Is Sammy Sosa a Hall of Famer?

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.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

51 responses to “Is Sammy Sosa a Hall of Famer?”

  1. steve

    Sosa wont get in. the only player linked to steroids who has a chance is Bonds simply because hes the HR king*. but its still a long shot for him IMO. If Sosa werent linked to steroids i believe he would have gotten in easily.

    1. hardtop

      if sosa werent on steroids he wouldnt have done anything worthy of a hall of fame induction. like brett says, slightly above average for a handful of years, if you take away the balls he crushed on juice. so, hes not in one way or the other. im not afraid to admit i loved having him in the blue stripes though. the funny thing is bonds and mcgwire could have both been hall of famers if they had just played skinny… and they probably would have made their wives a lot happier too… big arms = little pee pee.

  2. Chuck

    No chance. I don’t think he’ll even be discussed as much as McGwire. I don’t think McGwire will ever come close to getting in.

    As an aside, why is Sosa ‘only’ mentioned as a cheater because of suspected PED use? He was caught RED HANDED using a corked bat, yet we never hear that come up when discussing his flaws.

  3. Butcher

    1st ballot.

  4. RY34

    not in a million years. i did love the hop and the two finger salute; eh not really!

  5. Jim

    You probably don’t have many Sox fans, Chuck. Which is probably a good thing.

  6. 1060Ivy

    Unfortunately, until McGuire gets in, no reason to discuss the HOF merits of Sosa. The 2 are linked forever. They saved baseball in 1998 and also added/caused the stigma of PED usage which will be attached to the sport’s revival era.

  7. Michigan Goat

    I think writers will have a hard time not voting for a 600HR player without an official positive test. It’s the lack of 600HR that justify McGwire not getting in, but 600HR is like the 3000 hit club.

  8. Matt

    I have to say, I enjoyed watching him play, and when he hit a homer in Wrigley, that place was as electric as ever.

    However, if Bonds and McGwire can’t get in, I can’t see Sammy. Also, those pictures of “white” Sammy just plain weird me out.

  9. Spencer

    Sammy was my favorite Cub growing up, and his HR chase with Mark McGwire is one of the best memories I have of baseball. I think a lot of Cubs fans became a little jaded with Sammy near the end of his career in Chicago, with the whole leaving Wrigley early thing and talking negatively about the team. That said, he’s certainly been the most prolific Cub of my lifetime and probably deserves to have his number retired eventually.

    Unfortunately, I think like many players of the era, Sosa’s not getting in. I really think that anyone that is even slightly linked to PED use is going to have a hard time getting in, even if they have 600 HRs (as an aside, what about Jim Thome?). I don’t think it’s the career numbers that would keep him out of the Hall, it’s the suspicion of steroids and the debacle in front of Congress. Without steroids and the same numbers, he’s in. With steroids…probably not going to happen.

    If somehow he does get the votes, there’s no way that he’s first ballot, especially given what the voters did with Alomar and not voting him in for that whole spitting thing. But I think it will be very telling to see how the voters treat Bonds and Clemens on that ballot as well, because it seems likely Sosa would get similar treatment to them. Biggio will get in before Sosa.

    1. Michigan Goat

      I agree it will take time for the PED suspects to get voted in. Biggio should be 1st ballot for 3000 hits alone and if Bonds doesnt get in all the power hitters from the steroid era will never get in. At some point baseball just needs to except that it happened and realize the majority of players were using in some fashion during the that era.

      1. Ron

        As a teacher would you be so kind, I mean all the kids are doing it?

  10. Ron

    Not only no but hell no. If Pete Rose can’t get in for betting as a manager not while he played there should be no way a cheater gets in.

    1. Michigan Goat

      The day a commish forgives and releases his ban, Rose will get in.

  11. auggie1955

    Sosa won’t make it It will be interesting to see if Bonds or Clemens get enough votes.

  12. TSB

    “Sosa was really only a feared player… for those five years between 1998 and 2002.”

    Yes, and Koufax was only a “feared” player for 5 years. Without steriods of course…

  13. CubSouth

    I believe that baseball should look at it as a case by case situation. Was is steroids that a player took, or was it just a banned substance found in some drink they took or vitamin they had. If ur caught with steroids, u should have no part in the HoF balloting, ur name should be crossed out and taken off the list after u retire. Everyone knows steroids don’t just give u 500 homeruns, you have to work hard still, but cheating is cheating. The edge that HoFers have were their ability or maybe their willingness to put more effort into practice or to go that extra mile. I loved Sosa when I was growing up but the HoF is for the elite ability players, not the ones who cheated their way to immortality.

  14. Hogie

    Let ‘em in. Anyone who’s numbers are without a doubt worthy, should be in. Rose, Bonds, Clemens and some others should get in. Put an asterisk next to the name and let’s move on. Guys have bent and broken the rules to get ahead since the dawn of baseball. Who knows how many cheaters are already in that never got caught. We can’t just erase an entire era.

