From 1998-2003, Sammy Sosa did not hit less than 40 home runs. Seven All-Star appearances, six Silver Sluggers, and an NL MVP award gave Cubs fans something to cheer about as their beloved franchise continued not winning the World Series.
This past week, the Cubs honored another beloved icon. Wrigley Field turned 100 years old, and the place was filled with former Cubs, former Bears, and even a detailed replica of the stadium in cake form.
But Sammy Sosa wasn't invited. Between that day and his last in a Cubs uniform, things obviously changed - Steroid rumors were accepted as fact, though Sosa claims he was always clean.
This was a statement by the Cubs - this event seems reverent enough in Cubs lore to put aside scandals and suspicions to simply remember the best players in team history. But still, they drew a line in the dirt and didn't let Sosa cross it. If Sosa is still on the outside looking in, what hopes of a reunion exist for somebody committing crimes outside of baseball?
The Phillies aren't at all bad with alumni. In fact, they seem to have trouble letting go of people. But as they fill the Wall of Fame with 1993 alumni like Darren Daulton and John Kruk and Curt Schilling, one of their more glaring absences sat down with 97.5 The Fanatic for an interview this past week.
Part of the reason why two hours of Lenny Dykstra is such a draw is that the conversation was coming after years of drug allegations, financial scandals, felony convictions, and fistfuls of amphetamines. He's broken the law, he's hurt people, and he hasn't really showed much remorse for his actions. Still, the topic of a hypothetical reunion with the Phillies came up.
"I don't know, actually," Dykstra said. "The Phillies organization treated me and my family like gold. Bill Giles, Dave Montgomery, the ownership; you can't get treated better than they treated me. Hopefully there will be a day when I get to come back and do something for them."
"But you've got to earn your trust back," he said. "I'm gonna walk before I run."
The 1993 team is the oasis in the wasteland between the Schmidt Era and the Rollins Era from which a different generation draws its memories. But while you can separate baseball from real life to celebrate a player's on-the-field accomplishments, Lenny Dykstra has spent the last few years moving at full speed in an irredeemable direction. Tracing his long, hard fall from grace, we can actually see just where he fractured every relationship he had.
Dykstra was invited to Shea Stadium for alumni events multiple times from 2000-08. He threw out the first pitch of the 2000 World Series, he was elected to the 40th anniversary "All-Amazin'" team, he was there for the 20th anniversary of the Mets' 1986 championship, and he helped say goodbye to Shea in 2008 before its destruction.
Prior to that, he had a drunk driving incident in 1991 and a sexual harassment charge from a 17-year-old in 1999 that was later dropped. The Mets did not deem any of these worthy of the cold shoulder. He also admitted to using steroids in 2007, but was still there as part of Shea's farewell ceremonies the following year.
In the years that followed, any conversations about whether or not he should be a part of a team event got less and less necessary.
March 2009: Alleged racist comments
September 2009: Accused of vandalism
December 2010: Bounced check to escort
January 2011: Accused of sexual assault by housekeeper
June 2011: Charged with 25 misdemeanor and felony counts for grand theft auto, identity theft, and drug possession. The drug charges were dropped after he pled "no contest" to the GTA and identity theft.
August 2011: Charged with two counts of indecent exposure
March 2012: Sentenced to three years in prison
The charges, dropped or convicted, have created a public persona of Dykstra that follow-up interviews have done little to dissolve. The public perception of him is reinforced by his own confessions and/or further behavior.
Today, being linked to steroids with no proof is enough to lose you a Hall of Fame vote. There is sadly a plethora of proof for the case that Dykstra has done some pretty unethical, disgusting things that go beyond baseball.
Forgiveness is nice – Dykstra claims he and his ex-wife are back together, lavishing her with praise – but this is a deep, deep hole. A reunion with the Phillies is buried so far under layer-after-layer of public relations nightmares that the Phillies have seemingly decided to act like he doesn't exist.
Sammy Sosa gave the Cubs the national spotlight and helped bring eyeballs back to the game, and he wasn't welcome at Wrigley for venturing into the murky world of baseball and performance-enhancing drugs.
No one should ever be forgiven for crimes because they happen to be a skilled athlete. Dykstra can work to become a better person, and think that doing so is a good reason to wait by the phone. But chances are he'll be waiting a while.