Countdown to Opening Day: 21 Days – #21 still belongs to Mr. Sosa

Junior Lake

plays the game with as much fervor as another former #21 in Cub history:

Sammy Sosa

. Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

21 Days to Opening Day and when I went to look at the number 21 over the years I couldn’t believe I had forgotten about Sammy Sosa. That’s indicative of Cubs fans as we move forward through the years. Sosa is a distant memory and for all the great games he had and all the memories he provided, it seems Cubs fans would rather forget that the guy ever wore Cubbie blue.

He put up career numbers that in another era would have laid down a fast track to Cooperstown. Despite this, we all know what was going on when Sosa was hitting balls off the apartment buildings across the street from Wrigley Field. “Steroid Sosa”, “Sammy Steroid”. Whatever you want to call him, the gig is up. It was up well before he left Chicago in the middle of the regular season finale in 2004. I’m not sure just how welcomed be will be if he ever goes back to Wrigley Field. What I do know is that when he played there and was in his prime, he was one of the main reasons Cubs fans showed up.

I was there on a windy, dreary May afternoon in 1997 when the Cubs faced the Houston Astros. With my three-month-old son in tow and temperatures dipping below 40 degrees, we decided to leave at the seventh-inning stretch. Big mistake. In the bottom of the seventh, Sosa hit a home run to lead off the inning, then hit another in the same inning to cap a two-homer inning. I heard the crowd goes crazy for the first one as I was walking out. I heard the next one on WGN Radio while sitting in traffic on Lake Shore Drive. It wasn’t one of my finer moments.

Put aside the steroid talk (it’s not easy, I know) and just look at what he brought to Wrigley on a daily basis. For over a decade, he averaged 44 home runs a season. He had the fans in right field saluting him every day – and he brought a whimsical joy to the game that Cubs fans hadn’t witnessed since Ernie Banks wanted to play two, literally every day. In the Chicago summer heat, his hair would drip with what I hope was sweat. Who knows, maybe it was ‘Soul Glo’. He had a hot bat, a near-golden arm in right field and was a hit with the people of Chicago. Fans in the Windy City adore their sports stars, and Sosa could have been one of those guys for the rest of his years.

Then came the end of 2004 unraveling of the Steroid Era in baseball. Soon after, the collapse of Sosa’s career came with it. His unceremonious departure from Chicago was just the beginning and now it seems as if the guy never played at Wrigley. There isn’t a single remnant of his tenure roaming right field that lasted more than a decade. He is a faded memory.

And, it seems, that is exactly where Cubs fans want Sosa forever more. A faded memory and most possibly forgotten. It’s a sad story, but unfortunately a truer one has never been told.

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