Scott Servais has “no idea” if former teammate Sammy Sosa was on steroids when the Cubs followed the slugger’s 66-homer MVP season into the playoffs in 1998.
“There’s a lot of speculation out there,” said Servais, who joined the Cubs Talk Podcast this week to talk about the front-row seat he had to the unprecedented power trip Mark McGwire and Sosa took baseball on that summer.
“But it’s not for me to judge and throw somebody under the bus,” he said. “It was an unbelievable season. It was a lot of fun to be part of in ’98.”
Servais, now the fifth-year manager of the Seattle Mariners, caught for the Cubs from 1995 through 1998 and says he knows this much about Sosa: He matured as a player during those seasons from a “wild swinger” to a more selective hitter with a more efficient swing and approach under the tutelage of hitting coach Jeff Pentland.
“Hence, he got more pitches to hit as the season went on and he caught fire,” Servais said.
It included a record-setting June and a co-starring role for Sosa in the historic home run race that finished with both players eclipsing Roger Maris’ previous single-season home run record of 61 — McGwire finishing with 70, Sosa with 66.
It also raised the volume of the whispers in and around the game about steroids, with Congressional pressure and testing to follow a few years later — and the cloud of that era with all its chemical enhancements still hanging over the memory of that record-setting summer.
McGwire later admitted to using steroids; Sosa still has not directly admitted it.
It took Servais until his playing days were over to start to get a handle on how prevalent steroids might have been in that era.
“You’ll hear people say, 'Well, everybody was doing it,’“ Servais said. “Not everybody was doing it; I will say that. Not until I got out of the game and looked back did I realize maybe there were as many players involved as there were. The guys that did do steroids made a decision. Certainly there was a lot of money involved and opportunity to further your career.
“But it’s an individual decision, and who am I to judge? I do know when you’re out on the playing field against those guys, you scratch your head a little bit: ‘Is this really fair?’ But it’s an individual decision. As I look back it was probably a few more guys than I ever anticipated at the time when I was going through as a player.”
As for Servais, his time with the Cubs gave a La Crosse, Wis., kid a chance to play close to home and spend most of four seasons at idyllic Wrigley Field — including one summer-long thrill ride that involved the biggest media circus in sports.
Listen to Servais’ thoughts on being traded to the Cubs, Sosa as a teammate, that awkward moment when McGwire hugged him crossing the plate on the record-breaking No. 62 and the legacy the Steroid Era has left to this generation of the game.
And then the NBC Sports Chicago team has a few of its own sharp thoughts for MLB commissioner Rob Manfred and the rest of baseball for their botched handling of a possible start to a 2020 season.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Chicago Cubs easily on your device.