Battle-tested slugger says criticism made him stronger
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
Sammy Sosa did not make the All-Star team last year, one year after he was the top vote-getter in the National League. (Jeff Roberson/AP)
ST. LOUIS -- Sammy Sosa heads into the All-Star Game as a survivor.
In 2002, Sosa was the top vote-getter in the National League. Last year, the Chicago Cubs slugger didn't make the All-Star team. He had missed 28 games because of a sore big toe in May but also was caught using a corked bat in June.
The criticism hurt. But Sosa rallied to finish the year with 40 home runs and 103 RBIs, help the Cubs win their first NL Central title, and become the first NL player to compile six consecutive 40-homer seasons and nine straight 100-RBI seasons.
"I've been tested all my life, not only last year," said Sosa, who grew up shining shoes in the Dominican Republic. "That thing (corked bat incident) only made me stronger. I was out, then I came back. I came back this year after I was out 32 days. I only have 15 home runs but you have to understand it takes some time for a guy who is out 32 days."
Sosa, 35, was sidelined this season because of a sneeze. On May 16, he sneezed before the Cubs' game at San Diego and it sparked back spasms that sidelined him for one month. He entered Sunday's game batting .246 with five homers and 10 RBIs in 20 games since coming off the disabled list.
On Monday, he'll take part in the Century 21 Home Run Derby, an event he won in 2000. But Sosa was sad to hear he won't be part of a dream outfield with three 500-home run hitters. Cincinnati's Ken Griffey Jr. is out with a sore hamstring.
"I heard that last night and it breaks my heart," Sosa said Sunday. "We're human. One year, one week you can hit seven home runs and the next week you're out."
Sammy Sosa / RF
Weight: 220 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
Sosa expects more of himself. And he knows the fans put high expectations on him as well.
"I understand the level people are used to seeing me," he said, "but they have to understand I play every day. I never got hurt until last year. It happens to anybody.
"They have to give me a break," he said. "(The numbers) don't mean I'm out. This year, if I don't hit 40 home runs am I not any good? If I don't hit 35, am I no good?"
This year, he was elected to the NL outfield for Tuesday's All-Star Game and will make his fifth start.
"That shows they appreciate me," Sosa said. "It's not because I'm having a bad year. It's because I've done it before. They know the type of player I am. They know the type of productive player I am. They know that in the past I've been awesome. They're not voting for me because I have a good half a year. Consistency is the name of the game. You've got to be consistent."
Hitting 40 home runs in six straight seasons and driving in 100 runs in nine is pretty consistent.
"Everybody has success in their career and in this game, you have to be tough," Sosa said. "You have to be tough because this is a tough sport. It's not easy to be there every day. You have to sacrifice yourself. You have to be tough mentally and strong and not let anything bother you."
And he's tried to do just that.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.