Sammy Sosa's Playhouse

Why the double standard on Sammy Sosa's 2003 "positive test"

Written by Paul Hauss - January 12, 2017

Sammy Sosa never tested positive for steroids. His name was listed in the 2003 New York Times leak, which was publicly disowned by Major League Baseball as illegitimate. This is the closest thing to a positive steroid test to Sammy's name.

There's a few reasons for this double standard, reasons that drive us Sosaologists to pop the cork and drink our sorrows away into the night, and in the case of many of these cases, #ItsAboutEthicsInBaseballJournalism.


One reason is that Sammy was already convicted in the court of public opinion as a steroid user prior to the 2003 list while Ortiz was never seriously accused aside from heresy as a juicer until that list was leaked. It's 2006, steroid hysteria and Baseball Moralism as at its height, and you ask anyone on the street to name the poster children of steroid users in baseball. They'll say some combination of Bonds, Canseco, Clemens, McGwire, and Slammin' Sammy. So basically the dudes who testified before Congress, sans Palmeiro because only baseball fans give a shit about him and this scandal was broadcast to the mainstream public who really only knew the big names like Sammy and Mark. What anyone giving you that list does not realize is that one of those names is not like the other, as Sammy is a genuine outlier in that list. Everyone else was either listed in Canseco's book or in the Mitchell Report; Sammy's name was in neither of them. All Sammy had in common with them, aside from being baseball player with big biceps, was testifying before Congress. However, people forget that MLB brought a bunch of players to Congress to represent the league, including players with no steroid association like Frank Thomas and Curt Schilling (his Congress performance is another rant for another time). The fact that he was there is not incriminating itself, unless you want to throw the Big Hurt under that same bus.


Part of the reason that it was so easy for the Court of Public Opinion to reach a verdict on Sammy that was not reached with Ortiz is the Eye Test. The "Eye Test" argument does not understand how steroids work. Yes, Sammy's muscles are fucking huge, but people neglect that Ortiz has massive muscles too, except his are covered in fat. But Ortiz doesn't look like a typical athlete, so people assume his power is all natural. You don't necessarily need steroids to be fucking huge and you don't necessarily have to look athletic to be using steroids, but that's not the media narrative. Sammy fits the media archetype of what a steroid-user looks like and Ortiz does not.


Besides Ortiz not being associated with steroids before that test leaked, his media relationship never soured. In fact, Ortiz has a media relationship that is not unlike the one Sammy used to maintain. Ortiz is seen in the public as the the jolly slugger who breaks curses and doesn't afraid of any bullpen phones. Both players give a great interview with a big smile on the face, always knowing where every camera is at every moment and playing the game with a degree of showmanship that the fans and the media alike love. Hell, we make fun of how Sammy said he got his muscles from Flintstones Vitamins, but when he said that back in 98, the media was all like "FLINTSTONES VITAMINS? SAMMY IS SO RELATABLE AND HUMBLE!" That's how much they liked Sammy in the 90s, and that's how much they still like Ortiz. Things first started to sour between the media and Sammy in 2002 when steroid whispers were going around, and in an interview, a reporter asked Sammy if he'd like to piss in a cup to prove his innocence, Sammy very calmly responded "Are you trying to get me in trouble... you're not my fucking father." And by "calmly", I mean "yell over the phone and then hang up before the interview ended". This interview was forgotten shortly after and everyone went back to loving Sammy, but things changed in 2003-04 when the Cubs decided they wanted to put the Sammy Sosa Era behind them. Problem was, Sammy loved Chicago and didn't want to leave his life of royalty and he had a no-trade clause, so the Cubs had to make him want to leave, and they did that with the media. This is something they did a lot in those days — hell, they did it to Steve Stone in the same year — and they could do it because the team was owned by the Chicago Tribune, so it was incredibly easy for the team to control the media narrative. The Tribune wrote extensively about how Sammy was a massive dick in the clubhouse and that everyone hated him, and the whole media and the city turned against Sammy as he ended up accepting his trade to the Baltimore Orioles, where most of us remember him playing. Now let's be clear, Sammy was kinda a massive dick and everyone did sorta hate him at that time in the clubhouse, but things were coming out of the clubhouse that never leave the clubhouse in order to show a negative media display of Sammy. Gone was the media honeymoon with Sammy and in was the view of him as a clubhouse cancer, and the congressional hearing happened in the offseason right after Sammy's ugly exit with the team. Even though Sammy had his best year ever in his one-year stint with the Orioles, this negative view was the new way to view Sammy in the media.


It was very convenient for the media to end their love affair with Sammy because their moralist view was to cast a dark cloud over the entire Steroid Era and condemn all those guys in the past. But they wanted to emphasize that all that shit was in the past and things were different and moral in the now. David Ortiz was part of the now, and the media was not prepared to condemn the now.


So the 2003 list leaks. Sammy Sosa is on the list and the media says, of course he is, we already knew he was on roids, this just confirms that and Sammy's rejection of the results are a lie. David Ortiz is on the list and the media says, wait a minute, Papi rejected the results, and we already decided he was clean, so something about the list must be fucked up.


To the credit of the media, the timeline is slightly important. The first name to leak on the list was A-Rod and he admitted to juicing right afterwards, so as far as they knew, the list was legit. Sammy was the next name to come out, and his name came out alone. Ortiz's name came out with a bunch of different guys later on and that's when the list was officially denounced by the league. However, it's the media's job to know better and be consistent. It's the media's job to not jump to conclusions without factual evidence. #ItsAboutEthicsInBaseballJournalism