Commissioner must approve deal
CHICAGO -- Sammy Sosa was once as popular a fixture at Wrigley Field as the ivy-covered brick walls and the ancient scoreboard hanging over the center field bleachers.
Fans flocked to the neighborhood ballpark to watch one of his majestic home runs, while other congregated in the streets to try to retrieve one of them.
Now he's on his way out of Chicago. A trade to the Baltimore Orioles for Jerry Hairston and two prospects is expected to reach commissioner Bud Selig's desk Monday for approval.
From there, Sosa would need to pass a physical and the deal could be announced Wednesday or Thursday.
The once-smiling slugger and the team he played for since 1992 are parting company. And not on happy terms.
"Sammy has been great for baseball and really great for the city of Chicago, and I'm sorry to see it end this way," Cubs manager Dusty Baker told the Chicago Tribune. "It's really not what his legacy should be."
Sosa endeared many with his self-styled quirks -- a home run hop, blowing kisses in rapid succession after returning to the dugout, tapping his heart and racing to right field like a sprinter before each game to salute the fans in the bleachers.
Sosa feasted on the adulation from the fans, especially at Wrigley Field. They stayed with him even after he used a corked bat in 2003. But the tide began to turn last season as he struggled at the plate and the boos began to ring out from the frustrated home fans.
He batted just .253 -- his lowest average since 1997 -- and in 126 games finished with 35 homers and 80 RBI.
Sosa, who often referred to himself as a gladiator, seemed to be surprised that people forgot what he had accomplished -- 574 homers, including three separate seasons of at least 60, and (until last year when he had a back injury) nine straight 100-RBI seasons.
Others thought the showmanship got old. And it was no secret that his boom box that often sent out loud music throughout the clubhouse was not always popular with his teammates.
Then came the crowning blow -- he skipped out early of the final regular-season game last October after the Cubs had blown a wild-card lead over the final week.
Now it seems the Cubs and Sosa can't part company quickly enough. Reports say the Cubs will pay $12.5 million of the $25 million Sosa would be owed in salary for this season and for buyout and severance costs in 2006.
Sosa isn't even asking for an extension, either, meaning he'd be eligible for free agency after the season unless the Orioles propose a new deal.
"I think this is going to provide everyone with the fresh start they were hoping for," Cubs outfielder Todd Hollandsworth said. "It's going to be weird and going to be different. I guess you have to liken it to when Barry [Bonds] left Pittsburgh for San Francisco. It gives Sammy the ability for a fresh start and the Cubs, we can move forward as a team. We can get back to the on-field stuff."
The Cubs, meanwhile, have lost a lot of pop with the departure of their two aging corner outfielders. Sosa will be gone and his friend Moises Alou was not re-signed. That's a combined 74 homers and 186 RBI from last season that won't be there when the Cubs report for spring training in less than three weeks.
Chicago general manager Jim Hendry is expected to be in California this week to watch a workout by former White Sox star Magglio Ordonez, who is coming back from knee surgery.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press