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Chicago Cubs: Cubs Should Not Retire No. 21 After Sosa's Comments

CHICAGO - AUGUST 26:  Sammy Sosa #21 of the Chicago Cubs blows kisses in the dugout after hitting a three-run home run in the third inning against the Houston Astros on August 26, 2004 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Astros 8-3. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Eli GreenspanSenior Analyst IJanuary 25, 2013

The saga of Sammy Sosa could have gone much differently had the Cubs traded him to the Yankees in 2000. At the time, Sosa was coming off of two historic seasons in which he hit 66 and 63 home runs, respectively. 

According to the Chicago Tribune, the offer from the Yankees was tempting to Cubs officials. 

MacPhail strongly considered trading Sosa to the Yankees. Rumors persisted that New York had offered an enticing package of second baseman Alfonso Soriano, outfielders Ricky Ledee and Jackson Melian and right-hander Jake Westbrook.

The Cubs instead opted to sign Sammy to a six-year, $110 million deal. But try to imagine a 24-year-old Alfonso Soriano at second base and a 22-year-old pitcher named Jake Westbrook joining the back end of a Cubs rotation that would feature Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano.

Makes you wonder...   

The final four years of Sosa's tenure with the club were often exciting, but his numbers fell in every statistical category. Aside from looking at new advanced statistics, Sosa only declined in play and value after 2000. 

The Cubs made a strong playoff run in 2003, and it sparked a period of exciting Cubs trades and free-agent signings that lasted until the end of Jim Hendry's tenure. Derrek Lee, Nomar Garciaparra, Greg Maddux, Juan Pierre, Jacque Jones and Ted Lilly are just a handful of acquisitions over the past decade that had varying degrees of success. 

The final straw for the team apparently came when Sosa walked out on the team on the final day of the season in 2004. Sosa claimed he was in the clubhouse until the seventh inning, but stadium cameras show him leaving shortly after the first pitch.

 

Sosa was fined one day's pay and later traded to the Orioles in the offseason prior to the 2005 season. The No. 21 sat idle until Jason Marquis claimed the number to no objections from team officials in 2007. Marquis was signed to a $21 million deal at a time when the purse strings were cut loose for the Cubs.

The number has been worn every year since then by several different players.

It was worn by Milton Bradley, who had his share of controversies during his brief tenure. Tyler Colvin then wore it for the 2010-11 season before being traded to the Rockies for Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers.

Joe Mather donned the uniform briefly in 2012 and is no longer with the team.

So the number is now wide open, and Sosa wants it to stay that way. He says it should have been retired a long time ago.

"This is a good number that I carried for 14 years (actually 13) in Chicago, and I represented that number, so that number should have been retired a long time ago." 

Sosa's comments come after Cubs owner Tom Ricketts suggested the team would be open to reengaging Sammy after years of no communication.

‘‘Maybe we should revisit that,’’ Ricketts told reporters Saturday morning after a Q&A session with fans. ‘‘When we got here, there really wasn’t much communication, and we haven’t really focused on it. But maybe it’s an issue we pick up this year and see what we can do about it.’’

 

It would not be right if Sosa's first visit back to Wrigley Field came when they retire his number. Sosa believes his performance on the field alone merits his number being retired. However, he fails to recognize the exclusive class he would be joining. 

The Cubs players with retired numbers are elite individuals, athletes and Cubs ambassadors, consisting of four position players and two pitchers: Ernie Banks, Billy Wiliams, Ron Santo, Ryne Sandberg, Greg Maddux and Fergie Jenkins.

All of them have given back to the team and Cubs community in a variety of ways. They have worked in the front office and in community and fan outreach. They even appear at spring training and mentor young players. Not to mention that Ron Santo was the Cubs radio broadcaster for two decades. I'd also like to point out that Santo's number was retired 30 years after his last game with the Cubs in 2003. 

They have earned their place in Cubs lore not just by the numbers, which Sammy apparently believes he has earned.

The Hall of Fame voters sent a resounding message to all alleged steroid users that they won't be given an easy pass for what they did. It doesn't help Sosa's case that he was one of few to testify before Congress and then appear on a list of 104 players who tested positive for PEDs.

Sosa is the franchise leader in home runs for the Cubs. He had a great career with the Cubs despite the controversies and fallout from the steroid scandal.

Sosa was a fan favorite for many years. Watching him play was what brought a lot of people to the game. He certainly had the highest jersey sales for several years on the North Side. All that plus his numbers (and nothing else), and he has a strong case for the position he already thinks he's in.

One day, Sosa will be honored at Wrigley Field.  

But he owes something to baseball and the team, and he should come back to the organization, even in a small capacity, before he claims his number should be retired. 

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