Still the man in native land
Sosa enjoys retirement, but comeback still on his mind
LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic -- Sammy Sosa's elaborate birthday party Saturday night attracted more than 700 visitors to his $8 million villa and beachfront property.
Numerous Latino politicians, entertainers, television personalities and actors received the literal red-carpet treatment as they approached the entrance to the home.
Actress Salma Hayek, a good friend of Sosa's, arrived amid much fanfare. Actor Samuel L. Jackson was on the invitation list but was not spotted.
Several prominent Latino bands performed on a stage erected on the beach as partygoers sipped champagne or danced into the early-morning hours. A fireworks display made everyone wonder if Sosa's neighbors had been apprised of the festivities.
Sosa's take on the party?
"The most important thing about this is that I organized myself for this moment," he said.
"Financially, I am organized. I am OK, thank God. At least after I pay my taxes," Sosa said with a hearty laugh. "I don't have no stress; I am more relaxed. I am going to places--my houses (in Miami and the Dominican Republic)--and enjoying life.
"My life is great. If I had known my life would be this great, I would have retired three years ago."
Sosa hired some two dozen young models clad in expensive dresses and high heels, arranging for them to stand along the candlelit driveway as the dignitaries walked down the red carpet.
After about two hours of standing, three models walked toward the house, either to freshen up or give their feet some relief. When Sosa saw the models fall out of line, he shot them a stern look and signaled them to return to their posts until the president of the Dominican Republic arrived.
President Leonel Fernandez finally arrived with dozens of armed bodyguards about 11 p.m.
"Sammy is an idol, a hero in the Dominican Republic," Fernandez said. "He has been like an ambassador for the Dominican Republic. Every time Sammy was playing in Chicago, we always saw the Dominican flag all around Wrigley Field. Sammy was the representation of the incarnation of the Dominican Republic as a national symbol for us.
"This year we went over to Asia and we went to Japan. We were in Taiwan. Everywhere, Sammy was identified, and they showed him a lot of respect and a lot of admiration. Going with Sammy is a way of letting the people know where the Dominican Republic stands."
Asked if he thought Sosa should go into politics, Fernandez smiled and said: "That's more difficult. He has done so well in sports. He is an inspiration to our youth.
"Politics is a very tough occupation. So it is not a suggestion I would make to him. He should just try to get to the Hall of Fame as soon as possible."
Fernandez views Sosa as a tremendous asset in improving the worldwide impression of the Dominican Republic.
"When they see Sammy, they show their joy," he said. "They know him and see him on TV and what he represents to sports worldwide.
"Sammy is not just a figure of the Chicago Cubs or Major League Baseball. He is a world figure, and I was able to see that when I was in Japan and Taiwan and other places. He is a person who is well-loved and highly respected."
Sosa said he would shy away from politics.
"I see myself supporting the politicians, but I don't see myself as a politician," he said. "The way I am living my life, I never see myself doing that."
Meanwhile, Sosa hopes to decide within a couple of months about returning to baseball.
"If I go, I'm going to go because I know I'm going to make it," he said. "I'm ready, and if somebody wants my services, then definitely I've got to be ready 100 percent.
"I played this game for 17 years at the major-league level, and I put up beautiful numbers. I'm not going to go up there to embarrass myself. No way, Jose."
Sosa and Dusty Baker were not always on the same page.
They had an issue over Sosa being moved down in the lineup during one of his prolonged slumps with the Cubs in 2004. They disagreed over Sosa's penchant for reporting late to spring training. And there was the controversy surrounding Sosa's leaving the team before the final game of the 2004 season at Wrigley Field.
But now, as Sosa contemplates a return to the big leagues, Baker is gone from the Cubs, replaced by Lou Piniella as manager.
"Dusty Baker, to my understanding, did the best he could," Sosa said. "Sometimes you prepare a team to go to the World Series and win everything, but it is not going to happen.
"Dusty did an OK job. A good job, let's say. He thought that maybe he would do a better job. It didn't happen. But he is not a bad person or a bad manager."
Sosa believes Piniella will succeed where Baker fell short. The Cubs also have a new president, John McDonough, who replaced Andy MacPhail.
It was MacPhail who signed Sosa to his last Cubs contract, one that had him among the highest-paid players in baseball when he signed it before the 2001 season.
"I felt surprised when MacPhail resigned," Sosa said. "He was a guy who always took care of my career. I appreciate everything he did for me and my family.
"One thing I can say for sure is they are going to make Chicago better with Lou Piniella. That is one thing I can guarantee. Lou Piniella is a smart manager, and he knows how to deal with players.
"He can pull the most from the players."
McDonough was the Cubs' marketing boss when Sosa played for the Cubs.
"McDonough is a smart person," Sosa said. "He has known about baseball for many years."
Word on the street
Asked if he planned to talk to Mark McGwire and encourage the former Cardinals slugger to address the issue of performance-enhancing drugs in order to increase his Hall of Fame chances, Sosa was non-committal.
"If anybody comes to me and asks for advice, definitely I am going to
help--that's me," he said. "When you're talking about Mark McGwire . .
. [he belongs in] the Hall of Fame."