In a city that knows about charm, Sosa shows deft touch from start

February 03, 2005|By PETER SCHMUCK

THE HONEYMOON STARTED last night when new Orioles superstar Sammy Sosa delivered his signature home run chest tap during his evening media conference at the B&O warehouse.

"I hope you do that about 50 more times this year," said manager Lee Mazzilli.

Don't we all.

The Orioles added a ton of starpower when they traded Jerry Hairston and two minor leaguers for Sosa, and they got him at a huge discount. We can debate all spring whether it was the right move at the right time for a developing team, but it will really come down to what happens when he sprints out of the dugout and into right field on Opening Day.

Savvy Sammy knows that better than anyone, and he romanced the crowd wherever he went during his brief stay in Baltimore. He got a well-orchestrated standing ovation from a group of young players from Baltimore's RBI League when he arrived to meet the media, then got a spontaneous one from a packed Orioles Grille when he showed up for a radio appearance at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel.

Talk all you want about the potential downside of adding a 36-year-old player who wore out his welcome in Chicago, but it's impossible to deny that Sosa has almost unlimited charisma. Two hours in front of the cameras and microphones and the guy has you believing that he was the one who put the charm in Charm City.

Sosa deftly handled all the questions about his unhappy parting with the Cubs without actually addressing any of the specifics. He made sure to say "we" instead of "I" every time he referred to his new team, belaboring the word to the point that it was clear that he was still stinging from the frequent characterization of him as a selfish player in Chicago.

It was obvious, however, he was happy to be here ... happy to be anywhere except the place where his image began to disintegrate with the crack of a corked bat a couple of years ago and came apart entirely at the end of the 2004 season.

His arrival was contingent on passing a physical examination yesterday, which provided a minor amount of suspense when his introduction was delayed about 45 minutes.

There was never really any reason for alarm. He appears to be in terrific shape, though he could have showed up in a wheelchair and the deal would have gotten done. The Orioles are getting a 40-homer guy for one year at a net increase in payroll of about $7 million.

I know I said recently that a physical is never a formality in Baltimore, but I had to take it back after a more careful analysis of this trade. Sosa's physical was such a foregone conclusion that he would have passed if X-rays revealed that Victor Conte was hiding in his rib cage.

The Orioles needed this deal as much as the Cubs, who needed it so badly that they were willing to eat $12.5 million and - if asked - probably would have thrown in Ernie Banks and the Tribune Building to get rid of the guy. The O's needed a big name to divert attention from their unsuccessful attempt to upgrade the starting rotation this winter.

So, everybody's happy, right?

Sammy seems very happy, even though he waived an $18 million contract option that was supposed to kick in if he was traded.

The Cubs are happy because they convinced somebody to take on a player with more unclaimed baggage than US Air at Thanksgiving.

The O's are happy because they probably added about 40 home runs to an offensive lineup that led the major league in total hits last year.

Cubs manager Dusty Baker has got to be happy because he isn't going to wake up tomorrow with Excedrin Headache No. 21.

And I'm happy because last night's news conference got me out of Jacksonville for 36 hours, though I definitely will be back in time for the Sports Illustrated Super Bowl Swimsuit Party on Saturday night.

Don't make too much of the waived contract option since it wasn't real money. Sosa and agent Adam Katz knew the Cubs would never be able to complete a deal if that option was hanging over their heads, and they certainly weren't going to exercise it themselves.

Don't make too much of the baggage, either. US Air got most of it back to its rightful owners by Christmas.

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