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Steroids or no, Sammy Sosa doesn’t belong in Hall of Fame

Dec 2, 2012, 1:14 AM EDT

Sammy Sosa Getty Images

If I had a Hall of Fame ballot — and don’t worry, I do not — I’d put down nine names on it this year: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling and Alan Trammell.

Yes, there are some cheaters on that list: three definites and at least a couple of maybes. I am willing to penalize for steroids. But I can’t see leaving Bonds, Clemens and McGwire out of the Hall. For better and for worse, they’re part of the history of the game.

Rafael Palmeiro, on the other hand, is close enough to the borderline that I don’t mind leaving him off the list. His career numbers are deserving, but he was never a dominant force. His highest MVP finish was fifth place. Baseball-reference WAR puts him among his league’s top 10 players once (8th place in 1993).

And then there’s Sammy Sosa. He’s not in the same boat as Palmeiro because he was a true superstar. From 1998-2002, Sosa hit .306/.397/.649 with 292 homers. That’s 292 homers in five years! He led the NL in homers in 2000 and ’02 and RBI in 1998 and 2001. He had 63 homers and 141 RBI in 1999 and didn’t lead the league in either category.

But that five-year run supplies the vast majority of Sosa’s case. The problem with Sosa is that he just wasn’t that valuable over the course of the rest of his six 30-homer seasons. He started out as a fine defensive outfielder, but he lost most of his value there by the time he became a great hitter. His initial 30-homer campaigns came with lousy OBPs and few doubles. His later ones came with average OBPs and poor defense.

Look at where Sosa ranks on the career lists:

K’s: 3rd
HR: 8th
RBI: 27th
SLG: 44th
Outs: 62nd
Runs: 75th
OPS: 100th
Hits: 116th
BB: 155th
OPS+: 190th
2B: 217th
OBP: 699th

Compare that with McGwire. He’s two spots below Sosa on the home run list and just 68th in RBI, but he’s eighth in slugging, 10th in OPS and 13th in OPS+. McGwire was one of the greatest hitters of all-time. Sosa certainly had a great run, but he was also a product of his time. If he came up in 1979 or 1999, rather than 1989, his numbers wouldn’t be nearly as impressive.

Like most everyone else, I do believe Sosa was a cheater, even though there isn’t much besides one anonymous New York Times report to back that up. But the reason I don’t include him on my imaginary ballot is that I don’t believe he was good enough for long enough.

119 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. sabatimus - Dec 2, 2012 at 1:39 PM

    You’d vote in Barry Bonds, but not a guy who hit 609 home runs? Total joke.

    • paperlions - Dec 2, 2012 at 2:04 PM

      You mean….because not only did Bonds hit a LOT more HRs than Sosa….but he was also far better than Sosa in every other aspect of baseball? That’s why it’s a joke?

    • vader3234 - Dec 2, 2012 at 2:21 PM

      500 plus steals, 7 time Mvp five before steroid, all time leader in walks, all time leader in intentional walks, oh what the hell, here, from wiki pedia

      Records held

      Home runs in a single season (73), 2001
      Home runs (career) (762)
      Home runs against different pitchers (449)
      Home runs since turning 40 years old (74)
      Home runs in the year he turned 43 years old (28)
      Consecutive seasons with 30 or more home runs (13), 1992–2004
      Slugging percentage in a single season (.863), 2001
      Slugging percentage in a World Series (1.294), 2002
      Consecutive seasons with .600 slugging percentage or higher (8), 1998–2005
      On-base percentage in a single season (.609), 2004
      Walks in a single season (232), 2004
      Intentional walks in a single season (120), 2004
      Consecutive games with a walk (18)
      MVP awards (7—closest competitors trail with 3), 1990, 1992–93, 2001–04
      Consecutive MVP awards (4), 2001–04
      National League Player of the Month selections (13—2nd place: 8 – Frank Thomas; 2nd place (N.L.) – George Foster, Pete Rose and Dale Murphy)
      Oldest player (age 38) to win the National League batting title (.370) for the first time, 2002

      Sammy Sosa?

  2. legacybroken - Dec 2, 2012 at 2:30 PM

    People forget how great an all around player he was in his prime. He hit for average, got on base at an amazing pace and stole alot of bases when he got on. Add in his stellar defense and thats some pretty strong Hall of Fame credidentials and thats before even mentioning power in which even without the steroids would have likely topped out at between 400 and 500 career longballs.

