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Some Experts Hold Out Hope: Splitsville Not Inevitable

By Melissa Isaacson
Tribune staff reporter
Published January 9, 2005

Can this marriage be saved? If Sammy Sosa and the Cubs were a wedded couple on the rocks, no doubt the long-running column of the same name in Ladies Home Journal would figure out a way to salvage it. As highly paid star and underachieving baseball team, it gets a little more complicated. Or does it?

We asked a group of Chicago experts on relationships, group dynamics, human behavior and, well, boom boxes to weigh in on the city's hottest soap opera, and it would behoove Sosa and the Cubs to listen up. Here's what a clinical psychologist, divorce lawyer, grade-school principal, talk-show host, social worker, advice columnist, astrologer and electronics retailer had to say:

Sol Rappaport
Clinical psychologist for Counseling Connections in Libertyville

"Who knows what really went on inside the clubhouse that last day? But given that there was some kind of contention between Sosa and the players and Sosa and management, they need to sit down and air everything out, and they need to be grown up and put selfish needs aside and work together as a unit. It's much like a family therapist helping people put all the issues on the table. Maybe the Cubs would benefit from bringing in a facilitator from the outside.

"It does take time, but a facilitator could move the process a lot quicker. Sometimes what happens when you get in a room as a family, everyone wants to air their grievances and complain, and the facilitator's job is to help them move forward rather than focus on what happened the last day of the season. They need to focus on `Where do we go from here?' and what Sosa, his teammates and management can do to regain each other's trust again.

Jewel Klein
Attorney of 38 years, past president of the Women's Bar Association of Illinois

"The first thing I would recommend is to get counseling for the benefit of the children, who I assume are members of the team, because the impact on the third parties can be dramatic if the parents are fighting.

"Sometimes we're required to read between the lines and what a client says may be inconsistent with how they are behaving. So sometimes when they say they're committed to a divorce, they really aren't. But what [Sosa] did is akin to abandonment. He walked out on his marital/team responsibilities.

"Sometimes, fighting, when it involves adults, is an attempt to re-establish an earlier relationship. With children, it's crying out for attention and discipline. Virtually all parenting agreements contain the provision that neither party will disparage the other in the presence of the children. Assuming again that the teammates are the children, this might be a good idea."

Jill Besenjak
Principal of LeMoyne School (pre-K through 8th grade), situated at 855 W. Waveland

"[The way Sosa was given preferential treatment in the past] would be like a teacher's pet type of thing. I have children all the time [who], when they're in trouble, say, `But the teacher doesn't do anything when that student does it.' It's an injustice, and people feel that. It sends a bad message to all the rest.

"When he corked his bat, we explained to the kids that there was a consequence to cheating, that he paid a fine and was suspended and that now, we have to forgive him and move on. And the city as a whole did that. But even after people stood behind him, he stormed out on his teammates, and that's hard [to justify].

"Even in PE classes and after-school sports, we teach kids right off the bat that you play as a team. Not one person wins or loses the game. And no one is bigger than the team."

Bob Sirott
Host of WTTW-Ch. 11's "Chicago Tonight"

"We live in a very forgiving society, and people will forgive almost anything. We've seen examples of this with various political and entertainment figures. The key is to come clean. You have to say, `I screwed up.'

"I'd like to advise Sammy, first of all, you do one-on-one interviews with anybody and everybody, beginning with Sirott, and say, `Look, [walking out on the team the last day of the season] was the dumbest thing I've ever done. I don't know what I was thinking. I can rattle off a list of everything I was feeling, but none are valid because it was absolutely the wrong thing to do. I plead temporary insanity, and I will never do that again.'

"Then, assuming the guy can have a decent year, he does have that ability and that charm and can win people over. I think [the fans are] still going to boo, but he has to take the boos. The first time he's asked about it, I could write his answer: `I'd boo me too. It makes me feel terrible, but I understand it.'

