- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2000

Just when the baseball season was looking a little dull, especially from the vantage point of Camden Yards, there's news calculated to make the blood boil and the heart pound.

Sammy Sosa to the Yankees? You gotta be kidding me.

Judging from news reports the last couple of days, it's practically a done deal. And for the Yankees, a dumb deal.

True, the erstwhile Bombers have been hitting lately with all the force of a spring shower, and landing a guy who bashed 129 home runs the past two seasons sounds like the best move since they swindled the Red Sox out of George H. Ruth for $125,000 and a $300,000 loan 80 years ago. Imagine, a guy who twice has hit more homers in a season than the Babe or Roger Maris ever did. That's the kind of dramatic move George Steinbrenner loves.

And just think: All it would take to get him is a salary of perhaps $20 million a year starting in 2002 and two, five-or-10 "prospects." Considering that Sosa would captivate Gotham's huge Latino population and more than a few Anglos he might pay for himself several times over.

It's enough to make Noo Yawkers dance in the streets, if anybody does that kind of thing anymore. Except for one little thing: It would be a terrible deal for the Yankees, which is why fans everywhere else should hope that it goes down.

For all his home runs, and his mostly sunny public persona, Sosa is a flawed ballplayer. He is a great power hitter (19 homers, 48 RBI so far this season) and not much else. In right field, you need to hide him. His speed is average at best. And he strikes out on the average of 172 times a year, tops in the majors.

Presumably the Yankees would want to use Sosa as a designated hitter, but could he be one? You need a certain kind of temperament to stare off into space, or at videotapes in the clubhouse, for 3.5 hours every night and still be effective during your four or five trips to the plate. It would be a new experience for the restless Sosa, probably not one he would cherish.

Even more important is the question of what he might do to the Yankees' chemistry, and we don't mean the test-tube kind. Under wise and wily Joe Torre, they have won three World Series in four years and probably will do so again unless the Red Sox ascertain a way to pitch Pedro Martinez every day or the Braves start winning big games in addition to a lot of little ones. For the first time in his turbulent quarter-century as owner, Steinbrenner has remained largely in the background. Until now.

Somehow Torre has exorcised the cantankerous ghosts of Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, Sparky Lyle and all the other beleaguered inhabitants of Steinbrenner's old Bronx Zoo. These Yankees like each other, mostly anyway, and play like it. The massive egos that dominate professional sports these days seem relatively subdued in Yankee Stadium. Winning will do that for you.

Of course, the Cubs haven't done much winning with Sosa, or anybody else. They haven't nabbed a World Series since 1908 or a pennant since 1945, and last season they held up everybody else in the National League Central with a 67-95 record. This spring has been a little better (26-37 through Monday), but not much. No wonder Wrigley Field's famed Bleacher Bums are so bad. They feel a kinship with the bums on the field.

Sosa reportedly wants out of Chicago because first-year manager Don Baylor, the brick-beaked type, had the audacity to criticize Sammy's shaky defense. Baylor then apologized, sort of, by telling the Chicago Sun-Times, "There are guys you have to stroke." That's the way things are nowadays with star athletes, right or wrong. After all, how many home runs has Don Baylor hit lately?

Another reason why Sosa should stay out of New York and the Mets reportedly also are interested in him is the city's overwhelming press corps. There are only two major newspapers in Chicago and one of them, the Tribune, owns the Cubs, for heaven's sakes. In New York, however, Sammy wouldn't be able to change his shorts without finding two or three reporters in his underwear drawer. The mere suggestion of a trade to the Yankees was enough for the shameless New York Post to turn its front page over to Sosa yesterday, with the headline "SAM DUNK" in World War III-size type.

Cubs scouts already are checking players in the Yankees' farm system, and it might be only a matter of time perhaps before the All-Star break a month from now before we'll see Sammy Sosa in pinstripes. Too bad, really. It doesn't look like the kind of deal that will benefit anybody in the long run.

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