Blackhawks president McDonough has blood on his hands with Sosa--me, too

Here's some Chicago Tribune breaking news for you, just lost and loitering on ice in the frosty hinterlands of our far-flung Tribune world.

Chances are, you don't care about it. But I'm cleaning out my closet and thought I would throw a few musty things away and twist it toward the Blackhawks so I have a moral to my story.

Sammy Sosa lies. I know, I know, I hate to be so shocking, taking my detour away from all things skates and any GPS update on the Stanley Cup--which should be on the 9th hole with Dale Tallon--for a big-picture snapshot this summer day of how pro sports works.

And I say that still liking the guy. I'm no Sosa basher. He IS misunderstood. By that I mean, he doesn't even understand himself. How can the people who hate him ever hope to understand him if that's the case?

But I know he lies, because he lied to me. At least once. Quite significantly in light of what happened to him. Maybe a lot more, because you don't need snooping federal investigators to trace a pattern of his lies.

Sosa also lied (just a little white lie) in March, 2007, long after a real big red-lettered lie pushed the Cubs over the edge years before and convinced them to throw Sosa off Mt. Olympus, converting him from a god to a ghoul that played fast and loose with the facts.

"They are all my friends," Sosa said about being outwardly welcomed by some Cubs officials when he revisited his old spring training home in Mesa, Az., as a Texas Rangers' player. "I don't have no enemies over there. I was nice with everybody."

Sosa summarized in a nutshell what all his enemies past and present disliked most about him. He didn't believe a word of what he said there and those Cubs officials knew it, too. He regularly hid behind a false facade, retreated to protect himself from scorn and name-calling because he felt enemies were all around him and he had to be vigilant in rebuffing their hurtful jabs and criticisms.

And he wasn't wrong, either. He had enemies aplenty in the Cubs locker room. Being the smart cookie he is, Sammy spent many hours building his defenses and finding a way to make those enemies grudgingly respect him, even if it meant resorting to an illegal means of body-building that he suspected others of using effectively and a lie that even major-league baseball commissioner Bud Selig silently sanctioned the way Sosa obviously viewed it.

Remember, Selig was going out of his way to fly to Sosa's annual birthday bash in the Dominican Republic at a time when many baseball officials now are admitting a strong suspicion existed throughout baseball that steroid use was prevalent, just not publically acknowledged as a lie that needed exposing and examination.

Ask Selig about that and his reply wouldn't be much different from what Sosa's was in the current Chicago Magazine profile when confronted about his failures to pass a steroids test in his playing days.

I don't want to talk about that, Sammy said. Well, no shit. There's the problem in another nutshell. They never had to talk about it. For years, Sammy and Bud didn't have to speak about it openly, either. Assuming and prevaricating was good enough for both. Direct questions were considered unfounded attacks without proof.

What was Sosa to infer from Selig bowing at the altar with all the rest, as well as Cubs president Andy MacPhail? Yep. He inferred everyone was in on the charade and it was business as usual. MacPhail quietly believed Sosa was lying all along about his age, but a certain amount of artful lying is permitted in pro sports.

Until you are caught in the big lie, for which the only answers (honesty and one ounce of soul searching) are just too painful to contemplate and too humbling to mutter. No one asked them to do that before. Why now?

And if I knew, Sosa believes, they knew and why am I the only guilty party?

Bald lies, suspected lies and rumored lies make the world go round in pro sports.

After all, when he was caught with a corked bat, a Cubs official told me MLB gave the team a 5 to 10-minute warning to clean out Sosa's locker of more corked bats before their team came in and confiscated what remained. Since infractions were handled with a wink-and-a-nod for stars, Sosa grew used to being protected.

Everyone was in on it. He felt safe. I laugh when I hear people point fingers and say Sosa thought it was all about him, a hopeless ego. He had lots of company, in every locker room he has ever been in and all the ones he hasn't graced. Big egos in sports are like the sun, coming out every day rain or shine.

When they learn to co-exist, it's often a winning environment. When they clash, it is a living hell for one and all. Sosa had teammates who didn't want to be friends and went out of their way to be enemies, back stabbers who only changed their tune when he was a homer hero and then became hypocrites.

What does this have to do with a Blackhawks' blog? Not a damn thing--except. Hawks president John McDonough was president of the Cubs that day in March, 2007, one of the officials who were said to warmly greet Sosa's return to Cubs territory.

Artifice is a beautiful thing, especially for people who can make it seem real. If Sosa built a false image, he had plenty of help, including me, including McD. What happens behind the scenes, be it the Hawks or the Cubs, is often never revealed to a public that teams expect to fawn over the heroes and be kept in the dark on many sensitive issues.

There could be an argument made that Sosa helped McDonough get the Hawks' gig with how well McD was able to market, brand and distribute Chicago's very own Babe Ruth to a mass public that preferred a team championship, but was willing to settle for a savior with heroic proportions: physically, numerically and inspirationally.

McDonough was also the Cubs' marketing director the day the music stopped for Sosa the last day of the 2004 season. Sosa lied that day, too, telling me after reached on his cell that he had remained at Wrigley until the late innings. The Cubs chose to make this Sosa's last official lie, announcing the next morning that Sosa's car left the stadium parking lot before the game, which was the beginning of the end, and they were willing to share his videotaped exit with all.