  15. Madprizamwoo

    Sosa will not get in.

  16. Jed

    In the early years of baseball, PEDs were not illegal. There’s no knowing how many of the Hall of Famers from the early on used steroids. I think we have to accept what these people did. Yes, it’s disgraceful to know that players did it, but also think of how many players also used steroids and still were terrible. Nefei Perez sure didn’t become a superstar after juicing. In my opinion, Sosa, McGwire, Palmeiro, Bonds, and Clemens should all make it in at some point. I still don’t like the last two though.

    1. Toosh

      That’s logical. Some Hall of Famers MIGHT have juiced, so potential inductees who are known cheaters have to be allowed in. Wow!

  17. RDF

    I don’t think Sammy will ever get in the HOF. If the PED issues were not bad enough, then he had the infamous corked bat incident.

    P.S. by “infamous” I mean more than famous, he was in famous.

    1. Michigan Goat

      Would you say you have a plethora of reasons that Sammy is not a HOF

      1. hardtop

        ha, i was trying to think of a 3 amigos line to reply with.. you, sir goat, are more clever than i… i kept trying to work in the singing bush somehow.

        … i think it was a “mail” plane

  18. Sam

    The whole Sammy Sosa discussion always makes me sad. When I was young I loved Sammy Sosa, in fact he is the reason why I even became a Cubs fan to begin with ( I was 7 years old). I still am a Sosa fan, but that being said he will never get into the HOF. Let alone the “alleged” PED use, I think the whole corked bat incident would have kept him out. If they still won’t let Pete Rose, who is probably the greatest baseball player of all time in then Sosa doesn’t even have a chance.

    1. hardtop

      good god, we have some young’ins on this here blog. lets see, when i was 7 i think keith moreland was in right field(most of the time, do i remember him catching a few games every year? they definitely moved him around a handful of games)

    2. TWC

      Point of discussion: Why is George Brett’s pine tar bat different than Sammy Sosa’s corked bat? I understand the rules governing their use in play are different (with different results), but are they both not illegal modifications to equipment?

      And, as a trivia item, can anyone tell me what both bats have in common?

      1. Spencer

        Both involved umpire Tim McClelland

        1. TWC

          Well, that was speedy. Well done.

      2. Cardfan

        Point of clarification: Pine tar was not illegal and the call was overturned. The only reason for the 18″ rule was to keep the silly baseball clean. Quite different from clandestine modification of a bat to provide a stronger “spring action” off the bat.

        Sosa, McRoidin’, Clemens, Bonds – keep ‘em all out IMO. Plus, you will see Rose inducted before any of them make it.

        1. TWC

          You are correct that pine tar was not illegal, and that the call was overturned. But it’s also true that the additional inches of pine tar were against the rules (appropriateness of the rule notwithstanding).

          The irony to the bat corking, however, is that it actually hinders the pop off the bat rather than help it. I think it tends absorbs the impact of the ball… something like that. I remember discussing this in a high school physics class, and (Googling) now I see that Mythbusters explored the topic and came up with the same result.

          Considering that, it’s possible (likely?) that Sosa would have hit more home runs, not fewer, had he used a regular bat. (Of course, no evidence exists that he used a corked bat for more than that one occurrence – unless that douche Remlinger is hiding more shreds under his bed.)

  19. Ol'CharlieBrown

    I think if it came down to McGwire, Sosa, or Bonds to be inducted into the Hall Of Fame, I feel like it should be a fairly simple answer. Barry Bonds certainly deserves to be in the Hall Of Fame before the other two fellas. Yes, he may not deserve to be inducted simply because he pretty much became the most well known steroid user in all of professional sports. Regardless of that, I think he was a far more well-rounded player than McGwire or Sosa ever were. They were essentially known for hitting home runs and not much more. Those seasons where they hit the extreme amount of home runs is what truly made them household names in my opinion. By extreme I mean like 50 or more in season, considering only 26 players have ever done it. Whereas Bonds was a pretty household name well before his ridiculously absurd 2001 season in which he hit an astonishing 73 home runs. Plus he had 8 Gold Gloves, which I don’t think the steroids helped him achieve really. Basically what I’m saying is that if you were playing a pick-up game and you were choosing who you want on your team, who would be your first choice out of those 3 guys? I’ll take Barry please.

    What I’m really saying though is that I would shove those 3 guys aside in a second and point at that guy standing behind them. The one who shouldn’t even be a question when his day finally arrives. Yes, I’m talking about Ken Griffey Jr.