  3. phillyphannn83 - Dec 2, 2012 at 3:34 PM

    If these cheaters belong in the hall(which I vehemently oppose) then Pete Rose deserves to be there too. I think Rose should be there regardless of the steroid players anyway. He bet on games he couldn’t control, the same thing the rest of us do. He didn’t bet on games he played in or managed so there wasn’t any chance of him effecting the outcome. What the steroid players did was actively cheating, far far worse in my book. As for shoeless Joe, well my argument for Rose is my argument against Joe Jackson. He threw games he played in, which in my opinion, is the worst thing you can do in sports. If you ask me, I’d only put in Pete Rose…not Shoeless Joe or the rest of his teammates, not McGuire, not Sosa, definately not Bonds, not Palmiero, not Clemens, but probably Piazza only because he’s never been really formally accused although just about everyone and their mother suspects he was on something too(I’ve met the guy, he doesn’t have the build of a juicer).

    Its all moot anyway, just look at the vote totals for McGuire for the last 5 years and you’ll know the juicers are never getting in. Thankfullly, the writers who actually have votes have more respect for baseball than Matt(well, at least 80% and climbing do).

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Dec 2, 2012 at 4:06 PM

      He didn’t bet on games he played in or managed so there wasn’t any chance of him effecting the outcome.

      Pete Rose has a gambling problem. There’s exactly zero chance he didn’t bet on games he was managing, nor bet against them. What in his record makes him trustworthy about this part of his gambling issue and MLB?

      • sabatimus - Dec 2, 2012 at 10:34 PM

        Exactly. In fact I thought that he absolutely DID bet on games that he managed/played.

      • raysfan1 - Dec 2, 2012 at 11:53 PM

        He did. The current saw is that he never bet against the Reds. However, that is still a problem because it creates a perception of possibly not trying as hard in games in which he did not bet, or sending a silent signal to his bookie about where to set the betting line for other people, or setting himself up to be extorted into using his influence to try to either throw games or shave runs.

  4. 1908wasnextyear - Dec 2, 2012 at 4:10 PM

    Rarely is there a truly poor argument posted by one of the HBT writers, but Matthew, I think McGwire-but-not-Sosa qualifies. I wouldn’t spend too much time arguing that *either* of them belongs in the Hall, but if you put McGwire in, you put Sosa in.
    If “value over a long period of time” as opposed to a peak is your case, then McGwire is not your man, and Sosa is every bit as deserving. McGwire’s career was every bit as “peak”-dependent and as and home-run-dependent as Sosa’s. The only case either of them has for the hall is their stretch of 60-homer seasons and the madness of 1998. Also–if you’re attempting to make a cumulative/career argument, it’s worth noting that Sosa played two more years and about 500 more games than McGwire, so using ratio-based stats to prove McGwire’s superiority doesn’t cut it. Finally, to the extent that either of them had value outside of their career long-ball totals (which is the primary point of your argument), Sammy stole bases and played good defense in the early part of his career.
    Using McGwire to prove “value outside of peak” is non-sensical.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Dec 2, 2012 at 4:33 PM

      OPS certainly overrates McGwire, since his walks weren’t all that valuable, but there’s a big difference between the 13th best OPS+ of all-time and the 190th best.

      McGwire led his leagues in OBP twice, slugging four times and OPS twice. He was also second in OPS twice.

      Sosa finished in the top 10 in his league OBP once (2nd in 1991). His high finish in slugging was a couple of 2nds. He had one top-three finish in OPS (2nd in 2001).

      Also, McGwire did this while almost exclusively playing in tougher hitter’s parks than Sosa.

      Sosa definitely has big edges when it comes to durability, fielding (though I think b-ref WAR is a bit too harsh on McGwire’s glove) and baserunning), but I don’t see it making up for McGwire’s vastly superior offense.

      • paperlions - Dec 2, 2012 at 4:52 PM

        Except that OPS and OPS+ both under-value OBP….McGwires walks were MORE valuable than OPS or OPS+ consider them to be.

      • Matthew Pouliot - Dec 2, 2012 at 6:01 PM

        Yes, OPS and OPS+ due undervalue OBP. Even leaving aside the arguable point of how valuable McGwire’s walks were, though, McGwire’s OPS is still very slugging heavy: he’s 81st all-time in OBP and 8th in SLG.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Dec 2, 2012 at 5:28 PM

        Yeah I don’t understand this comment:

        OPS certainly overrates McGwire, since his walks weren’t all that valuable,

        Am I reading this wrong, or are you really saying that walks aren’t important?

      • Matthew Pouliot - Dec 2, 2012 at 6:05 PM

        I’m saying McGwire’s walks weren’t as valuable as the average walk. For one thing, 150 of them were intentional. Plus, he was such a slow runner and he was hitting in the middle of the order, so only a small percentage of his walks led to rune (I’m pretty sure I saw the data on just how many once, but damn if I know where to find it now).

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Dec 2, 2012 at 7:18 PM

        For one thing, 150 of them were intentional.

        Yes, and 49/150 happened in back to back season, so spread the rest of the 101 out over the other 13 years and that’s just under 8 a season.

        so only a small percentage of his walks led to rune[sic]

        So that’s McGwire’s fault? This is one step above “clogging up the bases” in ridiculous commentary.

