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Sammy Sosa: 1968—: Professional Baseball Player

A Spectacular Season

Sosa's name began to attach to controversy at the halfway point of 1997, when Cubs general manager Ed Lynch offered him $42.5 million for a four-year contract extension. An anti-Sosa rumble among fans and the press left doubt that "So-So" Sosa was worth the boost in pay. Some critics charged that he had become so self-absorbed with the quest to smash records that he placed the team's record far below personal gain. Scout Omar Minaya countered with a psychological explanation. He told Sports Illustrated, "You've got to understand something about Latin players whenthey're young—or really any players from low economic backgrounds. They know the only way to make money is by putting up offensive numbers." To Sosa playing for hits was more important that being a team player.

In 1998 Sosa reached a height of performance by settling down at the plate. He took sage advice from his coaches to discipline a hair-trigger response to the pitch, to control the speed of his swing, and to vary the direction of his hits over all the field. To interviewers, he summarized his growth from an untrained boy player to a seasoned athlete earning big money for the first time. The period of reflection worked to Sosa's advantage. In competition with St. Louis Cardinal hitter Mark McG-wire that September, both "Slammin' Sammy" and "Big Mac" broke New York Yankee slugger Roger Maris's 1961 record of 61 home runs in a season.

The sizzling upshoot of the record to 63 found Sosa and McGwire tied for honors, but enjoying a friendly face-off. As the pair set and rebroke records, Latinos around the globe took notice. American fans boosted attendance at a game that had once been the national pastime. At season's end, Sosa attained 66 homers to McGwire's 70. According to Jet, Sosa said of McG-wire, "He's still the man." Sosa shared Sports Illustrated's "Man of the Year" title with McGwire, whom he admired as a sports hero and role model. Sosa's soaring success at bat won him a second naming to the National League All-Star team plus a National League Most Valuable Player award and a Gene Autry Courage citation honoring him as an athlete displaying heroism in adversity.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Nate Smith Biography - Fought His Way into the Union to Theodosius II BiographySammy Sosa: 1968—: Professional Baseball Player Biography - From Poverty To Professional Athletics, Stardom Amid Frustrations, Glory Days With The Cubs, A Spectacular Season