Like it or not, Sammy Sosa is returning to the game of baseball. He will be in Surprise, Arizona next month when the Rangers open up Spring Training. Texas won't be receiving the Sosa that so many of us grew to love during the late 90's, but they will be receiving a player who's hungry to compete and who has something to prove to the baseball world.
The majority of people can agree upon the fact that Sosa did aid his performance by using steroids, but he wants to prove to us that he still has something left in the tank. This signing is a win-win situation for the Rangers because their financial responsibility to Sosa is next to nothing, and they will be receiving all the media attention they can get from now until the season is over.
Dominican slugger is fifth on the all-time homers list with 588
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- Sammy Sosa is coming back to the Rangers.
The two sides have reached an agreement in principle, and now general manager Jon Daniels and agent Adam Katz are trying to work out the final details. A formal announcement is expected in the next few days.
Two key figures in this whole process -- manager Ron Washington and hitting coach Rudy
Jaramillo -- are one with the idea: Bring on Sammy Sosa.
"I'm all for it," Washington said on Wednesday while driving from New Orleans to Dallas for the big announcement. "Anytime you can get a guy of his pedigree and background and attitude, and [he] shows he still has his swing ... I'm for it."
Jaramillo, who was Sosa's first manager back in 1986 with the Rangers Rookie League team in Sarasota, Fla., was among those who watched the seven-time All-Star work out on Monday at Ameriquest Field in Arlington and was excited by what he saw.
"The main thing is his attitude and the kind of shape he is in," Jaramillo said. "He looked in really good shape. He has been swinging the bat and working out all winter.
"There's a wrong perception of him. He knows he's not the Sammy of '98, but his attitude is great, and he's hungry. He wants to prove something. He has a lot of pride. He's not going to come back and let himself fail."
Sosa is expected to come in to camp on a $500,000 incentive-laden Minor League contract in an attempt to show the Rangers he can be their full-time designated hitter and occasional outfielder.
"I'd love to have him hit fifth behind Mark Teixeira if he shows he can hit Major League pitching," Washington said. "As we get into Spring Training, his performance will show what we can do with him.
"He's looking for an opportunity to get back in the game. There are no promises, he has to perform. If he does do that, we'll be happy to have him here. If he doesn't, then we'll have to make a decision."
Sosa, who broke into the Major Leagues with the Rangers in 1989, did not play in 2006. He was with the Baltimore Orioles in 2005 and batted just .221 with 14 home runs and 45 RBIs in 102 games and 380 at-bats. His slugging percentage was just .376, which is 161 points lower than his career .537 mark.
"He had a bad year in Baltimore," Jaramillo said. "What I saw was bad timing and bad mechanics. He didn't trust himself and he was jumping at the ball. When you do that, your swing is going to look long and slow. But there were a few times where he was able to put it all together and he looked like the Sammy of old."
Sosa, fifth all time with 588 career home runs, was at his best between 1998-2001 while with the Chicago Cubs. In 1998, he joined Mark McGwire in a joint assault on Roger Maris' single-season home run record. McGwire ended up on top with 70 home runs, but Sosa still hit 66 home runs with 158 RBIs and a .308 batting average. He was named the National League's Most Valuable Player.
Between 1998-2001, Sosa hit 243 home runs. He also led the National League in home runs with 49 in 2002 and led the Cubs to a division title in 2003 when he hit 40 home runs with 103 RBIs.
At his peak, Sosa was one of the most popular players in the game and a national hero in the Dominican Republic. But he has also had off-the-field issues -- his enormous personality can command undue attention in a clubhouse and he has clashed with previous managers over his fielding and where he would hit in the lineup.
He was suspended in 2004 for using a corked bat, but he said it was an accident. Baseball confiscated 76 other bats that he owned and all were found to be clean. He was also one of several prominent baseball players called to testify before Congress in March 2005 about steroids in baseball. Sosa told Congress he has never used performance-enhancing drugs.
Washington said he has no concerns about any potential issues.
"We watched him swing the bat, we had dinner with him and covered everything we need to cover as far as him being a teammate and a member of the Texas Rangers," Washington said.
"We shared with him some ideas of what we want him to do. He wants to be a part of this and get back in the game."He promised there's not going to be a lot of hoopla. He's coming back to be a baseball player. If he does that, everything is going to be fine, but we told him we're not looking for a lot of distractions."
Jaramillo said Sosa will not be a distraction.
"The fans love this guy," Jaramillo said. "Can you imagine Sammy Sosa running to right field in Arlington? He has a great presence. I talked to Mike Young about him and he said, 'Bring him on.'
"He knows this isn't his team. His attitude is great. I know what people are going to say but I know Sammy. His makeup was one of the best I've ever seen when he was a kid. I know him better than anybody and he knows me. He won't get away with anything. I'll push him. I'll be hard on him."
Jaramillo said Sosa would be a big help to some of the Rangers' younger players like Nelson Cruz, Jason Botts and Joaquin Arias. Washington said Sosa is not going to take at-bats away from anybody.
"This is a competition," Washington said. "He's not going to be given a job. He has to earn it. Everybody is going to be given a chance to step up and earn the job.
"If somebody else loses at-bats in Spring Training, it's not going to be because of Sammy, you lose at-bats because you're not performing. If that's pressure, so be it, this is the Major Leagues."
The Rangers will find out soon enough. Spring Training starts next month. Sosa will be there with the Rangers.
"If he's close to the Sammy of old, it's a great sign," Jaramillo said. "I truly believe he's going to do it. It's going to take a lot of hard work and commitment but it's there."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.