Sammy Sosa and words ‘steroids in baseball’ forever in same sentence
RICK TELANDER firstname.lastname@example.org July 6, 2011 11:06PM
Sammy Sosa (from left), Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Curt Schilling listen to testimony at the House Committee hearing investigating steroid use in baseball on Capitol Hill on March 17, 2005. | Getty Images
Updated: October 20, 2011 12:27AM
This is how it’s going to be for Sammy Sosa.
When the words ‘‘steroids in baseball’’ appear, when there’s a performance-enhancing drug/perjury trial like the one getting underway for Roger Clemens, when there’s a Hall of Fame-worthiness discussion, when there’s a need to recognize a fearsome, dark knight from the Steroid Era, Sosa’s name will pop up.
That’s why his name was announced Wednesday as a potential witness by the government prosecution at the start of the Clemens trial in Washington. Clemens, who has been charged with six felony counts, including perjury, false statements and obstruction of Congress, is looking at a possible 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines if found guilty of everything.
Of course, Clemens wouldn’t do anywhere near that much time or pay close to the max fine because he has no criminal record and has only ever been a real threat to batters who dug in against him.
But not being a true criminal, only a cheat, being someone whose sports career is linked to spectacular, even superhuman, play occurring at odd times, as well as dubious trainers and back-room syringes and curious FedEx packages, makes him just like so many other elite athletes associated with juicing through the last quarter-century.
In that regard, Clemens might as well be Sammy.
Suspected but never caught, confronted but always defiant, the two former superstars are symbols of an era that has quite literally ruined our hopeful belief in sports heroes.
The government named almost a hundred witnesses whom it might call or at least mention, and those names are staggering and filled with images that won’t fade.
From commissioner Bud Selig to former Yankees manager Joe Torre to home-run king and convicted liar Barry Bonds to Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Jason Giambi, Chuck Knoblauch and Rafael Palmeiro, the prosecution’s list is a who’s who of baseball people who benefitted from the direct or indirect use of performance-enhancing drugs in the last two decades. Indeed, it would be perilous to forget that baseball was basically saved by home-run bell-ringers and juiced pitchers who put the horrid strike and lockout of the 1994 and 1995 seasons in the rearview mirror.
Juicing was good for the sport. Until the lying caught up with Bud and the other know-nothings.
What, you think the wise and benevolent Torre didn’t benefit from having more than a half-dozen confessed dopers on his Yankees World Series teams? Hah! Has anybody ever talked about taking those titles back? I am reminded here of those who don’t want to know, of baseball lifers such as Dusty Baker, who said he had no idea how anybody corks a bat, even after his star Sosa splattered a corked bat all over the Wrigley infield one June night eight years ago.
‘‘Almost certain he won’t be a witness,’’ T.J. Quinn texted me when I asked him about Sosa’s likelihood of taking the stand. Quinn is ESPN’s star doping reporter and is covering this Clemens trial from start to end. ‘‘They also asked jurors about names that will be coming up in the trial.’’
That is, to talk trainer Brian McNamee’s accusations and the Mitchell Report and Clemens’ 354 wins and seven Cy Young Awards, the attorneys working this trial want to know what the pool of 50 potential jurors, which must be reduced to 12 jurors and four alternates, thinks about the whole steroid mess.
And Sammy is part of that mess.
No matter how many times he lightens his skin or curls his hair or moves to Miami or does whatever it is he can do under a cloud of suspicion and contempt, Sosa is known for one thing: being a creation of the Steroid Era.
His era includes everybody who played from about 1985 until the present. It is stunning and pitiful that anybody who performs well in baseball is first a suspect, second a star.
Sports Illustrated’s long piece on Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols last year mostly concerned itself with saying what a great, dedicated guy Pujols was and . . . do you trust him?
Last week’s SI feature on Jose Bautista and his sudden home-run tear late in his mediocre career was written by the same author, excellent SI writer Joe Posnanski, who did the Pujols piece. The recurring phrase in Posnanski’s Bautista feature: ‘‘Do you believe in miracles? Can you?’’
The point is, if you’re a sucker, go ahead.
Remember when Sosa gained about 30 pounds, hit over 60 home runs three times and said it was from eating his Flintstones vitamins?
It was so cute and sweet.
But, of course, it was a load.
At the same 2005 congressional hearing at which Palmeiro angrily stated he had never used steroids before being caught using them a few months later, Sosa, with the aid of an interpreter, stated that he, too, had never juiced.
Was that perjury?
When will we know? How will we know? Maybe this trial can help.
Till then, it’s just a name game.