Rugby World Cup
This Week's Issue
Life of Reilly
SI for Women
CNN/SI - TV
Golf Pro Shop
MLB Gear Store
NFL Gear Store
SI FOR KIDS
Slammin' Sammy: An Inside Look
Posted: Tues June 23, 1998
CNN/SI: Have you ever seen anything like this?
Tom Verducci: I had a pretty good week in wiffle ball when I was littlethat's about the closest I've seen. I have seen nothing even remotely close to this, on the big league level, for this long. I've seen guys have good weeks in terms of power, but not three weeks like this.
CNN/SI: Usually you think of maturation as a gradual thing, but with Sosa it seems to have happened practically overnight, during the offseason. Is there anything that can account for that?
Verducci: I think the easy answer is that the Cubs have played so well; maybe the maturity would have come earlier if the Cubs had played better than they did in the last few yearsespecially last year when they started 0-14. I don't want to say he gave up on that season, but I think your priorities start to change when you know in April that you have no shot of winning. This year, he knew, and they knew, right off the bat that they were a contending team. Kerry Wood comes up in April in the third week of the season, gives them another big boost. Now all of a sudden team goals and priorities become paramount, and it's remained that way.
CNN/SI: Has he really changed, or is this just a byproduct of playing on a better team?
Verducci: I think personally he has changed. Obviously he's getting a lot of attention, and there are a lot of opportunities for him to talk about records and what they mean to him, and he almost intentionally seems to downplay that kind of talk. People bring up the names of Babe Ruth and Roger Maris and even Mark McGwire, and Sammy is quick to say, "Don't put me in that company; I'm not there. I'm a good player, but I'm not in that kind of company." So I think he is showing a very level-headed approach that three or four years agomaybe even last yearhe might not have been ready for.
CNN/SI: Getting away from the mental aspects, what is he doing differently baseball-wise?
Verducci: He always was known as one of the wildest swingers in the game, and he could hit pitches out of the strike zone out of the park occasionally, so he was willing to chase. There was no need to ever throw Sammy Sosa a strike. Now he's making pitchers throw him strikes, and when he gets pitches he's not missing them. I think the key has been his patience, above everything else. He's made a little minor adjustment with the way he holds his hands, he's made a minor adjustment with his feet, but really the biggest adjustment is just showing patience. I saw him take the first pitch in 16 straight plate appearances, and he's the last guy you would expect to do something like that.
CNN/SI: How big a role has Wrigley Field played in Sosa's success?
Verducci: I saw him hit five home runs when I was there, and two of them were definitely helped by the wind; there's no question that anybody who plays at Wrigley over 81 games is going to get a few that normally would not go out, because the wind does blow out. Now maybe there's a few games early in the season when it's colder and the wind blows in and you might lose a few, but I think in general the numbers come out on the plus side for Sammy. He's a great gap hitter, right field and left field, and those are short gaps out there; I think Ryne Sandberg is getting to the Hall of Fame because he put so many balls in that basket out in left-center field, 370 feet just dropping them in, and Sammy's got a few of those.
CNN/SI: In the story you note that Sosa's previous career high was just 40 homers. Is this just a fluke year for him, or has he turned a corner? Can he sustain this type of production?
Verducci: I think he can. He's just now coming into his prime power years. McGwire's a little bit older. Sammy is 29, he turns 30 in November, so he's in what traditionally have been the best seasons in a power hitter's career. I think Sammy is going to hit 40 and 50, maybe consistently. He might be in a stretch now where for three, four, five years in a row he can get into that territory.
Copyright © 1999 CNN/SI. A Time Warner Company.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.