The Sammy Sosa Hall of Fame Debate Begins

With 2013 Hall of Fame class ballots going out yesterday, and with Sammy Sosa being one of a number of former superstars making their debut on those ballots, you figured there would be a great deal of debate about his candidacy for the Hall. Because of the difficult issues surrounding Sosa’s (and Bonds’ and Clemens’) story, I’m not yet ready to pin myself down on one side of the debate or the other.

But other folks were ready to lay out their thoughts as soon as the ballots came out, and they paint a muddied picture about whether Sammy should be in the Hall of Fame.

First, a bit from Carrie Muskat’s article on the topic, which is more of a general background piece, as opposed to an advocacy piece:

Sosa posted impressive numbers in his 18 seasons in the Major Leagues. He’s one of two NL players to reach 160 RBIs in a single season, which he did in 2001. The other was another Cubs player, Hack Wilson, who holds the single-season mark of 191 set in 1930.

Besides his 66 home runs in 1998, Sosa clubbed 64 in 2001, and 63 in 1999. Babe Ruth had one 60-homer season.

Sosa was a seven-time All-Star and six-time Silver Slugger winner. He won the Roberto Clemente Award in 1998 and the Hank Aaron Award in 1999. He hit more home runs (479) than anyone for any 10-year period. He’s the only player in NL history to have six consecutive seasons of 40 home runs. He is the Cubs’ all-time home run leader (545), passing Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo ….

Sosa always seemed to have a flair for the dramatic. In the Cubs’ first home game after the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, he ran out to right field for the first inning waving a small American flag. The fans in the bleachers, who worshiped Sosa, cheered. He wasn’t finished. Sosa belted a home run in the first, and as he rounded first base, he grabbed another American flag from coach Billy Williams and held it high as he ran the bases.

“I’m always happy that I could come to this country and get the opportunity to be who I am,” Sosa told MLB.com in 2011. “I always appreciate what America did for my family. I never forget who took care of me in the tough moments I went through in my career.

“This is the land of dreams. The hope and accomplishments you can make here is incredible. America will always for me be No. 1.”

The whole piece isn’t quite as flowery, but sometimes it’s nice to remember the good things.

Paul Sullivan notes just how difficult Sammy’s road will be, primarily because of the steroid issue:

Sosa struck out with all seven of the Tribune’s Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters when his name was included Wednesday among first-timers eligible for induction in 2013, and most suggested he never will get their approval ….

I have spoken with too many former Cubs players and employees over the years to believe Sosa’s home run spree from 1998-2004 simply was the combination of natural talent and diligence in the weight room, though few players worked harder than Sosa.

No one would say it on the record, but they knew then, and know now, that Sosa was an artificially created sensation.

Jon Greenberg says Sosa belongs in the Hall, but maybe not precisely (or solely) for his numbers:

I don’t have a vote, but I hope all three [of Sosa, Bonds, and Clemens] get in and make for the most awkward induction ceremony of all time. If the writers really want to recognize the roguish behavior of that decade or so of bad behavior, they should do it by electing the three-man rogues gallery to baseball’s museum.

I have no problem with writers using their ballots as judgments on a baseball player’s honor and value. The term “Hall of Famer” should mean something beyond accumulated stats, but if writers are supposed to compare eligible players to their peers in their era, how do you leave these three off? Bonds was the best hitter of his generation and has the home run record. Clemens was the power pitcher of the radar gun era, and Sosa was the embodiment of the home run.

And if writers want to make a stand about the shameful way the powers that be let this behavior propagate, they should avoid the temptation to punish with a first-ballot snub and instead make this “The Steroid Ballot.”

I want to see Bonds, Sosa and Clemens make these speeches. I want to cringe at the old guys in blazers sitting behind them. I want to hear Sosa ramble, speaking the English he claimed was impossible at that Senate hearing ….

During the height of Sosa’s muscle-bound career, there was no testing, but there was a tacit approval from baseball to turn the sport into a power game by any means necessary. Home runs equaled fans, and who doesn’t want fans? Baseball was eventually shamed into change, and while I’d say the sport is better for it, that doesn’t mean you have to erase the past or wallow in shame for watching it happen.

Greenberg has a point, at which he winks throughout the article: steroids were not the only reason for the outbreak of crazy numbers, nor were they the only reason that was ignored by fans, media, and MLB as the sport regained popularity following the 1994-95 strike. We wanted the numbers. We wanted to watch what these players were doing. And then, at some point, we wanted a clean game again. Who deserves the blame?

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

95 responses to “The Sammy Sosa Hall of Fame Debate Begins”

  1. Jarrod Campbell

    I cried when he got traded (I was 11), I wore my Sosa jersey when he hit his 600th HR against Jason Marquis (who not-so-coincidentally also wore #21) of the Cubs, and I still dont want him in. I have too much respect for the game of baseball. Sammy did not. He cheated the game. He thought he was bigger than the game. My high school coach always told us the game was bigger than any of us. The game of baseball is far greater than any player who has ever played it. And if you don’t understand that, you don’t belong in the Hall Of Fame.

    1. Dan

      Well Said.

