After having a look at Marquis Grissom with the first post in this series, I move to the next card in the bunch – the 1992 Topps Sammy Sosa. This won’t be exactly the same as Grissom’s; everyone really knows a good bit about the latter half of Sosa’s career. It was well-documented, to say the least. Instead, this time I’ll just have a look at the player prior to his Cubs stardom.
Back of card text: “At Sarasota in 1986 Sammy led Gulf Coast League with 19 Doubles and 96 Total Bases. In 1987 he led Gastonia with 73 Runs, 145 Hits, 27 Doubles and .279 Average.
Bizarrely, Topps extolled the rookie ball and low A virtues of a player who, by this point, already had over 1000 big league ABs. Remember, the card is from 1992, and it’s talking 1986-1987. Sosa wasn’t a star, but he was a major league ballplayer. Weird.
As is the case with many Dominican players, Sosa signed with the Rangers in 1985 at the age of 16. As a 17 year old in rookie ball in 1986, he batted .275/.336/.419, with the aforementioned doubles and total bases, as well as 11 steals in 14 tries. That stint got him instant attention from scouts, as he vaulted from unknown status to a 2nd in the organization ranking from Baseball America prior to the 1987 season. Sosa was the best player on that aforementioned Gastonia team, which also featured Dean Palmer, Juan Gonzalez, and Wilson Alvarez. By ’88, Sosa was still #2 on BA’s list, this time behind Gonzalez. The ’88 introduction to high A was a trying one for Sosa (.229/.282/.355), and he was even inefficient on the basepaths (42/66). Scouts remained high on him, and he still ranked #2 in the system heading into his age-20 season in 1989.
Sosa found AA to his liking (.297/.338/.458) and the wheels were in motion. The talent was never really in question, and now there were upper level results to propel that talent to the big leagues. Sosa got a cup of coffee with Texas, playing 25 mostly unsuccessful games. Unfortunately, Texas had a relatively young and talent-laden OF; LF Pete Incaviglia (23) was a high draft pick showing power at the big league level, Cecil Espy (26) was a year removed from an 8th place ROY season, and Ruben Sierra (23) was one of the best hitters in the league. On July 28, the Rangers went to bed 9 games over .500 and 7 games back in the AL West, with holes at SS and DH.
The next day they shipped Sosa and emerging top prospect Wilson Alvarez to the White Sox for Harold Baines and Fred Manrique. Needless to say, the Rangers regretted the deal. While Baines would be great the following season, he sputtered down the stretch. Manrique went from above average SS to a slightly below average one. Texas went 28-33 and missed the playoffs, and now Chicago had one of their best prospects.
The 43-60 White Sox wasted little time with Sosa, and got him some regular playing time late in the year at CF, and Sosa rewarded them with a .273/.351/.414 line in 115 PA. Prior to the 1990 season, Sosa was named the #2 prospect in the Chicago system (behind Alvarez). It’s notable that for a player who would go on to be the statistical bridesmaid to end all metaphorical bridesmaids, he was named the #2 prospect in his system for 4 consecutive years.
On opening day, 1990, Sosa started in RF for the White Sox and batted 8th. He would bat leadoff frequently throughout the season due to his stature and speed, but he never really justified any of the playing time. For a surprising contender (the Sox won 94 games that year), it became harder to wait on the talent to translate into success on the field. Manager Jeff Torborg tried Sosa all over the lineup, but was never really rewarded, and Sosa limped to a .233/.284/.404 finish. The flashes were there – 26 doubles, 10 triples, and 15 HR, but Sosa was generally disappointing. White Sox fans were possibly most irritated by 13 errors from a player regarded as a potential Gold Glover (Sosa led the league in Range Factor). Many questioned if his head was where it needed to be. Still, like was the case with Texas, Sosa was part of an incredible young core of talent that included Frank Thomas, Jack McDowell, Alvarez, Robin Ventura, and Alex Fernandez.
In 1991, he took a big step backward offensively: .203/.240/.335, and while his ranginess in RF helped, the mental errors negated much of that. On a White Sox team that recognized its window and needed to win immediately, Sosa’s stagnating development was out of place. On the eve of the 1992 season, the White Sox traded Sosa and Ken Patterson to their crosstown rivals for veteran OF George Bell.
Even knowing what we know about their futures, the trade seemed like an instant win for a team aiming to contend. Bell had a great 1992 season and Sosa continued to be a disappointment. In 1993, Sosa’s lights came on at Wrigley, and he was suddenly a star. We know the rest.
Had he been 2 years faster in putting it all together, the White Sox of the 90’s could have achieved far more October success.
Where is he now? Getting shunned by the Cubs, and as far as I know, that’s about it.