Sammy now second in command
Sammy Sosa's days with the Orioles are just beginning. But unlike with the Cubs, he's no longer the leading man.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Orioles' clubhouse is big. There is plenty of room for Sammy Sosa and all that he brings, his 574 career home runs, his fame and his status. He can spread out without crowding anyone, without stepping over anyone. He knows who dressed there before him, Cal Ripken and Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, and he knows that Miguel Tejada dresses there now.
The clubhouse at Wrigley Field is small. Eventually, it became too small for Sosa and his celebrity. Ernie Banks and Billy Williams and Ron Santo had dressed there, but Sosa outgrew the place. There was no Ripken or Murray or Tejada at the end in Chicago, which is why Sosa is now in Baltimore.
"I don't see any negatives to this, it's all positive," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said. "This was a no-brainer for us. Sammy has said this is Miggy's team, and he just wants to fit in. I don't want him just to fit in. I want him to be Sammy, and go out and do what he does."
Sosa used to be a good teammate, but that was when he failed a lot, back when he was humbled by the game. But starting in 1998, the first of his record three 60-plus home run seasons, Sosa became too big, in every way. He was bigger than the team, the game and according to one former teammate, "he was larger than life. He didn't have to answer to anyone."
Those days are over. Last season humbled Sosa again. He hit .253 with 80 RBI, was booed by the fans at Wrigley and, after leaving the team before the end of the final game of the season, was criticized by certain members of the media in Chicago.
The days of him being the biggest guy in the clubhouse are also over, mainly because of the presence of Tejada, who is the Orioles' team leader and best player. "I hate to say this because I've been around so many good ones, but Miggy might be the best I've ever seen at incorporating everything into a team," said Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller, meaning ability, energy and fun.
Tejada and Sosa are friends, and they are both from the Dominican Republic. It's doubtful that, as the new guy on the team, Sosa would do anything out of line, largely because of Tejada's tremendous impact. He is intense, but "Miggy's not afraid to laugh at himself," Orioles general manager Jim Beattie said. "That's when you know you're good."
When Tejada strikes out, he'll come back to the bench and berate himself for swinging at a bad pitch, then tell a teammate "don't let me swing at that pitch again." Then he'll pace the dugout and say "watch me the next time, I won't let that happen." In his next at-bat, after hitting a rocket, he will point at the dugout on the way to first base as if to say, "I told you."
Tejada wasn't there for Sosa's first day at Orioles camp on Wednesday, as the first official workout for position players is on Thursday. So it was all about Sosa on Wednesday. Cameras and reporters followed him everywhere. As Sosa pounded the soft tosses from hitting coach Terry Crowley in an indoor batting cage, Crowley jokingly said, "It took a few years, but I finally got some attention while I was working."
|“||Sammy [Sosa] has said this is [Miguel Tejada's] team, and he just wants to fit in. I don't want him just to fit in. I want him to be Sammy, and go out and do what he does. ”|
|— Lee Mazzilli, Orioles manager|
Sosa laughed with his new teammates. Then, on a back field where the ball tends to fly, he put on a show in his first round of batting practice. "Hey," Miller said, offering his scouting report, "the new kid is strong."
Sosa did and said all the right things on his first day, including saying, "It doesn't matter where you're playing, if you connect, it's going out," and "I'd love to finish my career here," and "I love fans. That's me. I'm not going to change."
But he is going to change. He's with a new team, in a new clubhouse and under a new arrangement. He's still one of the biggest players in the game in every way, but he'll never be as big as he was with the Cubs. And for him and the Orioles, in a way, that is good.
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Baseball Tonight.