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Sosa passes on free agency

CHICAGO -- Sammy Sosa is happy right where he is.

Sosa turned down a chance to pursue free agency Friday,
announcing that he is keeping the last two seasons of his four-year
contract with the Chicago Cubs. He will earn $33 million over the
remainder of the deal.

"I have said all along I wanted to remain a Cub forever," Sosa
said in a statement. "We had such an exciting year in 2003, for
both myself and for Cub fans everywhere. I am already looking
forward to next season. I know with Dusty Baker as the manager and
the direction our team is headed, it will be another exciting
year.''

Sosa signed a $72 million, four-year extension during spring
training in 2001. Under the deal, the slugger got the right to
terminate the contract after this season or exercise player options
for $16 million next season and $17 million in 2005.

Sosa initially considered exploring free agency, but the market
has changed greatly since he signed his deal. Because of the luxury
tax and debt rules, he probably wouldn't have found a better deal
anywhere else.

"The market has changed," said Adam Katz, one of Sosa's
agents. "Sammy's a most pragmatic and intelligent guy, and he
understood this was the best move. In particular, in the context of
fact that he's always maintained he wanted to finish his career
with the Cubs, it ended up being an easy decision."

Especially after what he saw this year. After the Cubs lost
90-plus games in three of the previous four seasons, Baker had them
within five outs of advancing to the World Series in his first year
in Chicago.

The Cubs also won the NL Central, their first division title
since 1989.

"He has certainly been synonymous with this franchise with what
he has achieved here in last few years," Cubs president Andy
MacPhail said. "When you are compared with Babe Ruth, you are in a
very special class. And some of the achievements he has
accomplished over the last few years certainly puts him in that
category.''

Sosa is 10th on the career list with 539 career homers, and is
two shy of tying Ernie Banks' Cubs record of 512. He's the first NL
player in history with six straight 40-homer seasons and nine
consecutive 100-RBI seasons.

He's also one of baseball's most popular players. With his
infectious smile, home run hops and heart taps, Sosa has been a
favorite worldwide since his home run race with Mark McGwire in
1998.

But he had perhaps the toughest season of his career this year.
Sosa was beaned in April by a pitch so hard it shattered his
batting helmet, and then made his first trip to the disabled list
since 1996 after having a nail removed from his right big toe.

He also was suspended seven games after cork was found in his
bat June 3. Though he apologized and said it was a mistake, it
tarnished his image.

Sosa rebounded, though, finishing with 40 homers and 103 RBI
despite missing 25 games. He hit .262 in the playoffs, including a
.308 average with two homers and six RBI in the NL championship
series.

"We're pleased," MacPhail said of Sosa's return, "and look
forward to finishing the business we left unfinished last year."