Sosa got 8.5 percent of the vote last year and there’s no way that’s ratcheting up to 75 in his final three tries on the ballot.
On Tuesday, the BBWAA results for Hall of Fame voting will be revealed. Derek Jeter will be enshrined and he might be alone. It’s possible Larry Walker and even Curt Schilling join the class, but that’ll be where it stops. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were just shy of 60 percent of the vote last year and the expectation is they’ll be in similar territory this year.
There can also be peak candidates, though. Sandy Koufax is well behind the standard for starting pitchers in WAR, for example, but his peak was so insane that he’s an obvious Hall of Famer. Sosa isn’t Koufax; I’m simply pointing out there can be peak candidates, too. It’s not all about longevity. Using Sosa’s seven-year peak, he rates 12th among right fielders and above average.
The bare bones case
Of course, we’ve learned a lot since then. —
In fact, just a few years after a strike led to commissioner Bud Selig cancelling the World Series, one could argue that home run chase helped bring baseball back toward the forefront of American sports.
“Unfair” might be a wrong choice of words if Sosa really did take his game to the next level with the aid of performance-enhancers and he has been reluctant to broach the subject (in Carig’s story it mentions that Sosa doesn’t want to discuss that subject, which doesn’t seem like a great look for someone wanting into the Hall of Fame), but there still seems to be a bit of a disconnect.
For his career, Sosa ended with 609 homers, which has him ninth on the all-time list on the best possible thing a hitter can do. That alone should merit strong consideration. What about Sosa’s impact on the Dominican Republic? This is a very interesting consideration from a native Dominican:
Additionally, he won an MVP and six Silver Sluggers.
Sosa had 2,408 hits (124th all time), 1,475 runs (78th), 1,667 RBI (31st), 1,033 extra-base hits (32nd) and 4,704 total bases (40th).
Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, which evaluates the worthiness of Hall of Fame candidates using their career WAR and their peak-seasons WAR, has Sosa 18th among right fielders for his career, which is below the average Hall of Fame right fielder, but above Dave Winfield, Vladimir Guerrero, Enos Slaughter, Willie Keeler and several other Hall of Famers. He’s worse in WAR, ranking 22nd, though still ahead of some Hall of Fame right fielders.
Schilling, Bonds and Clemens are in their eighth year on the ballot. They aren’t far off getting to the 75 percent threshold needed to make the Hall. Another eighth-year guy is far, far short and won’t be getting in via the BBWAA. That would be Sammy Sosa. As with every Hall of Fame case, I think the full picture is needed and these pieces of the puzzle seem pretty important to me. We should consider the WAR and the PED question and the home runs and all that. This cultural stuff seems like a part worthy of serious consideration as well.
‘Fame’ and impact?
For many, Sosa is an easy no. For me, he’s one of the more intriguing cases on the ballot.
I also think some of the people voting for Bonds and Clemens but not Sosa are telling themselves that the former two were already Hall of Fame players without the “help” while Sosa was a PED creation Hall of Famer and otherwise was simply a good player.
Something I can’t shake on Sosa is that this is the Hall of Fame and not the Hall of WAR. Remember what a big deal Sammy Freaking Sosa was from 1998-2004? He was an international megastar (just take The Pepsi Challenge!). Mark McGwire’s chase of Roger Maris’ single-season home run record in 1998 seemed to be wearing on him until Sosa came along and made it fun. The McGwire record-breaking moment with Sosa coming in from right field to hug him was, at the time, an incredible feel-good moment for baseball. “What hurts me the most is that I see other people, they don’t have the numbers that I have,” Sosa said, winding up to make a point about the summer of ’98. “And the great things that Mark and I did in baseball, to bring back baseball when it was down …”
Of course, there are Sosa’s alleged ties to PEDs. That’s enough for some voters. Sosa also was caught using a corked bat and his excuse (he uses it to put on a show in batting practice, as if he couldn’t do that without cork) was particularly lame. Some connect the dots here. If he was willing to cheat with a corked bat, of course he’d be OK with using PEDs, the line of thinking goes.
Recently, Sosa called Marc Carig of The Athletic — a Sosa Hall of Fame voter — to share some of his thoughts on the voting and he seems to think he’s been unfairly maligned in the voting process. The full story is excellent and anyone interested should read it. Some snippets to whet the palate:
Though many now consider him a one-dimensional player, Sosa stole at least 30 bases in three different seasons and racked up double digits in steals nine times. He ended up with 234 steals. He also had a very strong arm in right field for the first half of his career, going for double digits in outfield assists six times. In the mid-’90s, he actually scored relatively well in range measurements, too, helping him to 7.7 defensive WAR from 1993-97 (1.5 per season). He was never an exceptional defender, but he was above average for a bit with a huge arm.
“We brought the game back,” Sosa said, a reference to McGwire, before shifting the focus onto himself. “What hurts me the most is that I see a lot of players that don’t have the numbers that I have and they have more points than me and I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness.'”
Where things kick into overdrive would be one of the greatest prime power stretches we’ve ever seen. From 1998-2002, Sosa hit .306/.397/.649 (167 OPS+) with an average of 58 homers and 141 RBI per season. He topped 60 homers three times, the most ever.
- MLB didn’t punish players for using PEDs at the time.
- We don’t know how many pitchers Sosa faced who were also using something.
There’s plenty of blank ink here, too. Sosa led his league in runs three times, homers twice, RBI twice and total bases three times.
Further, go back to what I said above about Bonds and Clemens being Hall of Famers before they were believed to start using PEDs and the long-held suspicion that Sosa just magically started using PEDs and became awesome. The article linked above points out changes in Sosa’s approach at the plate before he exploded. Also, can I point out a few things?
Sosa was a career .273/.344/.534 hitter, good for a 128 OPS+, so throughout his career he was 28 percent better than the average hitter at getting on base and hitting for power. It’s SLG-heavy, of course, with him ranking 34th in MLB history in slugging percentage.
In all, this discussion seems mostly moot. Sosa isn’t getting into the Hall of Fame and those who don’t want him there can rest easy. But that doesn’t mean he’s not getting nearly as strong a look as he should. The impact he had on baseball and his country alone merit a strong look and the peak numbers are most certainly there. Can you imagine watching Sosa after his third 60-plus-homer season in 2001 and thinking he wasn’t headed to Cooperstown?