View Full Version : <teal>Great, hard-hitting article on Shammy</teal>

09-24-2002, 01:28 PM
What, exactly, was the purpose of THIS piece of garbage? You never normally see this sort of thing in the Cubune...


It's to distract you from the awful, awful, awful year my Flubbies had, of course!


English is very, very good to Sosa

The Cubs slugger, nearing his 500th home run, owes much of his charisma to his way with words

By Marlen Garcia
Tribune staff reporter
Published September 24, 2002

Words come to Sammy Sosa with extraordinary ease.

They come in Spanish or English or a mixture of both, a sign of his mastery of the English language after years of hard work, a struggle to become fluent similar to that of millions of immigrants in the U.S.

In fact, according to those who know him, Sosa has come as far with the English language as he has with his home run hitting.

"It is my second language, but I do very well with it," Sosa said in a recent interview, adding that in recent years he has become as comfortable communicating in English as in Spanish, the language of his native Dominican Republic.

His slugging has made Sosa one of baseball's most celebrated players. He is on the brink of becoming the 18th player in major-league history to hit 500 home runs, taking a total of 498 into Tuesday night's game with Cincinnati at Wrigley Field.

But it is his charisma--derived in no small part from his ability to express himself in English--that has made him one of this nation's biggest sports celebrities, even as he plays for a mediocre team.

Sosa probably is the most popular Latin American sports star in the U.S. since his idol, Hall of Fame baseball player Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash while on a humanitarian mission to Nicaragua after the 1972 season.

"He's an international superstar," teammate Kerry Wood said, recalling the throngs that clamored for Sosa when the Cubs opened the 2000 season in Japan. "He wouldn't be that, he wouldn't be on all those sports shows getting so much attention if he couldn't speak English as well as he does."

From the day he first arrived in the U.S. with his first professional contract, Sosa worked to master English as he polished his skills on the field. A day would come when Sosa would step onto center stage in American sport, and because of his diligence off the field, he was ready for it.

That moment came in 1998, as Sosa and the St. Louis Cardinals' Mark McGwire chased Roger Maris' record of 61 home runs. McGwire won the home run race with 70 to Sosa's 66, but Sosa won the hearts of fans. McGwire was the quiet giant who shunned the spotlight. Sosa was the amiable--and quotable--underdog.

"Not only was he able to understand the moment, he could communicate his feelings to baseball fans," said Montreal Expos general manager Omar Minaya, the scout who signed Sosa to his first contract and later managed him in the minor leagues.

That fluency is a source of pride to Sosa because he has done it the hard way.

Hunger to succeed

Sammy Sosa has never taken an English class. The English classes that baseball clubs now provide for their foreign-born minor-league players were non-existent when Sosa was making his way to the big leagues. He arrived in the U.S. at 17 knowing not much more than "hello, goodbye, how do you do."

He relied on English-speaking teammates to speak for him in stores and restaurants.

"I couldn't adjust to English," Sosa said. "Whatever they ordered in restaurants, I had to eat even if I didn't like it.

"It was a little tough . . . but the most important thing you have is the hunger to be successful. Plus I had the responsibility to help my family. So it didn't bother me, the English thing."

His personality helped.

"I guess it would be difficult for someone who is kind of shy," Sosa said. "But when you're relaxed and you're a good communicator, it wouldn't be a problem. There are words you don't get completely right, but those things happen. I just wanted to learn."

Sosa recalls hanging around the clubhouse with teammates in the minor leagues, wanting to be a part of conversations and then joining in, unfazed by his choppy English.

"The only way to learn was to speak and sometimes say things I didn't know how to say," Sosa said.

People who knew Sosa in his early years remember that he wasn't embarrassed by language slip-ups. Tom Grieve, the former Texas Rangers general manager and now a television analyst for the team, compares Sosa with Juan Gonzalez, his former Rangers teammate from Puerto Rico.

"Juan was self-conscious about his English," Grieve said. "But Sammy was much different in that regard."

Sosa's gradual improvement continued through his years with the White Sox, for whom he played from 1989 until 1992, when he was traded to the Cubs. Since '92 he has worked closely with Sharon Pannozzo, the Cubs' media relations director, who helped convince Sosa to open up to reporters.

"Right before 1998 he seemed to understand the big picture--that dealing with the media is important," Pannozzo said. Late in his breakout year, "The demands were so phenomenal, he could not have handled it as well as he did if he had not grown," Pannozzo said.

Sosa was hailed as a baseball ambassador, one whose exciting race with McGwire helped erase bitter memories of the 1994 players strike.

His dealings with the public go beyond professional to uncommonly savvy.

In its early days, "Saturday Night Live" featured a comic character named Chico Escuela, a former pro baseball player who still struggled with English. Sosa has turned that stereotype into his own private joke, co-opting the character's trademark line: "Baseball has been very, very good to me."

"He has played with the language when it's to his advantage," said Adrian Burgos, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois who is writing a book on Spanish-speaking players in U.S. professional baseball.

Sosa's demeanor in 1998 allowed U.S. fans "to see him as an intimate foreigner who had become one of us and had embraced our language," Burgos said.

In terms of Sosa's fan base, Burgos believes he remains as popular with white Americans as he is with Latinos and African-Americans.

"Latinos understand the cultural differences, what he has to go through," Burgos said. "Americans embrace him for being an immigrant success story."

Careful with media

Still, Sosa says he is often cautious in interviews, especially with print reporters.

"Sometimes I'll say something, and if it's an article written by a negative person, the writer will write what he wants to make a point," Sosa said. "Later he will tell me that I didn't understand him."

Burgos believes reporters sometimes undermine Spanish-speaking players, albeit unintentionally.

"Historically with Latino players, the focus is on how they say things and not what they say," Burgos said. "Sometimes the person who speaks two languages is made to appear less intelligent than the one who speaks solely one."

Yet it is difficult to doubt Sosa's intelligence, given his success with a second language and his success with marketing himself.

Sosa and his wife, Sonia, have encouraged their four children--Keysha, 8; Kenia, 7; Sammy Jr., 5; and Michael, 4--to become bilingual. The parents lead by example; Sonia Sosa takes English lessons on a regular basis, Pannozzo said.

"You know how good Sammy is?" Pannozzo said. "When he's answering a question he's not comfortable answering, he'll answer it without responding to the question directly. People who have command of the language cannot always do that.

"He's not book-educated, but he's a very smart man."

09-24-2002, 01:42 PM
I couldn't even get through that fluff. I like how they describe the Cubs as a mediocre team. What a joke.

How do I add that hurl picture?

09-24-2002, 01:49 PM
Originally posted by bc2k
I couldn't even get through that fluff. I like how they describe the Cubs as a mediocre team. What a joke.

How do I add that hurl picture?


I've never read an article that exploits a players' already super huge ego. Gee, why don't they do one on the other non-english-speaking right fielder in Chicago???

09-24-2002, 04:42 PM
Yet it is difficult to doubt Sosa's intelligence, given his success with a second language and his success with marketing himself.

Since '92 he has worked closely with Sharon Pannozzo, the Cubs' media relations director, who helped convince Sosa to open up to reporters.

So which is it? Has he been marketing himself or has he had the Tribune Company's hand up his "tailpipe" like a puppet. I just wonder how much different things would be if Frank Thomas would have been dealt to the northside back in '92 leaving Sosa with the Sox all these years. Do you think the spin would be reversed just a bit, on both sides?:D: SamME would be the clubhouse cancer & Thomas would be the "marketing genius".

09-24-2002, 05:44 PM
I don't know what you guys are talking about. I've been waiting forever for an article on Sammy Sosa's communication skills!