"And finally, nothing shuts up sports fans and sportswriters quicker than an outstanding season. Obviously, he can't control that entirely, but if that happens, that cures all--not only bad relationships between sports figures but various mental and physical ailments as well."

Carl Hampton
A licensed clinical social worker who has worked with athletes through the Family Institute at Northwestern

"What's most important is performance--his particular performance, but more importantly, the team's performance. If the team is doing well, there is probably less opportunity for a stressful relationship between Sammy and the team and Sammy and management.

"He has to win the faith of the rest of the players on the team as well as the manager, and that's something that takes time. When there is an affair in a marriage and the couple decides to work on the relationship and stay together, time is really what tells, and there are little tests that occur over time to build faith again.

"There is also the matter of this being a power relationship. A therapist is typically trying to balance that, but because there is so much money involved and so many other factors, it's hard to have a handle on that as a mediator."

Amy Dickinson
Tribune advice columnist, who preferred to answer our hypothetical letter

Dear Amy: How do I repair the mess in my workplace? I am the general manager of a medium-sized company that is going through turmoil. I hate to admit I don't know what to do, but if I don't do the right thing, I fear the company will continue to be counterproductive. The problem centers on our star employee, a guy who is wildly successful and was extremely charming until recently. His immediate supervisor admittedly gave him special attention, which was OK when he was such a boon to our business, but as his production wore off, resentment from the rank and file grew. Over the last year he missed work because of a freak illness, was given a small demotion and, finally, went AWOL one day, leaving the workplace completely. In addition, he has yet to speak to anyone in the company, including myself, since this latest incident and has embarrassed the company publicly with his antics. I should mention that he is currently under a lucrative contract that we cannot afford to break so we are, in essence, stuck with him. With tempers frayed, how do we even begin to get back on track? Sincerely, Jim H.

Dear Jim H.: When things get really bad, it sometimes helps to publicly wipe the slate clean and offer everyone involved a chance to start over. It's not unlike when a toddler's manipulations, tantrums and meltdowns are tolerated until the day when the parents realize that they have a little monster on their hands. It's time for a do-over. Because you and your company have helped create this monster (let's call him "Batzilla), you're going to have to feed the beast a little to calm him. I suggest that you write him a carefully worded letter, letting him know how much you value him and have enjoyed your association--until recently. Then you have to let him know that a new sheriff is in town. Advise him that you intend to honor the letter of your contract as long as he does too. Every time he stomps over his colleagues breathing tongues of fire, he damages his own reputation. Give him an opportunity to vent his grievances in a civilized and professional way, listen to him carefully and consider any of his recommendations. After that, you'll help him to behave better by being firm, fair and in charge.

Irene Hughes

Psychic, professional astrologer and columnist whose rise to fame began more than 30 years ago and who numbers among her predictions the Chicago Blizzard of '67

"Sosa was under a real adverse astrological aspect last year, so I wasn't surprised he wasn't doing well at times. He was going great for a while, but when the planet Saturn hits you, it's trouble. It's the planet of bankruptcy, great losses [and] sorrow, and he was under that.

"But he's under a wonderful winning planet now, and I feel this year will be a much better year for him. In late 2005, he'll go into the best cycle he has had for 12 years, which will last for all of 2006. Dusty Baker was a mess too. I think they're going to get along well. But while I think Sosa is going to stay, I think Dusty is going to move or change jobs by June 15. It will come to that."

Mike Abt
President of Abt Electronics and Appliances

"The first thing I thought was `Give him an indestructible boom box.' Then I thought iPod. It's so obvious. If he wants to be somewhere else, he could look at pictures from home [on the newest models] and still listen to his music. If he really wants to solve the problem, I'm offering to donate a free iPod. But if he wants to buy one, I'd sell one to him and everyone else on the team at cost.

"The other option is a good pair of noise-canceling headphones. You can get a pair for $200 with a nice long cord. That's the way to go. Then you don't have to hear anyone. No boos, no cheers."

Copyright © 2005, Chicago Tribune