CHICAGO — Sammy Sosa was in no mood to talk about Mark McGwire on Monday, issuing a "no comment" from his home in Miami through his spokesperson.
But Sosa has had plenty to say about the former Cardinals slugger over the past few years.
In 1998, McGwire and Sosa were inextricably linked through their season-long pursuit of Roger Maris' single-season home run record of 61. McGwire wound up with 70 and Sosa 66 as the baseball world enjoyed a seismic rejuvenation.
McGwire admitted Monday what everyone suspected — he had been using steroids. Sosa has yet to divulge such a personal revelation, although he has been suspected, and one New York Times report claimed he failed a MLB drug test in 2003.
I twice interviewed Sosa in his native Dominican Republic over the past several years, and asked him repeatedly about the suspicions of his steroid use, as well as about similar allegations involving McGwire.
"I am clean and I have always been clean," Sosa told me in 2006. "There has been a lot of speculation, but they don't have no evidence. So you take it from there. They haven't been writing a book about me doing this or doing that."
Indeed, Sosa managed to keep his name out of incriminating books by Jose Canseco and extensive reports commissioned by MLB.
"Because I don't do that," Sosa said then. "All of the questions and all the speculation, my name is never there because, you know, you have to understand ... yeah, everyone is surprised because, you know why? I hit 60 (homers) three times. I put up the numbers I have been putting. But you know what? I put up those numbers by going to bed at 9 o'clock at night in Chicago because I have to play a day game every day at 1 o'clock. I prepared myself for that. ... And I played in a good ballpark. You know that in Chicago when the wind is blowing out, nobody can stop the ball."
The legal supplement androstenedione was spotted in McGwire's locker during the season he broke Maris' record. When asked about steroids during the congressional hearing in 2005, McGwire repeatedly said, "I am not here to talk about the past."
Sosa, who was credited with helping McGwire loosen up and enjoy the 1998 home run chase, has been reluctant to criticize him.
"In this world, nobody is perfect," Sosa said. "But one thing I can say about Mark McGwire is ... the numbers don't lie. I believe he is a Hall of Famer, in my heart.
"(McGwire) could have been more prepared when he went to the Senate hearings," added Sosa, who had an interpreter at that session. "People have to understand that he is kind of shy, for real. Sometimes when you have to do something like (testifying), you don't feel comfortable. People probably expect you to say so many things that you don't say. He didn't answer the appropriate questions."
When pressed to talk about the importance of McGwire and him addressing the rampant speculation that they may have used performance enhancers to achieve their power numbers, Sosa replied with a bit of agitation: "I understand your point. Remember, I am not a writer; I am a baseball player. And no matter what happens, we are family. Mark is part of my family. My opinion is always going to be in a good way when I refer to someone in my family.
"The Hall of Fame means everything and I think my way to the Hall of Fame is there," said Sosa, who will be eligible in five years. "There has been a lot of (steroid) speculation. But I don't think that speculation is going to stop me from going to the Hall."