|ESPN.com: Where are you, Sammy Sosa?|
Reports from sources indicate that he has spent the last seven months traveling in Miami, Brazil, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic. But, basically, Sammy Sosa has played the part of Houdini since the end of last season. Where have you gone, Sammy? Why didn't you even say goodbye?
Last March, Sosa appeared at spring training in a uniform other than that of the Chicago Cubs for first time in 13 years. The Dominican had switched to the Baltimore Orioles via a trade after his relationship with the Cubs became so bad that he was fined for leaving early during the last game of the 2004 season, without giving any excuse or explanation.
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanSammy Sosa hit just 14 home runs in 102 games for the Orioles last season.
The incident was corollary to an injury-plagued '04 season in which Sosa hit .253 with 35 home runs and 85 RBI. The Orioles didn't expect Sosa to hit 60 homers once again in '05, the way he did three times between 1998 and 2001, but they hoped for a return to stardom of one of the top sluggers of all time.
But then, Sosa and baseball were submitted to public scrutiny during a congressional hearing of the House Government Reform Committee to respond to steroid use in major league baseball.
Sosa and his Orioles teammate Rafael Palmeiro, retired ballplayers Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco and Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling were interrogated during a daylong hearing.
McGwire and Palmeiro were accused by Canseco in a book he published of consuming performance enhancing drugs, motivating legislators to hold the hearings with major league players and executives.
Communicating mostly through his lawyer, Sosa said he submitted in April 2004 to anti-doping tests that came back negative. "I support the tests in athletes," he said, and pointed out that "as players, we must do what's in the best interest of the sport to recover its credibility."
Coincidence or not, Schilling is the only one of the players who appeared before Congress who finds himself in spring training camp this year.
While McGwire returned to his anonymous and simple life, Canseco keeps explaining how he filled his body with steroids, and Palmeiro committed professional suicide when he tested positive for steroids just two months after emphatically declaring before the congressional panel that he had "never used steroids. That's all there is to it."
Sosa simply disappeared.
STEROIDS: ONE YEAR AFTER
Here's more on the wake, one year later, left by the House Committee on Government Reform's hearings on steroids in baseball: • Rep. Tom Davis: Questions and answers • One Year Later: Curt Schilling and Frank Thomas • One Year Later: Jose Canseco • One Year Later: Rafael Palmeiro • One Year Later: Mark McGwire • SportsNation: Who will survive? • Chat wrap: Jerry Crasnick
After a miserable 2005 season in which injuries limited him to a .221 average with 14 home runs and 45 RBI, Sosa found few teams interested in his services for this season. Only the Washington Nationals made a real offer. Sosa rejected the one-year $500,000 proposal. Passionate for lights and attention, and 12 home runs short of becoming the fifth member of the 600 Home Run Club, Sosa surprised everyone when he made such a drastic decision. Although he didn't officially register for the retired players' list, he informed his family members and relatives that his career had come to an end.
"Sosa isn't thinking [about] baseball," said a relative. "He has spent the last weeks traveling Brazil and the Bahamas, enjoying the peace and quiet."
If he doesn't return as a player, Sosa will be eligible to appear on the 2011 Hall of Fame ballot.
There's no doubt Sosa has the statistics to make him a serious candidate for the Hall of Fame. With 588 home runs, Sosa is the all-time leader among Latin American players. The home run battle he participated in with McGwire in 1998 -- when both broke Roger Maris' previous record for home runs in a single season -- helped raise interest in baseball. Through 17 seasons with the Rangers, White Sox, Cubs and Orioles, Sosa had a .274 batting average, 1,575 RBI and 234 stolen bases.
He was the National League's MVP in 1998 and played in seven All-Star Games.
"The numbers are there," said Sosa several months ago. "I've dedicated my life to baseball."
On Saturday, the Dominican Republic and Cuba will square off in the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic, and a pertinent question to be asked by fans at Petco Park would be: Where are you, Sammy Sosa?
Enrique Rojas is a reporter and columnist for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com.