On Wednesday, the 2013 class of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame will be announced. It is easily the most controversial ballot in history, with names like Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Mike Piazza headlining the list. Another name among them: Sammy Sosa.
609 Home Runs, good enough for 8th most all-time. The only player to hit 60 home runs in a single season three separate times. From 1995-2004, averaged 48 home runs and 123 runs batted in per year with a .286 batting average. Over 2400 hits, 1600 runs batted in and 900 walks over 18 major league seasons.
The numbers are there.
Seven All-Star appearances, six Silver Slugger Awards, and the 1998 National League MVP.
The accolades are there.
In another reality, Sammy Sosa is a shoe-in for Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, we live in a world filled with suspicion. A world where nearly two decades of a sport will be forever clouded by controversy. A world where the elite are now assumed guilty until proven innocent.
The days of examining players’ career statistics in order to determine their Hall of Fame worthiness are over. Suddenly, a player must be clear of any suspicion of performance enhancing drug usage. There are a few ironies in this situation around which I just cannot wrap my head.
First, who are the voters to assume that they are guardians of a righteous group of legendary ballplayers? The voters may have been given the privilege to determine who is elected; however, the current body of Hall of Famers is far from righteous. It includes known racists, drug users, and those who played in a completely Caucasian league.
Second, performance enhancing drugs are no revolutionary trend. Players dating back to the 1800’s have admitted to using a wide array of substances in an attempt to improve their game, including monkey testosterone and amphetamines. While modern science and technology may have created a more effective, regimented system of drug usage, it is only part of a tradition that has existed within the sport for over 100 years. The kicker is this sort of drug use was not explicitly illegal in the major leagues until 2006, on the tail end of many accused players’ careers.
Third, who can be absolutely sure of who is clean and who is a “cheater”? Let me lay out some numbers and awards for three MLB players from their 1996 through 2000 seasons.
Player A: 277 HR, 603 RBI, 588 BB, .291 BA, 1.151 OPS, 5 All-Star appearances, 2 Silver Sluggers
Player B: 249 HR, 685 RBI, 415 BB, .290 BA, .986 OPS, 5 All-Star appearances, 4 Silver Sluggers, 4 Gold Gloves, 1 MVP
Player C: 255 HR, 656 RBI, 321 BB, .288 BA, .949 OPS, 3 All-Star appearances, 3 Silver Sluggers, 1 MVP
Clearly, all three players were offensive juggernauts during the height of the steroids era, and their numbers are stunningly similar. General perception is that all must have been juicing at this point in their careers. However, one will likely still see the inside of the Hall. Player A is Mark McGwire, Player B is Ken Griffey Jr. and Player C is Sammy Sosa.
This sample set represents a diverse group: one admitted PED user, one accused user, and one who has never received so much as a word of accusation. While McGwire admitted to his actions, Sosa famously testified to Congress that “I have never taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs. I have never injected myself or had anyone inject me with anything.” Griffey has never been the subject of any serious suspicion. How can we be so sure that Sosa did take illegal drugs or that Griffey did not?
The only shred of “evidence” against Sosa is a mysterious list of names of people who allegedly tested positive for performance enhancing drugs during a random, anonymous test in 2003. Sosa’s name was leaked and published in a New York Times article in 2009, and Alex Rodriguez’s name was also leaked to Sports Illustrated from the same list. Rodriguez has since publically admitted his usage. Sosa, however, continues to be quoted as saying he will “calmly wait” for his induction into the Hall.
His corked-bat incident and ugly removal from the Cubs franchise should essentially be speed bumps on his way into Cooperstown. The real roadblock is the mysterious list, and, ironically, the historic numbers he has that increase suspicion against him. In the end, it’s up to the stubborn, traditionalist voters.
Do I think Sammy deserves to be voted in? Yes. Do I think he will be giving his induction speech this summer? Unfortunately, no. He will have to calmly wait.