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Column: Sammy Sosa is back in town. Will the 20-year cold war with the Chicago Cubs ever thaw?

E. JASON WAMBSGANS/Chicago Tribune/TNS

The Chicago River will turn green Saturday, just as it does every year for St. Patrick’s Day.

And the Chicago Cubs and Sammy Sosa remain estranged, just as they’ve been for the past two decades.

It was just a coincidence that Sosa arrived in town in time for the annual dying of the river. He’s here for the Chicago Sports Spectacular autograph show Saturday and Sunday in Rosemont.

It’s apparently Sosa’s first visit to town since his final season playing Major League Baseball, when he was the designated hitter for the Texas Rangers in a game against the White Sox in April 2007 at U.S. Cellular Field. That was so long ago it wouldn’t be shocking if some didn’t recognize Sosa, who has been out of the public eye for most of the 17 years since retiring.

While Sosa has been long gone, a possible reunion with the Cubs has remained a topic of discussion that’s usually brought up at the Cubs Convention and then forgotten for the next 11 months. Many Cubs fans would like to see Sosa back at Wrigley taking a bow, while others believe the unofficial ban should continue.

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts has been adamant Sosa would not be welcomed back without some kind of admission of performance-enhancing drug use, and Sosa has been adamant about not admitting to using PEDs.

Sosa told reporters from NBC and Fox on Friday that he realizes his “mistake” and would be agreeable to a Cubs reunion. When Fox-Ch. 32 reporter Lou Canellis asked him if that meant he was admitting to using steroids, Sosa laughed and said he didn’t expect that question.

Though the Cubs have had outreach with Sosa’s camp over a possible reunion and Sosa telling WLS-AM 890 they’re “getting close,” there haven’t been any ongoing negotiations.

Cubs spokesman Julian Green said Friday that there was “nothing new to report.”

Sosa’s exit from Chicago was one of the more memorable departures of any star in our sports annals. He walked out of the Cubs clubhouse early in a game on the final day of the ill-fated 2004 season, then claimed afterward through his agent that he had stayed for the game, denying the Cubs’ accusation.

The Cubs later revealed video evidence from the parking lot that showed Sosa’s early exit. In the 24 hours after, several players smashed Sosa’s boombox in the clubhouse, and manager Dusty Baker offered that he had “covered” for Sosa for years. Sosa later told the Tribune at spring training in 2007 that the Cubs “destroyed” his image with their accusations.

“Chicago is always going to be Chicago,” he said then. “All the damage is done already. They destroyed me, saying I left because of this, because of that. It wasn’t true, but it’s over. It’s finished. I don’t want to talk about that no more.”

When asked whether he cared if the Cubs welcomed him back, he replied: “Of course I care. This was the team that was my home. I spoke to (team President John) McDonough. We sent a couple of messages back and forth. Not because I was coming back playing (for the Cubs). But when I retire, again, definitely I’d love to go back to Chicago.”

But that turned out to be false hope. When the Rickettses bought the Cubs in 2009, Sosa’s chances of returning were doomed.

“At some point, something will happen that will allow us to welcome Sammy back,” Ricketts said at the 2016 Cubs Convention. “I look forward to that day. Until that day, I don’t have anything to add.”

The next year Sosa compared himself to Jesus when asked by blogger Chuck Wasserstrom, an old friend from the Cubs organization, about unfair treatment.

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“It’s like Jesus Christ when he came to Jerusalem,” Sosa replied. ”Nobody thought Jesus Christ was a witch (laughing) — and he was our savior. So if they talk (bleep) about Jesus Christ, what about me? Are you kidding me?”

The cold war continued and in 2018, Ricketts said “players of that (steroids) era owe us a little bit of honesty,” suggesting he would hold his ground for an apology.

Sosa has yet to make it back to Wrigley Field since he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles before the 2005 season. He has been denied entrance to the Baseball Hall of Fame by voters from the Baseball Writers Association of America and also lost out this year for entrance to the Cubs Hall of Fame, which will induct former teammates Aramis Ramírez and Kerry Wood in 2024. Two other former Sosa teammates — Mark Grace and Shawon Dunston — were inducted in 2023.

Some of Sosa’s former teammates, including Carlos Zambrano, have said it’s time to bury the hatchet

“He should come back and I know the fans would appreciate that,” Zambrano said last summer. “Do whatever it takes to get back. Hey, we all make mistakes. I made mistakes. It’d be good for Sammy to come and say ‘I apologize’ for whatever he did.”

That doesn’t seem forthcoming, but for a few days this weekend, Sosa will be able to hear from his fans without having to deal with his former team.

And if Sosa really wants to see his old home, tours of Wrigley Field are available for $30.