Cubs

Sosa's ego a problem ... again

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Sosa's ego a problem ... again

When I walked into Sammy Sosa's house in the Dominican Republic back in 2006, the former Cubs slugger was getting ready for his annual birthday bash, a lavish red-carpet affair that he threw every year that drew celebrities from the baseball world to Hollywood.

Salma Hayek was among the A-listers in attendance that year. I got a glimpse into the private life of a very public sports figure and knew immediately Sosa still thought himself larger than life, even after he had left the Orioles unceremoniously two years before and had his storybook career with the Cubs end bitterly.

He hadn't yet retired from the game, his comeback in the works, but his star was surely faded, yet his sense of self shined brighter than ever.

The first thing Sosa did when he greeted me at the door was give me a tour of his beachfront home in the private resort area Casa de Campo in LaRamana. Our first stop, the foyer where Sammy proudly pointed out the large portrait of himself hanging next to a large portrait of Jesus. I smiled at the obvious parallel he was trying to draw with his artwork and realized Sosa still believed he walked on water.

Egos like this aren't built in a day and aren't built alone. Baseball, the Cubs and fans all had a hand in the making of Sammy Sosa.

Sosa and former Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire are credited for 'saving baseball' back in 1998 when their home run race was celebrated and encouraged. The Cubs, the league and Sosa made a lot of money during that time and not a single person questioned it or balked at the audacity of it. Now that the full extent of the steroid era has come to light, that period went from being glorified to vilified faster than Sosa could whiff at a 99 mph fastball.

A guy like Sosa couldn't fully comprehend going from super famous to super infamous overnight, and so he maintained his innocence and his pride.

When I asked Sammy at his home in 2006 whether or not he had ever used performance enhancing drugs, he of course denied it and said, "there's no evidence of it". Three years later, in 2009, a New York Times article reported that Sosa had indeed tested positive for steroids in 2003. The slugger has never addressed the report.

The answer he gave me back in '06 may reveal why he hasn't refuted that story.

"I really don't have to worry about what these people thinking," Sosa retorted when asked about the perception that he used steroids. "Because this is not my problem. My own world, me, I'm happy. I know who I am. I don't have any control about these people and what they are thinking because they are going to think it anyway, so why should I worry about that, c'mon."

What Sammy said is true, people are going to think what they are going to think about him, regardless of what he says or does, but he is wrong about one thing: it is his problem because what people think is going to keep him out of the Hall of Fame. And believe me, Sosa thinks he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.

"Do you think with my numbers I should not be in the Hall of Fame?" Sosa asked me incredulously back in 2006. "Hello?"

Hello? Sammy? Your haters are calling, can you hear them now? Baseball writers are sure to loudly reject Sosa's bid to Cooperstown based on suspected steroid use. I do not have a vote. All I ask of those who do is to decide what you want to do with the so-called steroid era and be consistent with it. Either they are all in based on numbers or they are all out based on what we know about drug use at the time.

You can not pick and choose which suspected steroid user gets in based on how well they refuted the evidence or whether or not they admitted it and how contrite they were. Did they cry during their admission (McGwire)? Or, are they still denying it (Sosa)?

None of that should make a difference. We have no way of knowing the full truth. PED's have forever tainted sports of all kinds and are still tainting the games today.

My sense is that the media and fans want to choose who gets admonished and who gets forgiven based on their own personal bias. Drug users like Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte and Ryan Braun are still playing and still being cheered on. Cheaters like Braun get to keep their MVP awards, but guys like Sosa are vilified. Even McGwire and Barry Bonds are welcomed back to baseball and their franchises with open arms.

Bonds, like Sosa, has never admitted wrongdoing, yet he attends Giants games at AT&T Park regularly. Sosa is persona non grata in Chicago, all because he maintains an arrogant defiance.

How dare he be so cocky? No vote for you until you admit everything and say you're sorry, and if you can manufacture some tears that would help us forgive you. And, after all of that we still won't vote you into the Hall of Fame because than you would be an admitted drug user, right now there's still some gray area.

Oh yeah, and if you can say you're sorry for leaving a Cubs game early back in 2004, you know the incident that ended your career in Chicago? Then maybe you can return to Wrigley Field without getting spit on.

We build our sports figures up to tear them down. Yes, Sosa made his own choices and his own bed so to speak, but standing in his living room six years ago it struck me how much he truly doesn't understand why some people hate him.

I have to admit, neither do I.

Yes, even after Sosa kept me waiting for three hours that day to sit down for the interview in which he made us change locations several times because he didn't want to sit in the hot sun, I rolled with the superstar punches because Sosa is no different than any other out-sized-ego-athlete I've dealt with. Only he's one people choose to hate.

In Sosa's mind, he only did what baseball asked him to do, produce home runs, bring glory back to the game and fans back to the seats. Nobody cared how he did it, until now. Sosa may never get into the Hall of Fame, but if he is living the same kind of life he was six years ago, he may not care.

"My own world, me, I am happy. I know who I am."

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

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AP

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

During the middle of Jake Arrieta’s 2015 Cy Young Award campaign, super-agent Scott Boras compared the emerging Cubs pitcher to another client – Max Scherzer – in the first season of a seven-year, $210 million megadeal with the Washington Nationals.

Now don’t focus as much on the money – though that obviously matters – as when Scherzer arrived for that Washington press conference to put on his new Nationals jersey: Jan. 21, 2015.

It might take Boras a while to find a new home for his “big squirrel with a lot of nuts in his trees.” Teams have been gearing up for next winter’s monster Bryce Harper/Manny Machado free-agent class for years. Mystery surrounds Shohei Ohtani, Japan’s Babe Ruth, and the posting system with Nippon Professional Baseball. Major League Baseball’s competitive balance tax may also have a chilling effect this offseason.

As expected, Arrieta, All-Star closer Wade Davis and pitcher Alex Cobb were among the group of free agents who went 9-for-9 in declining the one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer before Thursday’s deadline.

With that formality out of the way, if Arrieta and Davis sign elsewhere, the Cubs will receive two third-round picks in the 2018 draft.

By staying under the $195 million luxury-tax threshold this year, the Cubs would have to give up a second-round draft pick and $500,000 from their international bonus pool to sign Cobb, an obvious target given their connections to the Tampa Bay Rays, or Lance Lynn, another starter on their radar who turned down a qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals.

That collectively bargained luxury-tax system became a central part of the Boras media show on Wednesday outside the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, where he introduced “Playoffville” as his new go-to analogy at the end of the general manager meetings.

“The team cutting payroll is treating their family where they’re staying in a neighborhood that has less protection for winning,” Boras said. “They’re not living in the gated community of Playoffville. Certainly, they’re saving a de minimis property tax, but the reality of it is there’s less firemen in the bullpen. There’s less financial analysts sitting in the press boxes.

“The rooms in the house are less, so obviously you’re going to have less franchise players. When you move to that 12-room home in Playoffville, they generally are filled with the people that allow you to really achieve what your family – your regional family – wants to achieve. And that is winning.”

Boras also represents four other players who rejected qualifying offers – J.D Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland – another reason why this could be a long winter of Arrieta rumors, slow-playing negotiations and LOL metaphors.