The Sammy Sosa Hall of Fame Debate Begins

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The Sammy Sosa Hall of Fame Debate Begins

Chicago Cubs

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 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?

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.