Chicago Cubs: The true Summer of Sammy was 2001
Nobody can forget the Summer of 1998 when Sammy Sosa helped bring the Chicago Cubs and baseball in general back from the dead, but 2001 was arguably even better.
The early 2000s was a time when we had World Series aspirations as a Chicago Cubs team, but never quite reached the ultimate goal. Everyone remembers what happened in 2003 and the expectations that followed in 2004.
Mixed in that era was the 2001 campaign, a season which did not see any postseason baseball, but still a competitive team that recorded 88 wins. At the time, a winning year was still a rarity considering the 2001 season was only their seventh season finishing above .500 since 1971.
Who was the centerpiece of that team? None other than Sammy Sosa. The slugger was in his prime and had established himself as one of the biggest names in baseball around the world. Those who witnessed the summer of 1998 when he and Mark McGwire battled each other in the historic home run race will remember it forever. People in Chicago have dubbed 1998 the “Summer of Sammy” because while he lost the home run race to Big Mac, Sosa won the NL MVP and got to play October baseball.
Sure, Sosa hit more homers in 1998 than any other season of his career. However, it was not his best overall season. This is where 2001 comes in. His season that year statistically was even better than 1998, and some of the numbers are quite staggering. Here is a look at the “real” Summer of Sammy in 2001.
In 2001 Sammy Sosa hit 60+ home runs for the third time in his career. The only player in baseball history to do so. Note that this would also be his final 60+ homer season in his career. The number of round-trippers in (64) was two shy of tying 1998 (66). Close in comparison to the actual numbers, it just was not quite as big of a deal as it was in 1998. Sosa ended up hitting his 64th homer in his final AB that season at Wrigley Field.
Now we look at the overall stats. This is where we see some differences. Have a look at these comparisons between 1998 and 2001:
1998: .308/.377/.674 – 159 wRC+, 1.024 OPS, .399 ISO, 10.1% BB, 23.7% K, 53.8 Off (Offensive Runs Above Average), 7.1 fWAR in 159 games
2001: .328/.437/.737 – 186 wRC+, 1.174 OPS, .409 ISO, 16.3% BB, 21.5% K, 78.8 OFF, 9.9 fWAR in 160 games
Noticed all the bolded stats in the 2001 stat line? Those indicate career bests The OPS above 1.1 and slugging above .700 would only be seen that one year. His fWAR in 2001, which was 2.8 points higher than in 1998, was second in baseball behind Barry Bonds (12.5). Notice the increase in walks, slight decrease in strikeouts and the 27 point difference in wRC+. Probably could argue more people pitched around Sosa after a while, but still, credit him for chasing out of the zone less.
Just to go back to that fWAR of 9.9, this is on par with what Ernie Banks did in 1959 when his 9.7 fWAR helped make him the first player in National League history to win back-to-back MVP awards for the Cubs. If it were not for Bonds, Sosa would have won his second NL MVP award in 2001.
1998 will always be the most memorable season of Sammy Sosa. He broke Roger Maris‘s record of 61 homers and was part of a summer that brought baseball back from the dead. Remember, fans across the country were still sour from the infamous strike of 1994. However, we indeed saw peak Sammy in 2001.