When I first voiced my opinion about the controversy surrounding Sammy Sosa and his corked bat, I wrote in a small section that I saw no need to raise the race question. Specifically, I said "I could raise the race question, but I won't because, obvious or not, it's not necessary in this case, and I'd be old and gray before I could get most people to understand it."
Boy was I naive.
I was naive not because there was and always will be a question of race, but because I was voicing an opinion too quickly; before the general public had voiced its opinions.
And that was before I took into account the reactions of two fellow Puerto Rican stars who burned with an inner anger that was somewhat surprising and that I did not consider.
I remain inclined to believe that Sammy Sosa did indeed make a mistake by grabbing the corked bat, which likely was the first bat he grabbed in his haste to take his turn at the plate. However, trying to claim the batboy should have made sure he grabbed the right one is reprehensible, and I still contend that what he did was idiotic in light of all the controversy he has been surrounded by for some time regarding the use of steroids.
It is my contention that, when you are under a microscope as large and as constant as Sosa is, you do everything humanly possible, and a few things beyond that, to make sure that what you do is above board and out of the headlines.
That's especially true in this day and age because of the explosion of sports-talk radio and television networks like ESPN. For the life of me, I can think of no reason why the so-called "All Sports Network," or whatever it calls itself, did a two-hour program about the Sosa incident the day after this happened, other than money. The almighty dollar is at the core of what happens in sports today .. period!
How else do you explain the overblown coverage of high school basketball player LeBron James, who will be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft later this month by Cleveland and was already a millionaire before he even graduated last weekend? Word is season ticket sales for the Cavaliers for the 2004-05 campaign are off the hook because of James.
How else do you explain the coverage and the record-breaking gate for this year's Colonial Golf Tournament, which never would have happened without the sponsors exemption given Annika Sorenstam, who became the first women to play in a men's event since 1945?
How else do you explain why the Atlantic Coast Conference wants to expand and include football powerhouse Miami, Boston College and Syracuse from the Big East? Because, as a money-maker, football is still king and the ACC is known for its "basketball" prowess. Adding Miami alone will give it instant football credibility; the other two schools would be gravy.
But I digress. Let's get back to Sammy.
Even if the public wanted the Sosa controversy to die, it won't, and one of the major reasons it won't is because the air waves are filled with hosts who know they will generate ratings, which mean money, because their callers won't let this incident die. How could they? You always here something like "it's your show," or "we'll talk about what you want to talk about." Sure enough, within the first 10-15 minutes, guess what the topic is?
Why? Because I dare say most of the hosts on these radio shows are white, and that, I contend, is why this issue would not be as hot if we were talking about a Mark McGwire, who was white and a home run legend. I distinctly remember a moderator hanging up on a caller when the conversation was about to center on McGwire's use of a product known to contain ephedra because, as the host said, "I'm tired of talking about this." Name me one, just one, host who has said the same thing about the Sosa incident. I haven't heard one.
Also, Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez, both of the Boston Red Sox, have said this incident would not have gotten the same kind of in-depth coverage if Sosa were white. Unfortunately for them, they, like Sosa, learned a hard lesson about this supposedly forgiving country we live in.
By the way, he is a sampling of the responses to a poll by AOL about the controversy:
"I find Sosa's excuse very lame, and he now has a lot to prove," "...gives the young fans a terrible message that CHEATING and LYING are a part of baseball and professional sports," "Sosa cheated Baseball, the fans and himself. Anything he has ever done in baseball is in question," and "he makes millions and he feels he has to cheat."
And the poll was done BEFORE the bulk of his bats were examined and found to be uncorked.
Believe me when I tell you, I've said it before and I'll say it again: Sammy Sosa will never live this down. Heck, I've already seen or heard white beat writers who have said this incident changes the way they feel about voting him into the Hall of Fame, 500 home runs or not. If they won't vote Pete Rose in, and his betting indiscretions came after he retired as baseball's all-time hits leader, heaven help Sosa.
It's sad but true. In this society, if you are a non-white, keep your nose clean, don't screw up, and make sure that, if and when you do make mistakes, which humans do all the time, they don't make them too often or too big. You might get some folks to believe you made an honest mistake, but in cases like this, you find out how most people really feel, and it's not good.