Everybody wants to get to Danny Almonte.
But nobody wants to Slam.
Everybody has an opinion about the sleaze epitomized by Danny Almonte's father, in changing the boy's birth certificate, bringing him from the dirt-poor Dominican Republic to America to cheat at baseball. Sammy? Sammy Sosa? What's his hook? Sammy Sosa's a good guy and all that. But what's he got to do with anything?
How old's Sammy, anyway? Fifty? That Dodger third baseman, Beltre? Lied about his age, didn't he? Them Dominicans'll do anything to make a life. Put his age up, 15 to 16, so he could sign. No scruples. What do they mean, eat? When we were 15, we didn't need to eat. And they're in the Carribbean already. What do they need shoes for? Ought to ban 'em from coming over here. Ingrates, the lot of 'em.
Lookit Pedro Martinez, trading verbal mortar shells with poor innocent Danny Duquette, the Boston GM. So Pedro's got a live arm. So he throws strikes. So he has command. So he wins games. So what? Lookit him, jaking it, saying he'll shut it down. Dude in right field, Raul Mondesi, with Clorox in his head -- he's part of a train wreck in Toronto. Dominicans. Makes everybody -- Little League parents and officials, career minor-leaguers stuck in the sticks forever because these boys from San Pedro de Mocarís can ball, Buck Martinez -- makes everybody feel like Tony Montana in "Scarface."
Instead of saying "I hate Colombians," it's "I hate Dominicans." And you can take that sentiment back to Joaquin Andujar, the self-proclaimed "one tough Dominican" pitcher for the Houston Astros. All the beat guys were so impressed, they pronounced his name "Walking Underwear." One tough Dominican. Yeah. Must not've been talking about Pedro, right?
Show me one tough Dominican. Show me the first one.
Sammy? Sammy Sosa? Well, yeah, Sammy, he can hit. Got, what, 54 bombs this year? Yeah. Might hit 60 this year. Might save America from the menace that is Barry Bonds. That's enough for honorary citizenship papers for Sammy right there. Oh by the way -- that would be Sammy's third year of hitting 60 home runs. Nobody ever did that. Babe Ruth hit 60 once. Mark McGwire hit over 60 twice. Roger Maris hit 61 once. Only Sammy will have hit 60 home runs in three different seasons in the big leagues. La Bomba indeed.
Sammy? Sammy Sosa? What else does the guy do? Make the Cubs watchable? Aw, well, somebody else has done that before. Who? Well ... er ... um ... Tinkers, Evers and Chance? Ernie Banks? Yeah! Ernie Banks! Hit 47 home runs out of shortstop one year. Ernie Banks, yeah. Now there was a good guy.
Sammy? Sammy Sosa? Well, he's Dominican. You can say that for him. So he's got a ways to go.
|Sammy Sosa is one tough Dominican.|
Baylor? Don Baylor? The Chicago Cubs' manager? Sammy Sosa's manager? Don Baylor used to play. Played for the Baltimore Orioles, then the California Angels and Oakland A's and Yankees. Came up through Rochester. Don Baylor used to be cut. Don Baylor used to be swole. Don Baylor was swole before being swole was cool. He looked like he could hit a ball and make it just burst into powder. Huge. Never had numbers as huge as he was, never had Sammy numbers, but Don Baylor was a gamer.
It was Don Baylor and the Dominican Republic that lit a fire under Sammy. We never woulda done it. We were happy with him, just the way he was. He gave great smile. And he was a Cub. That was plenty for us.
Sammy got to believing that a couple of years ago, coming into 1999, after the Great Home Run Chase of 1998, the year McGwire hit 70, the year some big leaguers grumbled that some of the pitchers, especially the ones from the Dominican Republic, were grooving pitches to Sammy so he could beat out McGwire.
Like Jose Lima. He's from the Dominican Republic -- and he talks like it, too. "It's Lima Time," 'n all that garbage. Didn't matter. Nobody apologized to Sammy later, when it turned out Lima's gas got solved, and everybody was taking him deep pretty soon. Yeah, it's Lima Time, all right. Lima Tima to get traded to Detroit. Everybody laughed. Nobody gave Sammy his real props.
The thing that you remember, that comforts you most about Sammy, is not his vicious swing, not his great power, but his smile. Good guy. Sammy is cut like he should be playing middle linebacker for the Bears, maybe, not right field for the Cubs. Sammy's cut like Baylor was once; the only way he got there is by lifting and maybe taking a nuclear milkshake or two. Don't know. McGwire did. McGwire made Creatine popular. Entire high school football squads down in Florida are on the stuff now, and for that we can thank Marky McGwire. Sammy? Sammy Sosa? Just another Dominican dude. With pop. Right?
