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Son of Sammy
Gerry Callahan
April 05, 1999
Which hitter is most capable of replicating Sammy Sosa's stunning 1998 power surge? That's a no-brainer: It's the Indians' Manny Ramirez
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April 05, 1999

Son Of Sammy

Which hitter is most capable of replicating Sammy Sosa's stunning 1998 power surge? That's a no-brainer: It's the Indians' Manny Ramirez

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Second Coming of Sammy Sosa

Throw out Albert Belle, Juan Gonzalez and Ken Griffey Jr.—they're in The running to be the next Mark McGwire. The next Sammy Sosa has to be a guy who has shown he can go yard 35 to 40 times a season but would still shock fans by making the quantum leap to 60. It also wouldn't hurt if, like Sosa, he was a barrel-chested free swinger who stayed healthy and found a groove in the prime of his career.

PLAYER, TEAM

HT.

WT.

AGE*

RECENT HOMER RUN

SKINNY

The Standard

Sammy Sosa, Cubs

6'0"

210

30

33-25-36-40-36-66

Whoda thunk it

Best Bet

Manny Ramirez, Indians

6'0"

205

26

17-31-33-26-45

Sosa's body double: He's our man

10 Who Could Pull It Off

Jeff Bagwell, Astros

6'0"

195

30

39-21-31-43-34

If only he could stay injury free

Vinny Castilla, Rockies

6'1"

205

31

32-40-40-46

Right man in the right park?

Tony Clark, Tigers

6'7"

245

26

27-32-34

Last crack at Tiger Stadium's short porch

Carlos Delgado, Blue Jays

6'3"

225

26

25-30-38

More at bats mean more dingers

Vladimir Guerrero, Expos

6'3"

205

23

11-38

All eyes are on this youngster

Andruw Jones, Braves

6'1"

185

21

18-31

A lot of growing up to do first

Alex Rodriguez, Mariners

6'3"

209

23

36-23-42

Bids to be the greatest power-hitting shortstop

Scott Rolen, Phillies

6'4"

225

24

21-31

The next Mike Schmidt?

Jim Thome, Indians

6'4"

225

28

20-25-38-40-30

Has had 500 at bats just once

Mo Vaughn, Angels

6'1"

245

31

29-26-39-44-35-40

Better protection in new lineup

*As of April 1.

A year ago, if you had kissed your finger and pointed to a stranger, you probably would have found yourself swapping punches at the next stoplight. Back then the name Sammy still brought to mind a one-eyed crooner who was a renowned Rat Packer or a two-faced mob hit man who was a renowned rat. Around the major leagues, when you heard Sammy Sosa's name, it was usually atop a list of baseball's most overpaid or underachieving players.

For three years running Sosa had hit between 36 and 40 homers and had driven in 100 or more runs, but with his new $10 million-a-year contract the then 29-year-old Chicago Cubs rightfielder was still viewed as 210 pounds of overpriced potential. He was too undisciplined at the plate—a .251 hitter with 174 strikeouts, 45 walks and a .300 on-base percentage in 1997—for anyone to suspect that he would join Mark McGwire in his mystical quest of Roger Maris's home run record.

But once in a while a baseball deity dips his toes in before he walks on water. He needs a few seasons to figure it all out, to understand the mental and emotional grind of 162 games, and to make the bold leap toward Cooperstown. (Not until Hank Aaron's fourth full season did he hit more than 27 home runs.)

Then all of a sudden the ball looks bigger, the body feels better, a warm breeze blows out all summer, the stars line up right and everything just kind of comes into focus. A hot streak becomes a historic season, and the next Roger Maris astounds the experts much as the first Roger Maris did. Two generations ago Maris went from 16 home runs in 1959 to 39 the next year to 61 in '61. In one year Sosa went from 36 home runs and 119 RBIs to 66 and 158, a stunning jump in production and, along with his .308 batting average, one of the greatest offensive seasons in the post-World War II era. He blew kisses to the crowds and bowed reverently to McGwire and pumped new life into a sport that surely needed some. Sammy was no longer a bull or a rat—he was a Cub.

As the ballparks get smaller and the hitters get bigger, we probably won't have to wait so long for the next shooting star to follow Sosa across the summer sky. McGwire will no doubt find one or all of the usual suspects—Albert Belle, Juan Gonzalez, Ken Griffey Jr.—alongside him as he tears through the game's rice-pudding pitching. Sosa probably will be in there, too (box, page 66). But they almost certainly will have company. Someone will crash the party of five and at least make a bid to become...the Next Sammy.

What will it take? Only everything: no injuries, a lot of protection in the lineup, a hitter's ballpark, bad pitching, good luck, warm weather and the ability to just get crazy-hot at the plate for extended periods. For Sosa all of the above fell into place in 1998: He stayed healthy enough to play in 159 games and drove in more runs than any major leaguer in Ag years, a tribute to the top of the Cubs' lineup. Cleanup hitter Mark Grace provided the necessary—if not exactly Mantle-like—protection behind him. Playing half your,' games at Wrigley, of course, never hurts.

Most of all, Sosa displayed an uncanny knack for getting hotter than the cast of Silk Stalkings. He pitched a tent in the proverbial zone for all of June, setting a major league record for homers in a month, with 20. For the year, he had 11 multihomer games, best in the majors and one more than McGwire had.

So who could do what Sosa did? Well, many baseball people believe Montreal Expos outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, a 6'3", 205-pound, five-tool phenom who, like Sosa, is from the Dominican Republic, will eventually play the lead in Sammy, the Sequel. Last season, at 22, Guerrero hit 38 home runs, including 19 in spacious Olympic Stadium. Guerrero shares Sosa's passion for the game. "A huge talent," says St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "Sammy had a lot of talent, but he was a little wild [at 23]. Guerrero is very advanced for a young player." But for now Guerrero faces two obstacles: He plays for the Expos and in Montreal.

In the meantime there are others who might fill the bill (chart, page 65), among them Colorado Rockies third baseman Vinny Castilla, who's in the right lineup and the right ballpark; towering Detroit Tigers first baseman Tony Clark, who adds to his homer total each year (27, 32, 34); and Seattle Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez, who, while still only 23, has already won a batting title and had a 40-40 season. Says Cleveland Indians manager Mike Hargrove, "I don't think people really understand the feat accomplished last year by McGwire and Sosa. A tremendous combination of things have to fall just right."

Many of those things have already fallen right for Hargrove's own rightfielder, Manny Ramirez, SI's choice as The Man Who Would Be Sammy. At 6 feet and 205 pounds, he is almost the same size as Sosa, plays the same position, comes from the same country, has similar power to all fields and had a similar rap against him (lacks focus) as a young player. They both seem to handle the media attention well, though in very different ways: Sosa embraces it, even enjoys it; Ramirez pretends it's not there, often walking away from interviews in the middle of questions.

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