Sammy Sosa came to the Cubs in 1992 as a skinny, 23-year-old outfielder with his third major league team and with 29 career home runs. He left with a hugely muscled body and 574 home runs. He left with the most homers ever by a Cub. He left as perhaps the greatest Cub ever. He left as one of the most popular Cubs of all time. He left as a Hall of Famer.
In between, so much happened, most of it good. Sosa won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1998, the year that he and Mark McGwire staged the greatest home-run race in baseball history; that chase, and Sosa's smile, helped restore much of the interest lost in the game from the 1994 strike. Sosa hit 66 homers in '98, the first of a record three 60-home run seasons. He set a number of major league power marks, including most home runs in any five-, six-, seven-, eight-, nine- or 10-year period in history.
For a few years, Sosa was the Cubs.
In 2001, he had 160 RBI, 94 more than anyone on his team, demolishing the record -- held by another Cub, Ernie Banks -- for largest disparity in RBI between a team leader and the runnerup. Sosa helped make the Cubs an even more attractive road draw, and helped make Wrigley Field one of the most exciting ballparks to visit.
His signature sprint to right field before the start of every home game always got the crowd enthused. He hit more home runs at Wrigley than Babe Ruth hit at Yankee Stadium. Only Mel Ott hit more homers in one park than Sosa did at Wrigley.
But, all great things must end. The slow decline of Sosa in Chicago likely began in 2003 when he was caught -- and suspended for seven games -- for using a corked bat. The end probably came on the final day of the 2004 season when, inexplicably, he chose to go home instead of stay with the team for the last game of the year.
That earned him a fine of $87,500 -- one day's salary -- and further damaged his standing with manager Dusty Baker. That relationship was strained more when, soon after, Sosa said Baker blamed him too much for the Cubs not winning. At a recent fan caravan, Sosa was booed by the home fans.
Now, the Cubs are going to try to win without him. Maybe they will, but it won't be the same in Chicago without Sammy.
Perhaps the greatest Cub ever is gone after 13 years, 545 homers and countless thrills. His 600th homer likely will come with the Orioles in 2005. His run for 700 will come for a team other than the Cubs. But no matter how badly it ended in Chicago, when Sosa goes into the Hall of Fame, he will be wearing a Cubs' hat.
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Baseball Tonight.