ARLINGTON -- Charismatic and charming as ever, Sammy Sosa is still a rock star.

He's just more of a backup singer than lead guitar player these days.

And he's fine with it. For now.

"I know who I was, who I am, and I have to deal with it," Sosa said. "When we left Spring Training, we left with a team we thought was going to the playoffs, but that promise went down. Now they want to know if the youngsters can play, see what they can do. I see that as a great idea and I have to deal with that. Sometimes you plan something and it doesn't go your way. That's what happened."

Here's what happened:

Sosa is hitting .243 with 16 home runs and 72 RBIs this season, but his role since the beginning of the month has been as a reserve outfielder and pinch-hitter. Mired in last place in the American League West, the Rangers are committed to using Jason Botts as the designated hitter, Marlon Byrd in center field and Nelson Cruz in right. That leaves Sosa on the bench -- a lot.

"We are in a tough situation with him, but he has not cried one bit," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He said what he had to say when we first told him. We listened, but we could not change direction in which we were going. The classiest thing is that he decided to stay here. He said he would do the best he can and do the best he can to help every young player."

Upon being told of his reduced role in a private meeting with Washington and general manager Jon Daniels, Sosa did not ask for his release. And he has no intentions of doing so. Retirement is an option, but so is returning next season for another year in the big leagues. Sosa is well aware of his legacy in the Dominican Republic and the United States, so he is determined to finish the season, even if it is his last season, strong. He is one of the proudest men in the game and has been since he made his big league debut in 1989.

"Inside of him, he's burning because he has a desire to play this game," Washington said. "He's handled it like a class act, but he's feeling it. I do feel like it will get to a point with him, after this year is over, that he will say, 'My time is through.' Unless somebody gives him the opportunity or the Texas Rangers decide to continue along with him."

Kind words from Washington, but Sosa has been praised before. He is a living legend. He is arguably a first-ballot Hall of Famer and has more money than he ever dreamed of having. Why come back next year or even think about it?

"Life is not about money, it's about pride," Sosa said. "My challenge was to come back for a lot of reasons. When I left baseball in 2005, I didn't leave the way I wanted to leave. This time I want to go through the front door. I have business to take care of in this game. I've gone past 600 home runs, I had an opportunity and a chance, and I did it."

Can Sosa walk out the front door now? His disappointing season in 2005 with the Orioles is a distant memory and talk of any links to performance enhancing substances has subsided.

"I don't know if now is going to be the time," Sosa said. "I'll wait to see what happens and the decision is not made now. The season is not over. We will have to see what is out there for next year. My body says I'm great. My body tells me to play."

But what about the statistics? What do they tell you, Sammy? This is the same player who hit at least 60 home runs three times in his career.

"The numbers I have are not the numbers that I wanted to have right now," he said. "I could have better numbers, but I can't be that greedy because I was out for a year. To come back to baseball and have the numbers I have right now, I can't ask more of myself."

"You have to understand that I'm not 20 years old anymore," Sosa continued. "People have to understand there is a point in time in life that you won't be playing every day. And most of the time, when a team gets to that point, they are in a situation where they want to see youngsters and you have to deal with it."

This is an older and wiser Sosa. But make no mistake, he remains the center of attention -- even from the bench -- and is arguably the biggest star on the Rangers roster. His smile still lights up the clubhouse and he is very proud of what he has accomplished in his career. What he has done this season does not surprise him. If he has a better season next year, that won't surprise him, either.

"The season has been great and if a situation comes up, I'll deal with it later," he said. "I don't have any problems. I feel great here. I have a lot of respect for the manager, it's a great organization. I can't say anything bad about it. I play one or two times a week, but I still respect the organization for giving me an opportunity to play."

Ask Sosa about the critics, the ones who said he was done and his comeback is a joke, and all he can do is smile. Rock star Sammy is feeling like vindicated Sammy. He's happy to have silenced many of his critics.

"Oh yes, without a doubt," Sosa said. "They respect me now. They respect me."