BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
Throughout the course of the 2021 season, there have been a lot of trips down memory lane with the Marlins franchise.
When fans think of the Marlins franchise history against the Chicago Cubs, they often look to the post-season.
Back in 2003, the Marlins defeated the Cubs in the National League Championship Series 4-3 in a series that Steve Bartman and the rest of the North-Side Chicagoans would like to forget, as he interfered with a foul ball that Moises Alou attempted to catch. The Marlins would go on to defeat the New York Yankees in the World Series.
The Marlins faced the Cubs in the postseason again 2020 and swept the Cubs 2-0 before ultimately getting knocked out of the playoffs by the Atlanta Braves.
But the year that I’ll remember is 2002, one where the then-Florida Marlins took on the Chicago Cubs at Joe Robbie Stadium from July 1st-3rd.
I sought press credentials for the games being played on the second and third as I was looking to catch up with a former co-worker of mine that played for the 1987 Gastonia Rangers.
The co-worker in question was outfielder Sammy Sosa, who, in 1998, was involved in an incredible home run chase with Mark McGwire, that created excitement for baseball at a time when the sport badly needed it after the fallout of the 1994 Player’s Strike which canceled the World Series.
By the time that I made it to Joe Robbie Stadium, the Cubs were completely strict about granting interviews with Sosa. By this time, there was a lot of discussion that he had taken performance enhancing drugs as he bulked up which undoubtedly exacerbated his home run hitting prowess. The media was definitely questioning the legitimacy of his numbers.
To complicate matters further, Sosa was caught using a corked bat that exploded during an at bat and was confiscated.
There was no question, I was facing an uphill battle trying to interview a guy that was under so much scrutiny.
As I stood on the field and asked the Chicago Cubs Director of Media Relations Sharon Pannozzo to interview Sammy, she gave me an interesting look and I told her that I was the Director of Public Relations for the Gastonia Rangers in 1987. I told her that Sosa and I had an excellent working relationship and that I was no ordinary member of the media.
For some reason, I wasn’t able to convince her to let me talk to Sammy so I did the only thing I could do at the Cubs batting practice with her standing next to me; I decided to shout out and said hello to the 1998 NL MVP as he was waiting his turn to get into the cage.
Sammy looked at me and said “hello”, gave me a thumbs up and had the biggest smile on the planet as he remembered me like it was yesterday. Our distant interaction lasted about 45 seconds but that’s all it took for me to convince Sharon that I was different than those she was accustomed to dealing with.
By this time, I told her what my plan was and that was mainly to reminisce about our days back in North Carolina and what he’d accomplished since. I told her that I had zero interest in talking about the drug allegations. I told her that if it made her feel any better, that she could stand nearby in the Cubs Clubhouse while I conducted the interview and it wouldn’t bother me at all.
Sharon did give me the opportunity to talk to Sammy the next day by his locker and did watch us talk for about close to 20 minutes. All she saw were smiles by both of us as we had a good old time about our days working together. By the end of the interview, we exchanged hugs and that was it.
I told Sharon that being a person that was in the same field she was in, that I had to deal with the media regularly and could appreciate the challenges she dealt with on a daily basis. She told me that she appreciated me for telling her as such. Pannozzo spent 24 years with the Cubs in Media Relations Department, something I truly respected.
I don’t envy the job that communications people have to deal with always being in a position to protect the important people in your organization, but still having to be cooperative to allow the media to do their jobs.
There are times that I have had to be critical of the subjects I had to write about. That’s our job as members of the media to ask tough questions. That’s what our readers and followers expect of us.
In the case of PED’s, while there are times that a person appears to be using them by the changes that show in their body, until they’ve been caught, I don’t accuse them of doing any wrong doing.
When I worked with Sammy in 1987, he was 18-years old, could barely speak English and was quite thin as you would expect at that age. Sosa broke into MLB in 1989 with the Texas Rangers at the age of 20 and his owner was former President George W Bush. He was traded that season to the Chicago White Sox and played on the South-Side through the 1991 Season.
The Cubs traded for him in 1992 and he played with them through the 2004 Season. By this time, he was started to hit his prime and hit 545 of his 609 home runs with the team.
He played 18 seasons in MLB and finished with a career average of .273, 2,408 hits and 1,667 RBIs. He was a seven time All-Star.
I have no desire to go into further details about all of the drug controversies he’s involved in because it doesn’t pertain to what I’m looking to accomplish in this story.
The only thing that matters to me is that Sosa was loyal to me at a key time and his actions spoke louder that words. Whether Sosa ever gets into the Baseball Hall of Fame is out of my control.
All I can say is that he’s always going to be ‘ok’ in my book because he never forgot about me, or where he came from looking at it through a wider lens, when we worked worked together, even on that hot July day 15 years on.
It was neat seeing these two teams face each other for the first time since 2002.
There would be no Sosa and the Marlins were looking to sweep a three game series with the Cubs. Miami did just that as they defeated the Cubs 4-1 in a game that took 3:21 to complete in front of 10,262.
The Marlins main offense came via the long ball as Jazz Chisholm Jr. his his 12 home run of the season to right field.
Jesus Aguilar hit his 22nd bomb of the year to left field.
Paul Campbell got the win in relief for Miami and improved his record to 1-2. Dylan Floro notched his fifth save of the campaign.
Cubs starter Alec Mills was the losing pitcher and saw his record drop to 5-5.
These teams don’t figure to make the playoffs but the win improved Miami’s record to 51-67 while the Cubs dropped to 52-68. The loss was the Cubs 11th in a row.
They proceeded to lose to the Cincinnati Reds on Monday 14-5 and the streak hit 12 games before subsequently snapping it on Tuesday with a 2-1 win over the Reds at Great American Ballpark.
Chicago has two 11-game losing streaks in 2021.
The only time that Chicago had two double digit losing streaks in a single season was back in 1954.
Miami won the season series 5-1.
The Cubs still lead the all-time regular season series 109-103.
The Marlins are 53-50 all-time at home between loanDepot Park and Joe Robbie Stadium.
Yet on this day, it seemed like yesterday that Sammy Sosa and I hung out just up the road off the Florida Turnpike reminiscing about old times.
But it was great just thinking about another trip down memory lane with the Miami Marlins.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at email@example.com and you can follow him on Twitter @TribuneSouth.
You can see all of his broadcasts by subscribing to The South Florida Tribune You Tube Channel for Free.
There are more great shows down the pipeline.