  20. Jeff

    If the committee is holding the steroid era players as cheaters and won’t vote them in, how far back do they trace the cheating? Do they go back to when Canseco and McGwire started hitting bombs in the late 80′s and early 90′s? Do they go back and punish all those that were using ephedrine and other stimulants until recently? I don’t see how they can put a blanket judgement on the mid to late 90′s players, while many of those players were playing and learning to cheat from the generation of players before them. Where does the line get drawn, and who decides who has crossed that line? In my opinion the baseball hall of fame has been one of the worst run institutions in sports. The veteran’s committee and the 80 year old former beat writers who get votes hold entirely too much sway, when some of them have no idea what they are talking about. This is another issue that takes away their credibility in my eyes. You can’t punish some people for “supposedly” cheating but never being caught, while you turn a blind eye to other cheaters. The baseball hof has done it in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Therefore, Sosa never gets in.

  21. Rev. Bud Green

    What Rose did is way worse then any thing Sammy did. Beting on the game has been the worse thing you can do in baseball sense 1918.

    1. Toosh

      Wrong.

      1. Cardfan

        agreed. Rose never bet on a game he was playing/coaching. The “alleged” actions of Sosa, McGuire, Bonds, Clemens, and even ARod (tipping off the opposing batters to pitches at the expense of your teammates ERA), had a direct impact on the outcome of a game they were participating in.

        1. TWC

          “Rose never bet on a game he was playing/coaching.”

          That’s not true. Rose admitted to betting on games he coached. He now maintains that he never bet *against* his own team.

          1. Cardfan

            Correct, TWC. I should have qualified that.
            I am not advocating he be inducted. In fact, I think both he and Bonds serve as shinning examples of why you should stay between the lines. Rose would be in and Bonds would be on his way if their selfish stupidity didn’t get in the way. I honestly don’t think Sosa and McGwire would even be considered without their juiced-up numbers. Take away the needles and they are lifetime .240 hitters with a lot more balls caught at the warning track.

  22. Glenallen Hill's One Home Run

    I will admit that I groaned when I first saw this headline, as I am pretty tired of the debate about whether steroid era players should be inducted (it’s a stupid argument that goes nowhere and nobody’s mind is ever changed since there hasn’t been an original perspective on it in about 5 years). That said, I loved your write-up and it brought up really great points about where he’d stand regardless of his dubious power jump. This is the kind of unique discussion that makes BN the best Cubs blog, great job.

  23. Matt Murton

    I’ve got an autographed Sammy bat… Man I would love to crack that thing open and see what’s in there!

  24. CUB5

    I was never a big fan of his, even when he was with the Cubs. Just didn’t really care for him. His smug attitude of seeming to think he’s destined for the hall was the icing on the cake for me. But his numbers are inflated by PEDs, and let’s face it – voters will take into account the juice. I hope for the Cub’s sake he doesn’t go in wearing the “C.” It would be a disgrace.

    Now if they wanted to put in Mark Grace… :)

  25. Say it Ain't SO-sa

    I wish Cubs’ fans would get off Sammy’s case. People seem to forget he made them a lot happier than the way it ended. Everybody on this blog was like a kid in a candy store in 1998 and to mention he was MVP and we won the WildCard. Sammy used PED’s and all that jazz and they may keep him out of the HOF but I feel as if the Cubs’ fans are just as big as traders as Sammy is for leaving early in his last game. Anyone ever been upset at work and left early? Or even for golf? The hall doesn’t have to give Sammy a break but you think Cubs fans would eventually. Brutal!

  26. Mark

    The whole he was only elite for 5 years is hilarious to me. He had the most elite 5 year span that any MLB player has ever had. Prior to and after his elite 5 year span he had another 5 years of 35+ homers and 100+ RBI seasons (mid 90′s and 2003). His “average” seasons are equivalent to the greatest seasons guys like Mike Schmidt and Reggie Jackson ever had. Think about it………

    1. Cubs Dude

      I think Sosa should for sure be hall of fame worthy. He was so ridiculously good for several years its mind boggling. Unfortunately he gets lumped in with all the PED users and as of now, the HOF voters don’t want any part. But I would have done PED’s too if the difference was 60 homers compared to 30. It’s MLB’s fault, not the players in my opinion.

      1. Brady

        So replying to a year old post is cool and all but WHAT?!?!?!

        1. Cubs Dude

          Yeah I am not sure what prompted this to get brought up. But I am game for Sosa discussion. It’s been a rough couple months..

  27. Superdessucke

    It’s hypocritical to keep him out for PED use because the fans, sports writers and MLB either condoned or ignored it, depending on how generous you want to be. By the mid-1990s baseball was dying and rapidly losing ground to basketball, football and even hockey. The strike nearly did it in. Those mid to late 1990s dingers by McRoider, Sosa, Brady Anderson, Palmero, and others brougjt the fans back, and saved the game. Everyone knew but no one said a thing. Took time to see my ass!

    Now, you want to keep players out for drugs? Sorry but no. The argument that he only had 5 great years out of 17 is a better argument but PEDs are a bad reason because it was such a big part of the era.