Lately I’ve been hearing a crazy argument to keep Sammy Sosa out of the Hall of Fame–that his baseball numbers aren’t good enough anyway. Huh? His baseball numbers for the hall are pretty darned impressive. The “anyway” part of the discussion goes back to whether or not in the eye of the beholder Sosa was aided by performance-enhancing drugs.
Sosa is one of the big three on the ballot this year (including Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens) for possible inclusion in the Cooperstown class of 2013 that have people buzzing over Did he or didn’t he? Did he use performance-enhancing drugs after they were ruled illegal? Did he ever use performance-enhancing drugs? Do people care if he used performance-enhancing drugs?
On baseball grounds alone, there is no excluding Sammy. Sorry, if making it into the 500-home-run club meant you were a Hall of Famer, then making it into the 600 home-run club has to be a stone-cold lock. Among Sosa’s accomplishments are swatting 609 homers in 18 years of Major League play. Only eight players have hit at least 600 homers. Sosa is the only player in Major League history to belt more than 60 home runs in a season three times. He homered in 45 different ballparks, too.
Sosa hit 66, 64 and 63 homers in a season. It says something about the era that in none of those years did he lead the National League in home runs. However, he did accompish that feat twice while hitting 50 and 49 homers. Sosa also collected 1,667 career RBIs and twice led the National League in that category. Nine times he knocked in more than 100 runs. His high of 160 RBIs is the second biggest total in National League history. A seven-time All-Star, Sosa won the 1998 Most Valuable Player award and did it as a Chicago Cub, which almost seems impossible.
Sosa also had five seasons where he scored more than 100 runs, way more in some instances. His high was 146 runs scored in 2001.
One of Sosa’s distinctions is that he hails from San Pedro de Macoris, the average-sized community in the Dominican Republic that churns out Major League baseball players with startling regularity. When you fly into the Dominican and land at the airport in Santo Domingo your taxi or rental car heading downtown will turn right onto Sammy Sosa Highway. Sammy Sosa Highway is Route 66. The connection between the street number and Sosa’s biggest home-run total is not accidental.
For most of Sosa’s career he was wildly popular in Chicago. He and Mark McGwire engaged in a fan-pleasing home-run battle chasing Roger Maris‘ single-season home-run mark in 1998. The race and chase made baseball fans feel good again after labor strife. But retroactively people felt depressed because McGwire admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs.
Major League Baseball did not start its program of mandatory drug testing until 2004. That came a year after initial tests were given that offered protective anonymity to players. There were so many leaks in that dike that all of Holland would have been flooded because of a shortage of little Dutch boys with fingers to plug the holes. Still, it was agreed between the players union and management that if more than five percent of the tests came up positive then mandatory testing would start in 2004. The results showed that five-to-seven-percent of players were using performance-enhancing drugs.
Up until then baseball players could pretty much put anything they wanted into their bodies without breaking any of the sport’s rules. So 2004 was the first year players could be suspended or fined for testing positive for steroids. By then Sosa was 35, past his prime and closing out his career with the Cubs. Like many veterans refusing to believe their skills had eroded he hung around for another couple of seasons with the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers.
Many years after the 2003 tests there were media reports that Sosa had tested positive in the original screening program. However, Sosa has always denied that he took performance-enhancing drugs and said that he has never broken the law in the United States or the Dominican. He made that claim before Congress in 2005. No perjury charges have ever been mounted against him.
This entire Hall of Fame election–with ballots to be turned in by Dec. 31–has been dominated by the issue of drugs and Sosa is definitely caught up in it. Some voters believe their brethren are acting too high and mighty in publicizing nay votes against otherwise qualified players whose on-field showings have been among the best ever.
The vast majority of voters have kept their own counsel. Sosa’s numbers say he is a Hall of Famer. But 75 percent of the approximately 600 voters may not support him because to them Sosa’s reputation is clouded.