Sosa: Cubs are much improved

Updated: February 24, 2004, 7:10 PM ET
Associated Press

MESA, Ariz. -- Sammy Sosa brushed aside questions about steroid use in baseball, saying he doesn't know what other players are doing and can't control anyone but himself.

His only concern is getting the Chicago Cubs to the World Series.

"I really don't want to make a comment about that because we've got a beautiful team here," he said when asked about steroids following his first spring training workout Tuesday. "We've got something else in mind, to come here and play baseball. I don't want to make a comment because I don't have anything to talk about."

Baseball has been under a cloud of suspicion for steroid use for years as players got bigger and offensive numbers skyrocketed, and doubts grew during the offseason. Anonymous survey testing last season showed 5-7 percent of the tests were positive, and a California supplements lab was accused of illegally distributing steroids to dozens of athletes.

Barry Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson, was among four men charged this month in an alleged steroid-distribution ring. All the men have pleaded innocent and no athletes have been charged.

Bonds and Jason Giambi appeared in December before the grand jury investigating the case. The two repeatedly have denied using drugs and did so again on Monday when they reported to spring training, but that hasn't stopped the questions.

Players' physiques are scrutinized, and any weight loss or gain raises eyebrows. Cubs manager Dusty Baker likened the suspicions to McCarthyism, and said all players are being tainted. Asked if he understood why the questions remain, particularly for Bonds, Sosa distanced himself.

"That's something that Barry Bonds has to deal with himself. I don't want to even think about it," said Sosa, who doesn't look any different than he has in recent years. "I don't really know and I don't want to know. I know myself, I know who I am and that's it."

The Cubs came within five outs of the World Series last year, and Sosa said it was one of the most "unbelievable" experiences of his career. It was only his second trip to the playoffs, and it left him wanting more.

Bonds can chase Hank Aaron's career home run record, Sosa said. He wants a ring.

"My goal right now is to win the World Series," he said. "We've got an awesome team. I think what we didn't finish last year, we're going to finish this year."

The Cubs made several improvements to last year's squad, which won the NL Central. They acquired Gold Glove first baseman Derrek Lee and bolstered their bench by signing Todd Walker and Todd Hollandsworth.

They took what was already one of the best rotations in the NL and added Greg Maddux to the foursome of Kerry Wood, Mark Prior, Matt Clement and Carlos Zambrano. And they plugged the holes in their bullpen, signing LaTroy Hawkins and Kent Mercker.

"I feel that we have a better team this year than we had last year, and we played great last year," Sosa said. "We have a chance not only to go to the playoffs but to win the World Series."

Baker and the rest of the Cubs have gone out of their way in recent days to say this is still Sosa's team. This is his 13th season in Chicago, a tenure that dwarfs anyone else's. And with 539 career homers, he's one of the greatest hitters ever.

But after so many years of being the only show in town when the Cubs were losing, Sosa is happy to share his spotlight. For a second straight year he joined the rest of the position players for the team's first full-squad workout rather than coming in a few days later and causing a scene.

"This is not about my team. No way. This is about winning," Sosa said. "One of the reasons why we won last year was because everybody was together. There wasn't finger-pointing from anybody. Dusty Baker was doing an unbelievable job. We were together like a family and we want to keep it this way.

"Because if we keep it this way, we're going to bring some more championships to Chicago."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press