Sosa, Sammy: 1968—: Professional Baseball Player
Sammy Sosa: 1968—: Professional baseball player
Chicago Cubs outfielder Sammy Sosa slugged his way to fame and revived flagging attendance at American baseball games by challenging the 1961 hitting record of New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris. In 1998 fans and newcomers to the game sat on edge anticipating Sosa's next swat of the bat. In addition to breaking the 37-year-old National League home-run record and resetting the bar at 66, he became a Latino hero as the first immigrant and first non-white player to gain 60 or more runs in a season.
From Poverty to Professional Athletics
Born on November 12, 1968, in San Pedro de Macoris on the southeastern shore of the Dominican Republic, Sosa is the son of farmer Juan Montero and housewife Lucrecia Sosa. After his father's sudden death from a brain aneurysm in 1975, Sammy, his two sisters and four brothers, and their mother lived in a two-bedroom apartment in an abandoned hospital. Sosa earned dimes by selling oranges on the street and shined shoes for a quarter a pair. He shifted to washing cars for cash and later found steady work as the janitor at a shoe factory.
Playtime found Sosa embroiled in neighborhood boxing matches and makeshift baseball games with a stick for a bat, a milk carton for a glove, and a rolled-up sock for a ball. At age 14, he was thin and gangly, but he demonstrated raw talent at baseball after his brother Juan encouraged him to learn the game and polish his skills. In 1983, Sosa signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, but had to vacate the contract because he was underage. At age 16, he cagily negotiated with scout Omar Minaya for a contract and a $3,500 signing bonus with the Texas Rangers. Sosa kept enough cash to buy his first bicycle and gave the remainder to his mother. His generosity to her and his siblings set a pattern over his extraordinarily lucrative career.
In 1986 Sosa traveled to winter training camp in Sarasota, Florida, his introduction to life and sports in the United States. Although he spoke no English, his career flourished immediately as he led the Gulf Coast League in doubles. He came to treasure American freedoms and prosperity enough to request formal immigration papers and to begin the long process of applying for U. S. citizenship.
At a Glance . . .
Born Samuel Sosa Peralta on November 12, 1968, in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic; married Sonia; children: Keysha, Kenia, Sammy Jr., and Michael.
Career: Drafted at age 16 by the Texas Rangers; began professional baseball career in the Gulf Coast League for rookies, 1986; traded from the Rangers to the Chicago White Sox, 1989-92; traded to the Chicago Cubs, 1992-.
Awards: South Atlantic League All-Star, 1987; Member of the National League All-Star team, 1995, 1998 ; named outfielder on the Sporting News National League Silver Slugger team, 1995; Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award, 1998; Roberto Clemente award for outstanding service to the community, 1998; Sporting News player of the year, 1998; Baseball Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award, 1998; named National League most valuable player by Baseball Writers Association of America, 1998; Gene Autry Courage Award, 1998; Sports Illustrated Co-Sportsman of the Year, 1998.
Addresses: Home— San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic; Office— Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field, 1060 W. Addison Street, Chicago, IL 60613-4397.
Stardom amid Frustrations
At age 19, while playing for a Class A team in Gastonia, North Carolina, Sosa was named South Atlantic League All-Star. The next year, he moved up to the Florida State League in Port Charlotte and advanced to the Rangers' Double A club in Tulsa, Oklahoma. More mature and less flighty at age 20, in 66 games, he averaged .297 at batting and racked up seven home runs and 31 runs batted in (RBIs). The unprecedented game-to-game surge in performance rocketed him to the major leagues.
Upon promotion to the Texas Rangers, on June 16, 1989, Sosa joined the team's regular lineup. As a rookie right-fielder against the New York Yankees, for snagging two hits, he generated headlines and predictions of future greatness. The hype accompanying his sudden emergence disappeared after the next 25 games, when his batting average sank to .238 with 20 strikeouts. Demoted to the Rangers' Triple A team after one month's play, he passed to the Chicago White Sox in July, played the minors for three weeks, and surfaced on August 22 with the White Sox, grabbing attention once more with three hits and a homer.
Inconsistency continued to dog Sosa's playing. 1990 witnessed his debut as a potential major league star. With a .233 batting average, he surpassed other American League players by scoring 32 stolen bases, 26 doubles, 15 homers, and 10 triples. A slump marked by 98 strikeouts in 116 games caused management to doubt his staying power and to send him back to the minors on July 19, 1991.
Glory Days with the Cubs
Sosa began his long romance with fans of the Chicago Cubs after a trade in 1992. A broken right hand and ankle reduced his participation to 67 games. By 1993, his health restored, he managed 93 runs, 36 stolen bases, and 33 home runs and reached stardom as the first player in team history to chalk up 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in the same season. To commemorate a personal victory and team milestone, he donated his bat to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. He also ordered a diamond-and-gold pendent spelling out 30-30 over crossed bats and displayed a license tag marked "SS 30-30." In his homeland, he bought a shopping mall and name it "30-30."
The next year Sosa continued his winning streak by topping the Cubs' batting average and leading in RBIs and home runs. By age 27 he earned a place on the National League All-Star team and won the Silver Slugger Award as one of the three best-hitting outfielders in the league. From the Sporting News, he received a commendation for power hitting.
