MLB Breaking news : Sosa hits # 500 !!!!!

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04/04/2003 9:29 PM ET
Welcome to the 500 club Sammy
Sosa becomes first Latin player to break the mark
By Carrie Muskat /

It was just a matter of time until Sammy Sosa got to 500.
When he belted his first home run back on June 21, 1989, off Roger Clemens, Sosa was a skinny outfielder with the Texas Rangers loaded with potential and a huge swing. Fast forward to 2003, and Sosa is launching tape-measure home runs for the Chicago Cubs and recognized around the world for his huge smile, home run hop and love tap off his heart.

And now, Sosa has joined the exclusive ranks of the home run elite, becoming the 18th member of the 500 club.

Sosa's historic homer came off Reds reliever Scott Sullivan in the top of the seventh inning Friday night at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park. Sosa's blast came on a 1-2 fastball at the knees and he ripped it over the right-center field wall.

"He's a guy who consistently changes the game with one swing," said Mark Grace, Sosa's former teammate and current Arizona first baseman. "He's kind of the modern day Reggie Jackson. Even when Sammy strikes out, it's exciting. When he makes contact, it usually goes a long way. That's what fans love to see. He definitely changes a pitcher's mindset when he steps up, no question."

Sosa is the first Latin player to reach 500, which will definitely be celebrated in his native Dominican Republic.

"Sammy's consistently unbelievable," Cubs teammate and countryman Moises Alou said.

In 2001, Sosa became the first player in big-league history to have three 60-homer seasons. He has hit at least 50 homers in four consecutive seasons -- and missed by just one swing the first to do it in five consecutive seasons last year. Babe Ruth and Mark McGwire each accomplished the feat four straight years.

Ernie Banks holds the Cubs' career homer record with 512, but it's only a matter of swings before Sosa eclipses that as well.

"I told him he's at an age and point in his career and all the conditions, the parks and the team, that he could finish with 800 home runs," Banks said this spring. "He could pass Henry Aaron."

When Sosa first came to the big leagues in 1989, he swung hard in case he made contact, pulling almost every pitch. Still, former Chicago White Sox teammate Frank Thomas saw potential.

"He had tremendous power," Thomas said of Sosa, who played for the White Sox from 1989-91. "He'd hit a ball to center field straight. He's always had that power. It took him a while to get a plan and stick to it. And now, you watch his balance and as flat as he's swinging the bat consistently, with that kind of bat speed, it happens."

Sosa struggled under White Sox hitting coach Walt Hrniak because, as Thomas said, "Sammy wasn't a Walt-type hitter."

"He was a free-swinger," Thomas said of Sosa.

Traded in late March 1992 to the North Side of Chicago, the Cubs let Sammy be Sammy. In his first full season with the Cubs, Sosa hit 33 homers and stole 36 bases. However, he wasn't consistent at the plate, batting .261 and striking out 135 times.

It wasn't until Sosa hooked up with hitting coach Jeff Pentland in late 1997 that the home runs really started to fly.

"When Pentland came over, that's when Sammy took off as a dominating power hitter," Grace said of Pentland, now the hitting coach for the Kansas City Royals. "He changed him around from his swing to his stance -- he absolutely overhauled Sammy's approach and swing. 'Pent' made me a better hitter, but he took Sammy to a level nobody else gets to."

Their first year together produced immediate results. Sosa finished second to McGwire in the super-hyped 1998 home run race with a career-high 66, but the Cubs right fielder led the National League in RBIs with 158 and won the MVP award.

"There's no comparison," Pentland said when asked about the '98 Sosa and now. "Just the way he's matured as a hitter and his ability to make adjustments and actually know what he's looking for is different.

"You can work all you want, but the real deal is when he steps up in the box and has a feel for what he's doing. There's so many things involved to be the elite hitter that he is."

Pentland and Sosa would set goals: .300 average, 100 walks, 100 RBIs. Home runs were never on their list. In 2001, Sosa batted a personal-best .328 and drew a career-high 116 walks, the first time he topped 100. He drew 103 free passes in 2002.

"It doesn't come easy for Sammy," Pentland said. "That's why he deserves a lot of credit because he's so tenacious about it and works every day to get to where he feels he needs to be."

They followed a rigorous routine. Before batting practice -- and often before some of his teammates even arrived at the ballpark -- Sosa and Pentland would meet in the batting cage.

Pentland was armed with a small, custom-made 28-inch long bat. He would flip the ball underhand to the right fielder, who swung the bat with one hand. The desired effect was to keep Sosa's swing short, compact and explosive. Even though Pentland is gone, Sosa maintains the same pregame routine.

When Bruce Kimm took over the Cubs as interim manager last July, he didn't know how intense the right fielder's routine was until he saw it first hand.

"His work ethic is phenomenal and it doesn't vary," said Kimm, now a coach with the Chicago White Sox. "He's just battling from the time he steps onto the field until he goes home."

Maybe that's why Sosa likes to call himself a gladiator.

His discipline at the plate has been the most significant change. When Sosa was at the 43-homer mark last year, he had hit 20 to right, 13 to left and 10 to center. Most right-handed hitters pull the majority of their home runs to left.

"He's very selective at the plate now," Thomas said. "It just took him awhile to learn to do it. Before he felt if the ball came close, he could hit it."

Opposing pitchers learn quickly that they can't sneak much past Sosa. Last Aug. 16 at Wrigley Field, Arizona pitcher Curt Schilling tried to out-macho Sosa and get a fastball by him in the ninth inning.

Instead, Sosa, who had struck out twice against Schilling on breaking pitches earlier in the game, jumped on the fastball and smacked his 42nd home run.

Schilling can take some consolation in knowing he's not alone. The right-hander is one of 303 different pitchers to serve up one of Sosa's homers. Now, Sosa has one in 2003, 500 in his career and plenty of swings left.

Welcome to the club, Sammy.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.
damn hes already got 500!
he will break all time record in a few yrs barring injuries.

I think hes a juicer he came up in the White Sox minor leagues was 160lbs now he jacked with a big ol-moon-face!

I always liked Sammy very friendly and modest guy.
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Damn right he is on the gear .If you see pics when he first broke into the league and today it is easy to tell.
DangerousGrounds said:
damn hes already got 500!
he will break all time record in a few yrs barring injuries.

I think hes a juicer he came up in the White Sox minor leagues was 160lbs now he jacked with a big ol-moon-face!

I always liked Sammy very friendly and modest guy.

That is one of the good things about Sammy he's stayed modest and humble.....his actions on the field tell all you need to know about him, those speak VOLUMES about what kind of player he is...he doesn't need to toot his own horn :)
He's a monster. But as long as Alex Rodriguez stays healthy, he's gonna slam every record in the MLB. But sports, in general, has evolved so much that it's too hard to compare players of the past to players of the future.