Chicago Cubs: Sammy Sosa’s 1998 MVP season stands test of time

Sammy Sosa / Chicago Cubs (Photo by JEFF HAYNES / AFP via Getty Images)
Sammy Sosa / Chicago Cubs (Photo by JEFF HAYNES / AFP via Getty Images) /

Over two decades later, there’s no denying it: Sa mmy Sosa treated Chicago Cubs fans and baseball lovers everywhere to a season worthy of remembrance.

To this day, with the possible exception of 2016, no single summer of baseball stands out more in my memory than 1998. Obviously, how we, as baseball fans, look at that now-infamous season has changed a great deal over the years. But it still amazes me, even to this day – despite it all.

Part of it is, I’m sure because of how young I was at a the time. See, I was just seven years old – we lived out in the middle of nowhere and I spent every single day tossing baseballs up to myself and pretending I was the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals going head-to-head.

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I was never the most athletic kid (this trend continued into my college years as my wife constantly reminds me) – so as I played baseball by myself all summer, I also listened to the broadcasts and kept my own scorebooks for both my faux contests in the yard and any game I watched. Saturdays were spent watching the FOX Game of the Week – and every other day, it was the Cubs on WGN 720 AM.

Sammy Sosa made history that year – as we all know. He breathed life and excitement into a game still looking to recover from the strike-shortened 1994 season alongside the likes of Mark McGwire and Ken Griffey Jr. (seriously, people always seem to forget Griffey’s numbers in ’98 and I’m not sure why). The dude blasted 56 home runs – for the second consecutive season – following up on his MVP 1997 campaign.

But let’s get back to Sosa. The Dominican Republic native was hot early in the year – he was hitting .344 heading into the month of June. But that’s when he flipped a switch in the power department. After tallying 13 home runs in April and May, Sosa set an MLB record that stands to this day, blasting 20 home runs in the month of June to go along with 40 RBI and an 1.173 OPS.

He went on to hit nine more homers in July, followed by double-digit totals in August and September, culminating, of course, in his Cubs record 66 home runs which, at the time ranked as the second most ever by a big leaguer. McGwire set the all-time mark that same summer, hitting 70 long-balls, and Barry Bonds went on to break that record, hitting 73 homers in 2001.

Something that I never realized when I was younger was, no matter what the Cubs, as a team, were doing, Sosa hit. Every day, every situation. Here are his win-loss slash lines for 1998:

  • Wins: 308/.382/.661
  • Losses: .308/.371/.630

It doesn’t get much more consistent than that – and the slugger’s efforts wound up paying off down the stretch and Chicago needed every win they tallied that year to force their way into the postseason.

After finishing at the bottom of the division the year prior, Sosa and the Cubs won a play-in, winner-take-all Game 163 against San Francisco at Wrigley Field, punching their ticket to the NLCS. Of course, they fell in three straight to the Atlanta Braves in the Division Series, but it marked a remarkable run for the club.

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I know there’s a good chance I never see Sammy Sosa set foot in Wrigley Field in-person given the ongoing standoff between Cubs ownership and the famed slugger. But the vigor and life he brought to the Friendly Confines that summer lives on in our memories and seems unlikely to fade anytime soon.