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Sammy Sosa ( 1968 - )  Category ( Athletes ) [suggest a correction]

Sammy SosaBaseball fans will never forget Sammy Sosa. Like his boyhood idol, Roberto Clemente, Sosa played the game with a verve and flair that was like pouring salsa on a ballpark frank. He had a lethal home run stroke, a rocket arm from right field and a little boy smile.

Unfortunately, that happy-go-lucky image was apparently somewhat deceiving. Sosa's nearly 20-year career was dogged by controversy, from being caught with a corked bat to reported problems with his teammates to a recent New York Times story that said he was one of the big leaguers who tested positive for performance enhanced drugs in 2003.

One of the most beloved players in the long history of Wrigley Field, Sosa ended his Cubs' career on a sad note. After requesting to sit out the last game of the 2004 season, he left the ballpark early and never put on a Cubs' uniform again. During the off-season, he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles.

After finishing his career with a comeback year in Texas (20 home runs, 92 runs batted in), Sosa was caught up in the Congressional investigation into performance enhancing drugs, denying any involvement.

But if his performance had been enhanced, it was enhanced with a bang. When the Texas Rangers signed him at 16 (the youngest age allowed by major league baseball), he was just three years away from using a glove made of milk cartons and was described in the scouting report as "undernourished." He showed little power in his early years with the Rangers and Chicago White Sox before being traded across town to the Cubs, where he struggled for a season. Then, in 1993, he went from eight homers the previous year to 33, and the new Sammy Sosa was born.

He first made the All-Star team in 1995, but it was 1998 that turned Sammy Sosa into a superstar. Following a typically slow start in April and May, Sosa rampaged through June with 20 home runs, 47 RBI and an .842 slugging percentage, still the highest ever in one month for a big leaguer. By July, he was on pace to break Roger Maris' single-season record of 61 home runs.

A few hundred miles to the southwest, however, Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals was also on a home run mission. Baseball fans, still angry over the 1995 player strike, began flocking to National League ballparks when one of the sluggers came to town. When it was all over, McGwire had 70 home runs and Sosa 66. Yet while McGwire went about his baseball bashing in a businesslike manner, Sosa turned it into theater, his post-clout routine including blowing a kiss to the fans and casting his eyes heavenward.

The next year, Sosa had 63 home runs (McGwire hit 65), and he added 64 in '01, making him the only player ever to go over 60 three times.

Sosa will be eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2013, but the recent doping accusations could make his induction problematic.

Image: Sosa while with the Baltimore Orioles in 2005.

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