Sammy Sosa electrified the city of Chicago and the baseball world in 1998 with his 66 home runs and MVP season. While controversial now, Sosa and Mark McGwire’s home run race that year was so significant for the sport as it happened as it brought baseball back to life. It also rejuvenated a mediocre and boring Cubs franchise.
That year was magical. On top of Sosa’s performance, Cubs faithful saw rookie Kerry Wood dominate hitters and the team clinched only their third playoff berth since 1945. The following year, fans were hungry for more. A then-record 2,813,854 fans came through the turnstiles at Wrigley Field in 1999 and Sosa was the primary reason the fans showed up. Looking back at the 1999 and 2000 teams, as a whole, though, it is easy to forget just how bad they were.
Cubs had horrific seasons in 1999 and 2000 despite Sammy Sosa’s run
From 1999-2000, Sosa hit 113 home runs in 318 games. 55 of those homers were at Wrigley Field. He posted a 1.021 OPS with an OPS+ of 156 over that stretch.
Between those two years, the Cubs went 132-192 (.407) and finished in dead last both seasons. It was the first time they finished last in back-to-back seasons since 1980-1981. In both 1999 and 2000 they finished exactly 30 games out of first place. They are also the only two Cubs teams in the Modern Era (since 1900) to surrender 900+ runs and post a staff ERA over 5.00.
To really dive into how bad the pitching was, not one pitcher who recorded at least five starts in either 1999 or 2000 posted a sub-4.00 ERA. Jon Leiber and Mark Guthrie in 1999 were the only two pitchers over that two year stretch to post a sub-4.00 FIP. That’s literally it. Not a single pitcher on the 2000 Cubs staff had a FIP below 4.13 (Tim Worrell). It’s hard to win games when you’re giving up an average of between five and six runs per contest.
The offenses of those teams were not that spectacular either. Outside of Sosa, notable hitters included Mark Grace, Glenallen Hill, Joe Girardi, Ricky Gutierrez and Henry Rodriguez. Girardi had returned to the Cubs in 2000, while Rodriguez was traded at the deadline that year. The Cubs had some solid hitters in 1999 and 2000 , but as a whole, those offenses were pretty mediocre.
Sosa hit 30 percent of the team’s home runs over those two years. He also drove in nearly one-fifth of the team’s runs and scored 15 percent of them in that time. Just imagine if Sosa wasn’t a part of those teams. Yikes.
Most teams that bad would not draw over 2.7 million fans, but Sosa helped bring in the crowds to watch him chase more home run glory. When one looks back at those late-90s, early 2000s teams, Sammy Sosa is more often than not the first thing to come to mind.