Baseball needed a lift two decades ago and Sammy Sosa helped provide it. Dueling with fellow National League slugger Mark McGwire for a major-league home run record, Sosa helped bring the sport back to the front page of newspapers and the lead story of sportscasts.
In the end, it was too much of a good thing for both Sosa and Major League Baseball.
Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire battle for the record
Major League Baseball never finished its 1994 season, with a strike by players shutting down the divisional races and the dispute with owners remaining unresolved until the eve of the 1995 season. The sport lost a substantial portion of its fan interest and needed a boost to regain the spotlight.
The 1998 season accomplished that and more courtesy of a race for the home run title. Thirteen players would hit 40 or more homers that year, but the battle came down to Mark McGwire and Chicago Cubs star Sammy Sosa as they stalked Roger Maris’ long-standing record of 61.
McGwire, playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, got off to a fast start, but Sosa caught him with his 46th homer on Aug. 10. McGwire pulled ahead again and broke Maris’ record with his 62nd round-tripper on Sept. 8, with Sosa reaching 62 five days later.
The two were tied at 66 through 160 games but McGwire finished strong with a pair of two-homer games and ended the year with a 70-66 advantage in the most-watched two-man race since Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in 1961. They shared the Sportsman of the Year honor from “Sports Illustrated.”
Sosa’s stat line for the year included 158 RBIs to lead the majors, a .308 batting average, and a .647 slugging percentage to win the league’s MVP honors. He would follow that amazing season with 63, 50, 64, 49 and 40 home runs in the next five seasons, twice leading the majors.
Steroids become the story
Sammy Sosa finished his career in 2007 with 609 homers, 1,667 RBIs, and a .273 batting average – usually no-brainer numbers for induction into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. That honor hasn’t come for Sosa or several other players caught up in allegations of steroids use.
The New York Times reported in 2009 that Sosa’s name was on the list of players who had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003 – two years before he told a congressional panel scrutinizing Major League Baseball that he had never used steroids or broken the law.
He became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2013 but was named on just 12.5% of the ballots – one-sixth the number necessary for induction. Although support for Barry Bonds, another controversial slugger who hit 73 homers in 2001, has grown steadily and points to eventual induction, Sosa was named on only 13.9% of ballots in voting released earlier this year.
Where is Sammy Sosa now?
Sammy Sosa has homes in both countries but does not spend the majority of his time in the United States or his native Dominican Republic. Rather, the retired baseball star and his wife Sonia reside in the United Arab Emirates, where he has real estate interests.
Sosa runs a diverse business empire around the globe. His companies produce oil in the Dominican Republic, builds housing in Panama, and operate hospitality and beverage companies in Great Britain.
Sosa and his wife Sonia, who were married in 1992 and renewed their vows in 2004, have six children.