsibility for the mistakes that led to my suspension for the 2014 season. I regret that my actions made the situation worse than it needed to be. To Major League Baseball, the Yankees, the Steinbrenner family, the Players Association and you, the fans, I can only say I’m sorry.
I accept the fact that many of you will not believe my apology or anything that I say at this point. I understand why and that’s on me. It was gracious of the Yankees to offer me the use of Yankee Stadium for this apology, but I decided that next time I am in Yankee Stadium, I should be in pinstripes doing my job.
I served the longest suspension in the history of the league for PED use. The Commissioner has said the matter is over. The Players Association has said the same. The Yankees have said the next step is to play baseball.
I’m ready to put this chapter behind me and play some ball.
This game has been my single biggest passion since I was a teenager. When I go to Spring Training, I will do everything I can to be the best player and teammate possible, earn a spot on the Yankees and help us win.
And where is A-Rod now? Why, he’s got a prime feature spot on Fox-TV’s baseball broadcasts, and as long as he stays in the studio, he’s pretty good at it. (Not so much on game analysis, though.)
Other players who have apologized have been welcomed back into the baseball fraternity. Andy Pettitte, for example, for using HGH:
“I am sorry,” Pettitte said at the news conference, which came as he reported four days late to spring training, with the Yankees’ permission. “I know in my heart why I did things. I know that God knows that. I know that I’m going to have to stand before him one day. The truth hurts sometimes and you don’t want to share it. The truth will set you free. I’m going to be able to sleep a lot better.”
Pettitte played five more MLB seasons after that and helped the Yankees win the World Series in 2009.
Others have stonewalled, particularly Roger Clemens, who has never said a word about his alleged PED use, which is documented in this 2020 Forbes article. Clemens, who otherwise might have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, sits on the outside looking in. So does Barry Bonds, whose alleged PED use was detailed in the book “Game of Shadows” (and if you haven’t read it, you absolutely should), has never really apologized for that, and he also sits out of Cooperstown. In the book, it’s said that Bonds began doing PEDs after the 1998 season because he was jealous of the attention given to Sosa and Mark McGwire in the home-run chase. Had Bonds never played another game after 1998, he’d have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer — he had 411 home runs and 445 stolen bases as well as three MVP awards. Instead, he’s a pariah, disliked almost everywhere around baseball except San Francisco.
Let’s circle back to the topic of this article, Sammy Sosa. While Sosa was not named in the Mitchell Report, which listed over 100 alleged PED users, according to this Chicago Tribune article he was named in an affidavit as a player who did do them:
The Department of Justice has unsealed search-warrant affidavits by a federal investigator on two people involved with steroids in baseball, identifying four more baseball players who may have used drugs, and a federal magistrate judge criticized The Los Angeles Times for faulty reporting.
While dozens of players were named last week in the Mitchell report on the use of performance-enhancing substances in baseball, four others who were not in the Mitchell report — Sammy Sosa, Pete Incaviglia, Geronimo Berroa and Allen Watson — are named in one of the affidavits.
This, I think, gets to the crux of why Tom Ricketts has asked for an apology from Sammy before he’s invited back to Wrigley Field. Other players have done this — why is this so difficult for Sammy? It has nothing to do with the thrills he admittedly gave all of us. Again, granted and stipulated. Personally, I’m with Tom Ricketts. Sammy should say he’s sorry for whatever part he played in the Steroid Era. Then he’d likely be welcomed back. Why is this so hard?
There’s one other thing I should mention. Sosa’s exit from the Cubs was not the way he, or likely anyone else, would have wanted. He left early from the last game of the 2004 season — some claims have been made that he was given permission to go — and then there’s the famous smashed boombox that happened after. Allegedly, Kerry Wood was behind that, though I doubt we’ll ever know for sure. I’d think Wood, still connected with the Cubs front office, would like to have an apology.
And so, very likely. would Ryne Sandberg, who made this statement at his Hall of Fame induction in 2005:
I didn’t play the game right because I saw a reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that’s what you’re supposed to do — play it right and with respect.
The theme of Sandberg’s induction speech was “Respect.” And he named quite a few of his teammates in the speech — but Sosa was a notable absence, not mentioned at all. I’d guess Ryno, who makes appearances as a beloved Cubs elder statesman, would also like to get an apology from Sammy Sosa.
Acknowledge what Sammy did on the field? Absolutely. Acknowledge the thrills and joy they brought at the time? Certainly. You cheered for them. So did I.
But in my view, those achievements were tainted by PEDs and time has not assuaged that pain, not even 25 years later. An apology from Sammy would go a long way to help remove that, for me at least, and also for Tom Ricketts — and to me, it doesn’t matter that the Ricketts didn’t own the Cubs when Sosa played for them. They’re the team owners now, and thus... if this is what they want, they should get it.
C’mon, Sammy. Like the others I quoted above, how hard would it be for you to say you’re sorry? Something like the A-Rod apology, along those lines, would be perfect. Just do it.
To BCB readers, I ask that you keep commentary on this topic civil.
This poll is closed
... should apologize to Tom Ricketts and Cubs fans for his PED use
... doesn’t need to apologize, should be welcomed back to Wrigley Field right away
... should be kept out of Wrigley Field and the Cubs family
Something else (leave in comments)