- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2005

Sammy Sosa, the newest Baltimore Orioles sideshow, had a big fan in Baltimore back in 1998 on the heels of his storied home run duel with Mark McGwire.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, Maryland Democrat, writing in the Baltimore Afro-American, went out of his way to praise Sosa for being a hero and role model.

“Sammy Sosa is a hero to Latin Americans and all of us in the United States,” Cummings wrote. “My respect for Mr. Sosa, however, goes far beyond his athletic abilities and admirable sportsmanship. … Sammy Sosa learned to improvise. Seeking to learn the skills of baseball, Sammy Sosa was forced to crush a milk carton for his glove, tightly roll a sock for his ball and trim a broomstick for his bat.

“Soon, the sock ball would no longer test his maturing talent. Sammy Sosa found used golf balls to hit as he worked to further his baseball education. Later in life, as the world has seen, Sammy Sosa would find it far easier to hit a real baseball.

“Sammy Sosa’s father died when he was 10. Left to help his mother take care of his seven brothers and sisters and putting games aside, Sammy Sosa would gather used rags and shoe polish every day to shine rich people’s shoes at the beach. One day, Sammy Sosa and his brother met a factory owner named Bill Chase. Mr. Chase was so impressed with the shoeshine operation of the Sosa brothers that he began giving them extra tips. Later he bought Sammy a real baseball glove. Eventually, Bill Chase helped the Sosa brothers move forward to baseball careers in the United States.

“Mr. Sammy Sosa, the successful athlete and human being, has never forgotten his childhood poverty. He constantly gives back to the people of his native Dominican Republic. The man who once could not afford a real baseball glove now supports schools, hospitals and Little League baseball teams, uplifting the lives of thousands.

“These days, I often think about Sammy Sosa as I listen to discussions about role models and personal morality. From adversity, Sammy Sosa learned what it takes to be a true hero.”

A wonderful story, indeed. A player and man like that would be a welcome addition to any baseball team and city. Unfortunately, that is not the player and man the Orioles and the city of Baltimore are getting.

Now, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story.

Since then, Sosa’s charitable foundation has come under investigation by the IRS. The foundation president acknowledged mixing funds between Sosa’s private business and the charity, according to published reports, and a former employee had claimed Sosa’s foundation spent money on personal cars and that disaster relief supplies were sitting in a warehouse unused.

The IRS revoked the foundation’s tax-exempt status in 1998 and only last month agreed to reinstate it as part of a settlement, dropping a demand that the foundation pay more than $200,000 in back taxes.

Bill Chase, the man credited with helping the Sosa brothers, was arrested in Florida in 2002 and charged with selling illegal drugs and laundering drug money through a company known as the Sosa Group, Sammy Sosa’s company that imported and exported leather and sporting goods. Drug Enforcement Agency officials said Sosa was not involved in the case.

The player Cummings said he thought of when he heard talks about role models and personal morality was suspended for seven games in 2003 when a bat he was using shattered, revealing Sosa was cheating by using cork.

And the true hero Cummings admired, the captain of last year’s Chicago Cubs squad, left Wrigley Field before the final game was over and then lied about it.

This is the player and the man the Orioles and the city of Baltimore got.

Cummings did not respond to questions whether he felt the same way about Sosa he did more than six years ago, but it is clear the hero of the summer of 1998 is diminished — perhaps in more ways than one.


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