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Sosa at 60: a heavy bat, a light heart

By Abraham McLaughlinStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 20, 1999



CHICAGO

Much of the time, it seems, nice guys finish last.

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But not this time. Not in Chicago, anyway. One of the nicest guys in the Windy City has risen to one of the greatest accomplishments in all of sports. Sammy Sosa - the man with the golden bat and a major-league smile - has become the first ever to hit 60 home runs in back-to-back seasons. And after his 400-foot Saturday swat he still had 14 games to hit 61, 62, and more before the season ends.

The success of this nice guy, who loves his mom and isn't afraid to show it on TV, has so captivated Chicago that the whole city is living, as one writer put it, "La Vida Sosa."

His success even comes at a curious time in American culture, when the nation is exploring the more-extreme sides of "guy-ness."

Take Adam Sandler's uniquely hands-off approach to parenthood, for instance, in the movie "Big Daddy." Or the testosterone-pumped World Wrestling Federation's ever-growing popularity. Or Susan Faludi's new book declaring a crisis in male identity. Or the biggest-buzz movie of the fall, "The Fight Club," about violent male bonding.

But Sosa stands in stark contrast to these dominant archetypes.

Humility and bunny hops

"He's humble and focused and refreshingly candid," observes Glenn Good, a "guy" expert and professor of psychology at the University of Missouri in Columbia. Even though Sosa does bunny hops in front of millions and is almost totally lacking in overt braggadocio, "His masculinity is unquestioned because of his exceptional performance."

Only three other players have ever topped 60 homers in a season: Babe Ruth (1927), Roger Maris (1961), and Mark McGwire (1998). McGwire hit a record 70 last year, edging Sosa by four.

Saturday's blast to center field off Milwaukee Brewer pitcher Jason Bere kept Sosa securely ahead of McGwire, with 56 home runs this year.

With the crowd at Wrigley Field cheering wildly, Sosa circled the bases, returned to the dugout, and came back out for a curtain call. He blew kisses and waved to the crowd.

"I have to say that what I've done today is actually more special than what happened last year," Sosa said. "Mark [McGwire] did everything first last year. He was 'the man.' This year this record is mine. It's something no one else ever has done. I'm extremely proud of that."

"I just felt good it happened here in Chicago in front of these great fans," Sosa said. His family, including his mother, wife, and two-year old son, were also on hand.

Breaking a drought

The homer broke a seven-game drought for Sosa. The longest he has gone without a homer this season is eight games.

Asked if he might pull off the unbelievable and break McGwire's record by homering 11 times in 14 games, Sosa sought to keep expectations under control: "I was getting anxious to hit 60. Now you want me to hit 11 more?"

Perhaps one of Sosa's more endearing traits is that he maintains this success doesn't really matter. (And for a boy who grew up malnourished in the third-world slums of the Dominican Republic, perhaps an extra home run or two truly doesn't matter in the bigger scheme of things.)