"Everything I have heard about steroids and human growth hormones is that they are very bad for you, even lethal," Sosa said in a prepared statement read by his lawyer. "I would never put anything dangerous like that in my body. To be clear, I have never taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs. I have never injected myself or had anyone inject me with anything."
The Orioles, who were once one of the most admired and respected franchises in baseball, are on the verge of becoming little more than a punch line, if they aren't there already. In 2001, Sports Illustrated called Baltimore "the laughingstock of baseball," and last year, the franchise finished with a losing record for the seventh consecutive season. From 1992, the first year Camden Yards was open, to 1998, the Orioles averaged 45,211 fans a game and led the American League in attendance four times. In 2004, 34,300 showed up each game, down 24.6 percent from 1998. Since Cal Ripken's retirement in 2001, the Orioles' star power has barely registered with casual fans.
"I think we have stars on the team, but they're stars that people don't really know about because they don't make themselves known," says Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts. "[Tejada] and [Melvin] Mora are two of the best players in the game, but they don't embrace the media attention or need to be in the spotlight. It's just not their thing. Sammy, he loves it. He thrives on it. That's his personality. He's such a household name, it's going to be a good thing for any town he goes to."
Ever since his career with the Cubs began to take off, American journalists seeking deeper truths about Sosa have been traveling to San Pedro de Macoris, a city that produces more major-league baseball players, per capita, than any city in the world. What they quickly realize is that San Pedro, like Sosa, is never still.
Cars and motorcycles blaze through intersections with little regard for traffic laws or traffic lights, and in the shadow of Estadio Tetelo Vargas -- the concrete baseball stadium that was constructed to be the city's heart -- barefoot children with dirty faces and just a few pesos to their names sell oranges and sugar cane. At night, many of them sleep on dirt floors.
Sosa was one of these children, and he went out of his way to remind Congress of this fact when he was called to testify. As a boy, he shined shoes in the Parque Duarte, the city's main park, and washed cars and sold fruit, candy and cigarettes for anyone who would hire him. He rarely knew where his next meal would come from.
Though many have tried, no writer has documented this time in Sosa's life better than Julio C. Malone, a journalist and author who, like Sosa, was born in the tiny Dominican village of Consuelo, just five miles from San Pedro de Macoris. Malone, who now lives in New York and writes a weekly column that is published in many Spanish newspapers, lived in San Pedro de Macoris and worked for a radio station during much of Sosa's childhood.
He can remember seeing Sosa in the northeast corner of the park, carrying the wooden box that held his shoeshine brushes -- a sight that gave Malone a unique perspective when he sat down to write a book about Sosa's life and the history of Dominican baseball in the summer of 1998. An English edition of the book, Sammy Sosa in 9 Innings, was recently published.
"One of the wonderful things about living in poverty -- and believe me, there should be something wonderful about it for all its heartache -- is that it exposes you to extreme difficulties," Malone says. "It isn't until you get to the bottom of the pit that you find out who you really are."
The true bottom is not easy to pinpoint, however, when so much of your life is full of despair. Sosa's father, Juan Batista Montero, died of a brain hemorrhage when Sosa was 7 years old. His mother, Mireya Sosa, remarried a truck driver named Carlos Peralta, but his two children from a previous marriage, when combined with Sosa and his five siblings, meant there were now 10 mouths to feed. Mireya prayed each day, asking for God's help, and made what little extra money she could by selling food to San Pedro factory workers.
"She is everything to me," Sosa says. "She is the reason why I am here playing baseball. I wanted to help my mother so much. My family went through so many hard times, and that motivated me."