On June 4, 2003, Sammy Sosa walked slowly up to the plate for his first at-bat of the game and received a standing ovation from the 33,317 fans in attendance.
"Everybody was cheering for me," Sosa said. "I feel very happy inside."
What did Sosa do to deserve a standing ovation? He cheated.
It was his first at-bat since being thrown out of the previous game for corking his bat. And the first chance Cub fans had to show him what they really think of him, they cheered.
Now 12 years later as Sosa appears on the Hall of Fame ballot, these same fans shun Sosa as the cheat they always knew he was. I'm not sure who deserves to be in the Hall of Fame more, Sosa or everyone who turned the blind eye. Maybe the fans and some in the media should have honorable mention if Sosa gets in.
Cubs games and Wrigleyville was one big party in the late 1990s. It was the place to be. Games sold out and the atmosphere before each Cubs game was like a college football game tailgating party. Nobody wanted the party to stop. Cubs lost, who cares, Sosa hit a home run onto the street. The Sosa monster was created, party on.
There were a small minority in Chicago that were trying to sound the steroid alarm. They were drowned out by the good times in Chicago and all the national media attention that came with Sosa passing Babe Ruth's home run record in 1998.
Let me stop there for a moment. I just put Babe Ruth in the same sentence as Sammy Sosa. This is the same Sosa that just a few years earlier was struggling to beat out an outfielder named Dan Pasqua for a starting job, and then a short time later he passed Babe Ruth's home run record?
The red flags were everywhere, but nobody wanted to hear it. Critics were ridiculed as being angry biased White Sox fans. Then it got so ridiculous, there was actually a national debate on whether steroids helped an athlete or not. This was the back door defense. Even if Sosa was found taking steroids, there's still scientific studies that suggest it doesn't help much at all.
The delusion in Chicago and across the baseball nation was that bad.
I will never forget being at that game on June 4, and watching a father with his little boy in his arms telling his son to cheer for Sosa as he came to the plate. I looked over at that father and said to myself that I could never imagine telling my son to participate in such a farce.
The human need to be entertained is well understood. We all watch and read fiction stories. Sometimes we participate in the drama, like attending and cheering on professional wrestling. I remember my father taking me to see Hulk Hogan at the Rosemont Horizon facing off against Macho Man Randy Savage. I was too young to know it was fake, but the adults there knew and enjoyed the experience nonetheless.
The cheering at those wrestling matches reminds me so much of Cubs fan's reaction when Sosa would come running out of the dugout sprinting towards right field before the start of each game. The fans cheered their hero on in approval.
It took professional wrestling some 80 years to finally admit it's fake.
How long will it take Sammy Sosa?