That was the last civil conversation I had with Sosa, informing him the Cubs were changing his brand from legend to liar. "I'll call you back," he said the morning it all came falling down.

I'm still waiting.

He never really talked to me since, except for a few harsh words a couple times when I pressed him, finally lumping me on an enemies list that has been growing steadily and now may be even bigger than Richard Nixon's once was.

Unlike others, I have no animus toward Sosa. He did what he thought was right and did it with plenty of affirmation from others. Sosa is basically a decent guy who has trouble trusting others at the same time he wants to reach out and befriend a world that he wishes would embrace him without any questions asked.

That's a fantasy world. But again, one he built over time with plenty of help and one in which he always plays the king. This guy is no fool. He knew Mark McGwire didn't like him, but as long as McGwire wanted to be nice to Sosa in public, he would play along for appearance sake.

What didn't McGwire like? He thought Sosa a phony to play so much to the media. McGwire preferred to cheat quietly, away from prying eyes. Sosa didn't care if McGwire looked down on him. He had the world in his hands and it was fun.

MacPhail obviously made the decision to destroy the Sosa brand that day, but hard to believe McDonough wasn't around for the execution. What he helped to construct even on a flimsy foundation, a bedrock Cubs officials knew had certain flaws, was smashed to pieces. If there had been a statue of Sosa at Wrigley, it symbolically was pulled down in shame the same as is done for deposed dictators everywhere.

The collision of marketing worlds just sorta makes me laugh when I see the Hawks' Internet site now promoting Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane with touching human interest stories that tug at the heart. McD has found new blood to promote.

Kane visits a cancer center in Buffalo with the Stanley Cup. Toews signs a deal with Canadian Tire, the outlet where his family bought him his first pair of skates.

Both good stories. Both touching sentiments. Maybe a little too cute. But, hell, cute is selling pretty good right now.

Both not any different than when McDonough was selling Sosa, who was buddies with Bill Clinton and showing up at State of the Union addresses in Washington to take his bow to the nation. Shoeshine boy makes good. The young man with a milk carton for a glove succeeds wildly. Champagne for all. Bud's coming to the party.

Everything's pretty good these days for McD and the Hawks, bathing in champagne and championship. Everything once was pretty good for McD and Sosa, making their run at immortality in 2003 when the Cubs seemed destined to be champions, too, giving some needed team substance to Sosa's go-it-alone act.

Seven years later, the true story remains untold, hidden behind a tissue of lies that will never be fully unraveled to anybody's liking. Time has an odd way of reshaping events and casting them in a different light.

We all thought we were right once upon a time. Even Sosa and Selig, strange bed fellows now.

Some Cubs fans want to forgive and forget, welcome Sosa back tomorrow. Some Cubs fans want to bring him back and hang him from the pole with the L flag whipping and screeching.

You can't do much better than Toews and Kane starting out so far ahead of others with their early grasp of championship fame. Now we'll see how that story shapes them and whether McD someday in a future we can't even imagine will have to pull down their statues and stamp out their memory.

With Sosa, McD has blood on his hands, along with many of us. It won't wash out.

Nah, won't ever happen to these impressive young'uns. The day will never come in Blackhawks world when Toews and Kane must be cleansed from our system.

That's what Sosa was telling himself in 1998, the Year of the Bat. A dozen years later, he's jailed in the Year of the Rat.

Never say never. Even Antti Niemi has learned that one. Time is not always on our side.

Comments

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  • Wow Mike, nice change-up.

    I have a tough time comparing a dirt-poor Dominican kid playing baseball to escape poverty to a working-class Canadian kid playing the national sport on that level. I also get it that you're not actually comparing those two things in this article.

    McD will always be the beanie-baby giveaway king. He's a textbook snake oil salesman. He's a marketing business man that'll do anything to put the face that sells for whomever he's being paid. I'm still not a fan. I wish the Hawks had a hockey man running the team but they don't.

    I'm sure the hospital even was set up by McDonough & Blunk (why do I know his name?). Kaner wants to do nothing but kill brain cells. All the "where's the cup today" stuff is boring me with the exception of Ladd's mountain top pix.

    I hear Buff wore his Thrashers jersey on his day. This just occurred to me, the Canadian kids revere and respect the history of the Cup but the Americans use it to get chicks or get revenge? Discuss.

  • In reply to JerryManderings:

    I thought it was excessively lame to see Buff wear the Thrashers jersey on his day with the Cup. All of a sudden a whole lot of Hawk fans surely don't miss him much anymore.
    http://gettingpucksdeep.blogspot.com/2010/08/dustin-byfuglien-in-his-thrashers.html

  • In reply to iplagitr:

    I honestly don't mind it that much, that's his team now. What would Thrashers fans be saying if he wore a Hawks jersey with the Cup? It's better for Buff to annoy us then to annoy his future cult following in Atlanta.

  • In reply to iplagitr:

    Throw us a frickin bone here people!

  • Does Tallon even get a day with the Cup?

  • In reply to fanof19:

    Are you kidding? However if you're season ticket holder you get a opportunity to have your photo taken with the cup.

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