  2. Jeff

    The morality clause in the HOF voting does not have to do with a player is an upstanding citizen or a good guy. If it did, then Micky Mantle, Ty Cobb, and probably many others would not be enshrined. The morality clause questions whether a player/coach/manager violates the integrity of the game. As a result, those who gamble on baseball while part of it, are rightly banned from baseball. To alter the way one plays or manages a game in certain ways (i.e. throwing a game or running up the score) because they have placed a bet on the game undoubtedly violates the integral fairness of the game.
    To me the question of steroids is whether the use of them violates the integrity of the game. It seems that answer is yes. If steroids give a player an artificial advantage over other players then the integral fairness of the game is lost. If a player chose to take steroids, then yes they were choosing to cheat the game. So yes they have not upheld the integrity of the game.
    So, if I had a vote, I would have difficulty voting any of them to be enshrined into the hall. To make a case for any of them I think you must make the case that they are “innocent until proven guilty.” Looking at Sosa specifically, that case is better than the other two. Accusations about him and steroids are circumstantial. There are no trainers and ex wives with needles accusing him. There is not Balco investigation indicting him. There is simply a “leak” from a report that was supposed to be sealed and the strange hearing before congress. That said, I find it highly unlikely that he was not involved in steroids and I question his integrity.
    As far as the argument we all rooted for them, I’m not sure that holds water. I had a blast in those years watching the homeruns. And yes, there were the whispers but we were all holding out hope that some of it was ligit. But when the Balco hearings all but convicted Bonds, and then McGwire admitted to using, and ARod admitted, I felt betrayed. Their homeruns were not legitimate. They cheated. And they took me along with them in their deception. A student who cheats on a test fails. These men cheated. They were not able to be failed at the time. But when it comes to the HOF, they should fail.

    1. DocPeterWimsey

      As a side note, the “character” clause evidently was not inserted until the 1940′s. Therefore, one could argue that they might have excluded Cobb then had they the vote to do over again. It is not entirely absurd: for a brief while, people (especially in the north) began to reassess racism after the war with Hitler, and the line was written right as the war ended (’44 or ’46).

      That said, I think that it is mostly absurd: unless he had been an outspoken Nazi sympathizer, Cobb would have gotten elected in 1946 despite all of his other character flaws.

      And, as you note, guys like Mantle got in without any question.

  3. CoachStone

    There have been different issues/problems through various decades of baseball but for some reason this one makes the voters crazy. Should Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth & Lou Gehrig be out of the hall because they didn’t play against people of color?? Maybe Cobb should be out because he was a racist jerk. Should Mickey Mantle be out because he was a drunk womanizer?? Should all of the players from the 70′s & 80′s be out because of greenies?? You vote players in on how they stack up against the other players of their era…..on that Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, Palmerio, McGwire, Piazza….all belong in. You can’t put players in for 80 years….some very questionable ethically and morally …. and then decide now that the rules change because the writers are all mad because just like the fans they were all fooled by the players and the league that let it happen. Put them in.

  4. Frank

    Much of the folklore surrounding Ty Cobb was just that. Was he a racist? Yes. He. Was also a product of turn of the century Georgia. If you’re looking for an even bigger bigot than Ty Cobb, look not further than Cub’s history and you’ll find the legendary Cap Anson. When you carry the unnofficial tag of “The Father of Segrated Baseball,” you’re more than the average racist.

    Was Ty Cobb disliked by his peers: many of them yes. By others he was well respected. The reason he was disliked wasnt due to racism. It was for lack of a better term douche-baggery. He had a habit of calling out other players for not playing hard enough and was never shy about how good he was.

    He was very hard on the generation of players after his days for the same things.

    And yes, few players showed up for his funeral. News flash: he was around 80 when he died. He was buried in Georgia. His surviving peers were of similar ages at the time. Air travel wasn’t as common as it is today, and late 70s-early 80s was considered a lot older without today’s healthcare. It wasn’t exactly easy for them to make it there.

    Before I finish my rant, I love how in the factually challenged Field of Dreams, Shoeless Joe says that Ty Cobb tried to join them, but they chased him off. In reality, Cobb was one of the very few players who would even associate with the Black Sox players following their scandal.

  5. myporsche

    Chief keef calls himself sosa. Sammy should be in the hall of fame for that powerful influence alone!

  6. George Altman

    I saw Sammy Sosa up close and personal for 7 Spring Trainings (1997-2003) plus when the Cubs played at then Bank One Ballpark. I saw him at Wrigley in 1993, and it was no comparrison. If it looks, walks, and quacks like a duck – it’s a duck. There’s 7 Chicago sportswriters who will never vote him to the HOF for the same exact reasons. Then there’s the 2003 test results with his name on it.

    It kills me because my then 7 year old wore a Sosa jersey every day of the week and Sammy gave him his autograph, twice. If you ever stood waiting for a Sosa autograph at Ho-Ho-Kam, you know what a feat that was.

    It’s not germane to the argument, but for his Cubs career during that time there were 24 Cubs in the clubhouse and Sammy. He didn’t even park in the players lot, he had his own driver who came to the first base line side door. He was all about Sammy and was only nice when the cameras were rolling or press was around.

  7. fester30

    I think if you are going to make steroids any kind of factor, you have to do your best to determine whether steroids were a primary reason for what made them otherwise hall-of-fame worthy. In this case, Barry Bonds definitely gets in, because he was a HOF caliber player before he allegedly started taking the roids. Sammy Sosa was not. Mark McGwire would be a tough sell as well, considering he always looked huge, and considering the connections with Canseco way back in Oakland. I remember Palmeiro being a good hitter, but not so much of a power hitter when he started in the late 80s. Would he have been that good? Clemens I think certainly was on the HOF path before he allegedly started in ’98. So Clemens and Bonds yes, McGwire maybe, Sosa and Palmeiro no.

  8. Troy

    I respect everyones point of view and understand the arguement from both sides of the issue. Because it will be impossible to ever know for sure what players were involved in PED’s, there is no way we can pick and choose what players we allow in. It would then turn into a popularity contest, voting in only the good guys who were not under suspicion. it’s very important to handle this generation of ball players with emphasis on performance and not on drugs that were not banned or scrutinized at the time. You almost have to allow Sammy in because he was simply one of the best players in his era. Most of these players are paying the price for what they did. The real question I have… was it worth it? Taking ten or 15 years off of your life seems to be a huge price to pay.