By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 16, 2006
VIERA, Fla., Feb. 15 -- Former superstar slugger Sammy Sosa rejected the only major league contract offer he had on the table this winter -- a humble one-year, non-guaranteed, $500,000 bid from the Washington Nationals -- and his agent hinted strongly on Wednesday that Sosa will retire, 12 homers shy of 600.
"It's very likely," said agent Adam Katz, "we're not going to see Sammy in uniform again."
Katz said Sosa "ruminated" on the Nationals' offer "for quite some time" before deciding to reject it.
"He decided he didn't want to put himself in the position of possibly underperforming to the very high standards he sets for himself," Katz said. "So he is gratefully and respectfully declining the Nationals' offer."
Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden said the team understood Sosa's position, and added, "We're going to close the books on this one."
Bowden said the Nationals viewed Sosa, a 37-year-old right fielder, as a potential insurance policy to protect themselves in the event Jose Guillen's surgically repaired shoulder is not ready for the start of the season, or if newly acquired Alfonso Soriano continues to resist a move to the outfield.
The Nationals had viewed their offer as a low-risk proposition -- the Nationals could have cut Sosa in mid-March with little financial obligation if they thought he would not be productive -- with a potentially high reward, if Sosa were to regain the power stroke that at one time made him one of the game's most feared hitters.
The Nationals originally had offered just a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training, but converted it to a major league contract after meeting with Sosa, who told team officials he felt a minor league offer was beneath a player of his stature. A report last week on ESPNdeportes.com quoted a person close to Sosa as saying, "Sammy doesn't think of himself as someone who has to beg" for a roster spot.
Still, Sosa had no other offers from major league teams -- though at one time he reportedly was considering at least one offer to play this season in Japan. Katz said he has no plans for now to place Sosa on baseball's "voluntarily retired" list, but hinted that Sosa has already made up his mind to walk away from the game.
If this indeed is the end for Sosa, it means the final chapter of his career was his awful 2005 season with the Baltimore Orioles, in which he batted just .221 with 14 homers -- leaving him with 588 for his career -- and was blamed for creating a rift with superstar shortstop Miguel Tejada.
Sosa made $18 million last season, most of it paid by the Chicago Cubs, who found it more palatable to pay Sosa to play somewhere else than to endure another year of him at Wrigley Field.
Sosa will be remembered for playing a central role both in one of his generation's most glorious chapters, and in one of its darkest. In 1998, he and Mark McGwire delighted the nation during an historic home run race that saw both players surpass Roger Maris's 1961 record of 61 homers -- Sosa hitting 66, McGwire reaching 70. Sosa went on to hit 63 homers in 1999 and 64 in 2001, and he remains the only player with three 60-homer seasons.
"If this is the end for Sammy," Bowden said, "what a great career he had. Wow."
However, subsequent revelations about widespread steroid use within the game during that period tainted the players' accomplishments, and last March, both Sosa and McGwire were called to Capitol Hill to testify in a House investigation into steroid use in baseball. Sosa's image had also been damaged by a 2003 incident in which he was caught using a corked bat.
Sosa remains on the Dominican Republic's preliminary roster for next month's inaugural World Baseball Classic, although Manager Manny Acta said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday that Sosa had not decided on whether to play in the tournament.
"I wish he could be on the ballclub," Acta said. "I am not down on him. He still has a lot of baseball left."