Sosa says he won’t disappoint

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) – Sammy Sosa is back in baseball – and back to fielding the same steroids questions that dogged him when he left the game more than a year ago.

Sosa and the Texas Rangers agreed to a minor league contract Tuesday, giving the former slugger his first crack at the major leagues since the 2005 season with Baltimore, when he hit .221 with 14 home runs in 102 games.

If he makes the Rangers’ roster at the end of spring training – and Sosa said there’s only a “one in a million” chance that he won’t – he would get a $500,000, one-year deal. He could also earn up to $2.1 million more in performance bonuses.

“You guys won’t be disappointed,” Sosa said. “I wanted to come back in 2006, but I was beaten mentally. … I’m fresh. I’m relaxed. I’ve got my game face again, and I feel great. My body’s in shape. I’m ready to go.”

The 38-year-old, fifth on the career list with 588 home runs, said Tuesday he spent the past year working out and knows he must rightfully earn his spot. He added that he still has as much as five “good years” of baseball left in him.

But the seven-time All-Star said his comeback isn’t about disproving rumors that performance-enhancing drugs elevated him among the game’s most feared power hitters.

Before his last season with the Orioles, Sosa was one of several players who testified before a congressional committee looking into steroid use in professional baseball. Like Mark McGwire, Sosa is suspected by some of having used steroids before they were banned by baseball after the 2002 season.

Sosa said Tuesday that there has always been speculation but “never any evidence.”

“I am not going to go to every fan’s home and knock on the door and say to them: `Believe in me,'” he said. “This is not my style.”

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels insisted that Sosa still has to earn his spot with the Rangers. If he makes the team, Sosa would be primarily a designated hitter but still could see some time in the outfield.

“We told him he doesn’t have to come in here and be the man,” Daniels said. “We’ve already got guys in the clubhouse that are established and are our leaders.”

Daniels said the only possible downside was the distraction that might come with a player of Sosa’s stature in spring training – a time when the Rangers will begin changing course under new manager Ron Washington.

“We’re not naive. Obviously this is the only press conference we’ve had for a minor league contract,” Daniels said. “His name alone is going to provide some level of distraction, obviously. And that was a little bit of a negative for me, just because I feel we’ve got so many positive things going on. … But as we talked about it as a group, we felt the pros outweighed the cons.”

Sosa was the NL MVP in 1998, when he batted .308 with a career-high 66 homers and 158 RBIs for the Cubs. That was the season he was in the home run chase with McGwire, who became the first major leaguer to hit 70 homers.

The contract reunites Sosa with the team that first signed him as a 16-year-old in 1985. Sosa’s first homer came with Texas in 1989, the only one he hit in 25 games before being traded to the White Sox.

In his career with the Rangers (1989), Chicago White Sox (1989-91), Chicago Cubs (1992-2004) and Orioles, Sosa has batted .274 with 1,575 RBIs and has hit 60 home runs or more in a year three times.

Sosa said there were offers from other teams, but he liked the idea of starting and ending his career with the same club. Sosa’s first minor league manager was Rudy Jaramillo, now the Rangers’ hitting coach.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that Sammy is still hitting at a big league level,” Jaramillo said.

Sosa said he’s in good enough shape to play despite taking a year off. He shied from making projections about his stats.

“If you give me the at-bats, of course I’m going to perform,” he said. “I know how to hit. Without a doubt, the numbers are going to be there.”

Sosa shouldn’t worry about getting at-bats – that seems tops on Washington’s spring training agenda. Washington said he might play Sosa in two games in the same day as part of a plan to give Sosa whatever he needs to make the team.

“He brings pedigree. He brings attitude. He brings commitment. He brings effort,” Washington said. “He’s got attitude, and I hope that attitude rubs off on everybody.”

AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.