Sosa ended the 1996 season on the bench after a pitch fractured his right hand. Despite unforeseen down time, he managed .273 batting average, 40 home runs, and a phenomenal 100 RBIs. In July, selection as the National League Player of the Month boosted his spirits. In the following season, he challenged the National League record with an amazing series of stats—642 at-bats, 303 total bases, 119 RBIs, 71 extra-base hits, 36 home runs, and 31 doubles. The stellar come-back primed him for international scrutiny as he achieved a 200th major league home run and his 1,000th major league hit. It was the beginning of a numbers game that threatened to swamp him.
A Spectacular Season
Sosa's name began to attach to controversy at the halfway point of 1997, when Cubs general manager Ed Lynch offered him $42.5 million for a four-year contract extension. An anti-Sosa rumble among fans and the press left doubt that "So-So" Sosa was worth the boost in pay. Some critics charged that he had become so self-absorbed with the quest to smash records that he placed the team's record far below personal gain. Scout Omar Minaya countered with a psychological explanation. He told Sports Illustrated, "You've got to understand something about Latin players whenthey're young—or really any players from low economic backgrounds. They know the only way to make money is by putting up offensive numbers." To Sosa playing for hits was more important that being a team player.
In 1998 Sosa reached a height of performance by settling down at the plate. He took sage advice from his coaches to discipline a hair-trigger response to the pitch, to control the speed of his swing, and to vary the direction of his hits over all the field. To interviewers, he summarized his growth from an untrained boy player to a seasoned athlete earning big money for the first time. The period of reflection worked to Sosa's advantage. In competition with St. Louis Cardinal hitter Mark McG-wire that September, both "Slammin' Sammy" and "Big Mac" broke New York Yankee slugger Roger Maris's 1961 record of 61 home runs in a season.
The sizzling upshoot of the record to 63 found Sosa and McGwire tied for honors, but enjoying a friendly face-off. As the pair set and rebroke records, Latinos around the globe took notice. American fans boosted attendance at a game that had once been the national pastime. At season's end, Sosa attained 66 homers to McGwire's 70. According to Jet, Sosa said of McG-wire, "He's still the man." Sosa shared Sports Illustrated's "Man of the Year" title with McGwire, whom he admired as a sports hero and role model. Sosa's soaring success at bat won him a second naming to the National League All-Star team plus a National League Most Valuable Player award and a Gene Autry Courage citation honoring him as an athlete displaying heroism in adversity.
Immersed in family responsibilities at age 30, at a Chicago condo overlooking Lake Michigan and a luxury summer home at Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic, Sosa centered his hopes and activities on his wife, Sonia, and their children, Keysha, Kenia, Sammy, Jr., and Michael. Sosa treated his mother to a series of three upgrades in residence and rewarded himself with a fleet of expensive cars, SUVs, and a yacht he dubbed the "Sammy Jr." His ritual of touching his heart and kissing the index and middle fingers of his right hand as he approached the plate honored peace, love, and the two women in his life, his mother and wife. His jersey, number 21, celebrated Puerto Rican star athlete Roberto Clemente of the Pittsburgh Pirates, whom Sosa had admired from early childhood.
Athletic success did not spare Sosa from severe criticism of his actions and attitudes. With class and dignity, he weathered accusations of selfishness and cockiness and faced down boos from disgruntled Chicagoans at the annual Cubs fan convention in February of 2001. One of the league's highest-paid players, he began investing his earnings and time in others. In October of 1997, he established the Sammy Sosa Foundation to aid underprivileged young islanders in the Dominican Republic as well as Chicago's poorest children. To assure local children a chance to advance through sports, he treated them to free admission to Cubs games on "Sammy Sundays." His generosity to youngsters growing up in the type of poverty that he survived won him the Roberto Clemente award for outstanding service to the community.
Accolades continue to pour in to Sosa for his support of charities and for his influence on young fans to emulate his sportsmanship and great-heartedness. In the January of 1999 State of the Union address, President Bill Clinton recognized Sosa, who sat with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in the chamber balcony. The President praised Sosa for aiding his homeland with shipments of beans, rice, and bottled water after Hurricane Georges slammed into the island in September of 1998. Clinton also thanked Sosa for purchasing school books, computers, hospital equipment and ambulances, and an office building to benefit fellow Dominicans. Quoted in Jet, Clinton told the nation, " … sports records are made and sooner or later, they're broken. But making other peoples' lives better, and showing our children the true meaning of brother-hood—that lasts forever."
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 21. Gale Group, 1999.
Newsmakers 1999, Issue 1. Gale Group, 1999.
Sports Stars. Series 1-4. U*X*L, 1994-98.
World Almanac and Book of Facts, Annual 2001, p. 1043.
Jet, December 7, 1998; February 8, 1999.
Sporting News, February 12, 2001, p. 61; July 30, 2001, p. 8; September 3, 2001, p. 26.
Sports Illustrated, August 3, 1998, p. 40; June 26, 2000, p. 66.
U. S. News&World Report, September 28, 1998, p. 12.
Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: The Gale Group. 2001.
—Mary Ellen Snodgrass
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