Now on the other side of the 2011 Hall of Fame weekend, folks have naturally started to discuss the prospective 2012 Hall of Fame class, as they will be wont to do for about two weeks or so. Then, it’ll be a silent issue until, say, a couple weeks before the voting begins next year.
Unfortunately for the conversation, the 2012 class looks rather blah. Barry Larkin will probably get in. Bernie Williams probably won’t. I’ll probably yawn.
But the 2013 class of candidates is replete with interesting discussions. Joe Posnanski recently took to discussing a number of those possibilities, including Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, and Craig Biggio, among others. It’s a great read, and really gets you thinking about what it means to be a Hall of Famer, particularly on the other end of the Steroid Era.
Naturally, he also discusses Sammy Sosa.
Sammy Sosa. Hit more than 600 homers. Only player in baseball history to hit 60-plus homers three times. One of most beloved figures in Chicago Cubs history as a young player. New York Times reported that Sosa tested positive in the 2003 PED survey test; he had long been a suspected PED user. Was very likable as a young player, but lost some of that likability through the years. He and Mark McGwire were said to “save baseball” with their magical home run chase of 1998. He hit 66 that year. He hit 63 the next year. After leading the league with a mere 50 homers in 2000, he hit 64 in 2001. Nobody in baseball history hit as many home runs in a five-year span as Sosa did from 1998-2002; nobody comes especially close. One of the more astonishing (and melancholy) bits of trivia is that Sosa hit more than 60 homers three times but did not lead the league any of those years. There could be many who will refuse to vote for him.
Once beloved around these parts, Sammy Sosa’s crown was sullied first by suspicion, next by evidence, and finally by the kind of obvious realization that can come only with time and distance. So many of our favorite “Cubs memories” were tied to Sosa. In our gut, we loved him. We knew Sammy was clean. It was hard to accept what hindsight now tells us should have been so obvious.
Without the PED element of his candidacy, Sosa would have been an interesting case. If considering historical Hall benchmarks, Sosa would have looked solid: more than 600 homers, 1600 RBI, and 2400 hits. Heck, even had 234 steals.
But, here’s the thing: until his magical (if-nutritionally-infused) 1998 season (at age 29, mind you), Sosa was merely an above-average player. His best OPS+ in those early years was a 127 in the strike-shortened 1994 season. Above-average players don’t get into the Hall of Fame. Starting in 1998, Sosa blistered through a five-year stretch that saw him put up OPS+ numbers exceeding 150, which meant, in each season, he was at least 50% better than the average player. From there, his career rapidly declined.
So the question, then, is even if you’re able to set aside the suspicions that accompany what your eyes told you, and the fact that Sosa exploded offensively at the atypical age of 29 until the age of 33 (players’ peak offensive output typically occurs between 26 and 29), did he do enough to merit Hall inclusion?
Sosa’s total numbers are impressive, but his rate stats are less so – his career line is just .273/.344/.534. Good numbers, but Hall of Fame caliber? Considering the era? Jay Buhner was at a strikingly similar .254/.359/.494. Think he’s waiting on his invitation to Cooperstown?
(Ron Santo, for what it’s worth (and for a failingly asymmetrical comparison), comes in at .277/.362/.464.)
Indeed, Sosa was really only a feared player – someone your gut would tell you is a Hall of Famer while you saw him at the dish – for those five years between 1998 and 2002. Is that enough to be considered among the elite of the elite?
My gut tells me it is not. But, then again, maybe my gut is guilty of misleading me about Sammy, as it has before; this time, out of quiet rage that, when he hit 60 homers for the first time, I was not witnessing history, but infamy.
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