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Apr 20,2007
Hey, look who's back: Slammin' Sammy!
by Mike Nadel

CHICAGO - Sammy Sosa was back in town, and it was a happy day in column-writing land - especially with him saying ridiculous things like, "I've always been humble," and guaranteeing he would be great again.

He was such an inviting target, I almost felt guilty. Almost.

The column was coming together nicely, too. The former Cubs superstar-turned-pariah practically fell while fanning on a low pitch in his first at-bat against the White Sox on Tuesday night. Now the DH for the Texas Rangers, Sosa popped out his second time up, dropping his batting average to .167 and looking closer to 48 years old than the 38 at which he's listed.

It was the first game Sosa had played in a Chicago ballpark since he left Wrigley Field - prematurely and without permission - on the final day of the 2004 season.

After that, the Cubs dealt him to Baltimore for a box of rocks just so they never again would have to look at the bat-corking, self-centered steroid suspect. And after that, his career spiraled into the abyss: he flamed out in Baltimore, sat out the 2006 season when nobody wanted him, signed with Texas as a non-roster player and got off to a rocky start for his new team.

"Oh, I'm gonna get hot - that you can put down in the book," Sammy had said a few hours before Tuesday's game as we media mavens rolled our eyes.

This was going to be too easy. Sosa was awful, and he either was too delusional or dishonest to admit it.

Then he doubled to start a three-run rally in the seventh inning, beautifully taking Jon Garland's two-strike pitch on the outside corner down the right-field line.

One inning later, after Sox manager Ozzie Guillen ordered an intentional walk of cold-hitting Mark Teixeira, Sosa lined Mike MacDougal's 0-2 pitch over the right-center-field wall.

Home-run hop ... finger kisses ... heart taps. It was like a trip in the Way-Back Machine.

Sosa's 591st career homer wrapped up his club's 8-1 victory over the White Sox.

As the oldtimers (present company included) used to say: Get me rewrite!

"I came here, didn't know what to expect, been out for a year," Sosa said. "And to have an opportunity to come here and have a good game ... I'm not gonna lie to you, I'm very satisfied."

I'm not sure whether most of the fans at U.S. Cellular Field were White Sox fans who hated the ex-Cub because that's what they're conditioned to do, Cubs fans who grew to hate Sammy near the end of his stay on the North Side or some combination thereof, but Sosa was booed loudly each time he stepped to the plate.

"Part of the game," Sosa said. "I'm not gonna try to have a fight with the fans."

Too bad. He would have won by a knockout.

It reminded me of Frank Thomas' return last season. Thomas wasn't hitting a lick for his new team, Oakland, but homered twice against the Sox. The Big Hurt went on to have a spectacular season for the A's, parlaying his renewal into a huge contract from the Toronto Blue Jays.

Hmmm, maybe I judged Sosa too soon.

If he can't be the pre-cork Sammy of 1998-2002, when he was the most productive and entertaining hitter in baseball, perhaps he still can be good enough to make a difference for a team.

"They are very smart to give me that opportunity because they know what I can do," Sosa said. "We're only in the first few weeks of the season. The reason I got the opportunity is because I still have some premium gasoline in my tank."

He's got plenty of baloney in there, too.

He reprised his tired claim that he and Mark McGwire "saved baseball" with their 1998 home-run chase. He brushed off a question concerning statements to USA Today in which he insinuated that a jealous Cubs teammate had corked his bat. He said taking 2006 off was his choice. And, yes, he really did say: "I've always been humble."

Talking about today's Cubs, Sosa said: "This year they have a good manager, a responsible manager in Lou."

His praise of Lou Piniella was an obvious shot at Dusty Baker, who stopped making excuses for Sosa late in the 2004 season.

Then again, Sosa's endorsement is practically a kiss of death for Piniella. Sosa had similar glowing words for Lee Mazzilli (his manager in Baltimore, since fired), Baker (fired) and Don Baylor (Baker's predecessor, since fired).

I remain unconvinced Sammy will pull a Big Hurt and recapture his youth to earn a monster payday, but you've got to hand it to him for having a flair for the dramatic.

For one night, anyway, Sammy Sosa really was back.

Mike Nadel (mikenadel(aT)sbcglobal.net) is the Chicago sports columnist for CNS. Read his blog, The Baldest Truth, at pjstar.com/php/index.php/nadel.

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