English is Sammy's second language you know. So it's good of him to give better interviews than Junior Griffey and Mark McGwire combined. That's shifty of Sammy, to be able to do that. That skill and and his surprising thoughtfulness and that cool little pop-up home run launch and that kiss-heart-kiss-heart little dugout move after one of many, many bombs and hitting 60 home runs a year three times, all that makes the otherwise rank-and-file Cubs watachable.
|Chicago Cubs manager Don Baylor helped light a fire under Sosa.|
Sammy, Sammy Sosa. Good guy. Chased McGwire to 70. Said, "Mark McGwire is the man in America, I am the Man in the Dominican Republic," and we loved him for it. Then he said, "Baseball been berry, berry good to me," mocking someone mocking him and his people and he smiled and laughed and so did we, and we thought, "Sammy? Sammy Sosa? Good guy," and all the while that sneaky sumbitch was slowly making himself into the slugger of his generation, with the help of Don Baylor. Somebody needs to go check Don Baylor's birth certificate. Sure he was even born here? He acts like he was born in the Dominican Republic, the way he's able to get all the game out of Sammy Sosa.
Don Baylor sized up Sammy, didn't care about him smiling, or giving thoughtful interviews when compared to your average American baseball player. Don Baylor wasn't fooled by all that schmoozing that we love so much, love even more than baseball, apparently. Just make me feel good about myself, fellas; if you can also play baseball at a Hall of Fame level, good, but mainly, make my insecure ass feel good, and we'll feel good about you and take care of you and root for you -- root in vain, probably, because making my insecure ass feel good isn't going to win you many ballgames.
No, Don Baylor wasn't fooled by our reaction, or by Sammy's entourage, or intimidated by Sammy's $10 million salary, or what we thought of him. To us, Sammy, Sammy Sosa was just fine, just like he was. Second City. Second to McGwire.
Just as long as Sammy smiled and had the right 'tude, which he does, and made us feel good when he said, "Let's play two!"
Oh, wait, that was Ernie Banks, wasn't it?
Well, Don Baylor took a good look at Sammy and said, "You can give me more, Sammy. You're better than a smile." People complained that Don Baylor said Sammy Sosa had more in him to give to the Cubs; people grumbled about Don Baylor -- hell, Sammy was one of those people.
It was talked about, just last year, that Sammy Sosa would be traded to the New York Yankees, because Don Baylor didn't care about smiling as much as he cared about winning baseball games. All this probably was a conspiracy started by Danny Almonte's father. It never came off, though. Sammy swallowed his pride, thought about what Donnie Baylor said about him being able to go harder in the field, and being able to throw out more runners, run the bases smarter, if he set his mind to it.
So now, with Sammy Sosa clicking on all cylinders, thanks to Don Baylor, what do we talk about?
Danny Almonte and his unscrupulous father.
|Sosa does his kiss-heart-kiss-heart routine after another home run.|
Well, it wasn't any Danny Almonte that gave up that three-run bomb in the bottom of the ninth to Preston Wilson of the Florida Fish that just beat the Cubs a game and drove a stake into the heart of their chances to win the division. It was Flash Gordon who did that. It wasn't Danny Almonte's father who saw the Houston Astros pulling away in the National League Central. Donnie Baylor is doing that. So as the Cubs do their annual swan dive, their usual El Foldo, the good citizens of Cublandia have no one to blame except the usual suspects -- the roster, the pitching, the management, the Astros and the Cardinals.
But Cublandia has someone to appreciate. If they'd only do it. Deep down, we knew all along Sammy would catch Gonzo in home runs. Gonzo is having a career year. But this is what Sammy does. Right now, he's sitting on 54 bombs with less than a month left. How many times will he pop-up out of the batter's box and kiss-heart-kiss-heart as we watch another ball travel to another area code?
Barry Bonds is a better all-around baseball player, yes, but you could say that about Barry Bonds and anybody else playing. But Sammy ain't that far behind Barry Bonds as an all-around player now, thanks to Donnie Baylor. And Sammy is a better hitter now. Barry's a line-drive hitter. Sammy's a home run hitter. It's like Mays and Aaron all over again. Yeah, you'd take Mays, sure. But as a hitter? No way.
Hammer. Slammer. Same difference. Got it?
Sammy? Sammy Sosa? No, not the Good Guy. Not that one. Although you get him too, in the bargain. Sammy Sosa. The Hammer, Slammer, Whammer, Blammer. Big Thunder. Big Stick. The Man. And not only in the Dominican Republic. In America, too. Who else you gonna call? McGwire? Better hurry. He's 'bout done.
It's Sammy's Time. Or, would you prefer Barry Bonds?
Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."
|Who else are you gonna call?||