        Let’s compare two players, one a HoF and the other is McGwire.

        A – .263/.394/.588 – 163 OPS+, 583 HR, 1317 Walks (150 IBB), 1596 Ks
        B – .262/.356/.490 – 139 OPS+, 563 HR, 1375 Walks (164 IBB), 2597 Ks

        Neither player was known for their defensive prowess. A = McGwire, B = Reggie. McGwire had more power, a better bb/k ratio, and a better OBP*. If you are going to leave McGwire out for PEDs, fine, but there’s no way you can justify voting for Reggie based on what they did on the field and not vote for McGwire.

        *can we also stop quoting naked OBP when comparing two players. Player A with a .330 BA and a .375 OBP is not a better hitter than a guy with a .250 BA and .370 OBP.

      • 1908wasnextyear - Dec 3, 2012 at 12:02 PM

        @Matthew: Hmm. Maybe. Still though, I think the only reason either of them gets talked about for the hall at all is because they hit home runs–lots of them. Those OBP/OPS/SLG years you mention probably overlapped with each other and represent maybe a 2-4 year stretch in the late 90s (and perhaps also his rookie year). If it weren’t for 1998 and 1999 and his career homer totals, no one is talking about him for the hall. His career was too short and too peak-heavy. Similarly, no one is talking about Sosa if not for his three 60-homer seasons and 609 career. *That’s* what puts them in the conversation to start with–and on those grounds, it would be silly to put in McGwire and not Sosa.
        Also–“product of his time” describes McGwire every bit as well as Sosa.

  5. Matt S - Dec 2, 2012 at 8:14 PM

    Whenever anyone cries “cheaters!” I tune out immediately. What it comes down to is this: the anti-Bonds, Clemens, Sosa crowd would rather feel morally superior rather than make a persuasive argument.

    Baseball had an era in which steroids were (de facto) permitted. We’re now in an era in which they are not. Personally, I prefer the latter era, though I’m willing to listen to cur68 and others with medical expertise who claim this strict anti-steroids regime has perverse side effects. Much of my preference just comes to liking low-scoring games and pitching.

    The players have to be compared to their contemporaries, ultimately. We could sit here all day and argue about how well Babe Ruth would have played had baseball been racially integrated during his career, how ’60s players would have performed without amphetamines, and how Koufax would have pitched in a neutral stadium and a shorter mound, and many other counterfactuals. Baseball has a long history and the sport has evolved through many phases, each of which has its own context. There’s a reason that most baseball fans view George Foster’s 50 home run season in 1977 as being more impressive than Brady Anderson’s in 1996.

    Doing steroids isn’t a moral issue. Betting on events in which you play a part in the result is decidedly immoral, and for that reason Pete Rose was rightfully punished. But doing steroids? Come on. These players took a calculated risk to enhance their earning potential and increase their odds of winning a championship. It didn’t affect the integrity of the game. The Black Sox and Pete Rose did. Not these guys.

    So please, please spare us the “they’re cheaters. Period. Keep them out.” argument. Because it isn’t even an argument! It’s just a boring, idiotic, brain-dead statement made by people who want to feel better about themselves. Reasonable people can disagree. But making a blanket moral statement just isn’t reasonable.

    • plmathfoto - Dec 2, 2012 at 9:48 PM

      Ok, well written argument, but you yourself said that they took a calculated risk. What was the risk that you believe they took if you believe as you state that no punishment should be levied (ie not making the hall). Just curious.

      • Matt S - Dec 3, 2012 at 9:52 AM

        The principal risk is that the side-effects of steroid use may have negative long-term health consequences. In effect, a player who chooses to take steroids is gambling that the short-term gain in money, fame, and professional success will justify health risks, or widespread criticism and condemnation if the player is caught.

        Again, I just don’t see how it’s a moral issue. Those MLB players who chose not to take steroids when they could easily have aren’t morally superior; they just evaluated the cost/benefit differently.

  6. ashoreinhawaii - Dec 2, 2012 at 8:47 PM

    Curt Schilling?
    Must be one of those Bosox fans who think he should a Purple Heart for pitching with a bloody ankle.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Dec 2, 2012 at 8:55 PM

      Whats your argument against Schilling? While Maddux/Clemens/Johnson/Martinez should be locks in the next few years, the next tier down is Mussina/Schilling/Pettitte/Morris. Here’s how he stacks up against them:

      Schilling – 216-146, 3.46 ERA/127 ERA+, 3261 IP, 3116 K, 711 BB, 4.38 K/BB
      Pettitte – 245-142, 3.86 ERA/117 ERA+, 3130.2 IP, 2320 K, 983 BB, 2.36 K/BB
      Mussina – 270-153, 3.68 ERA/123 ERA+, 3562.2 IP, 2813 K, 785 BB, 3.58 K/BB
      Morris – 254-186, 3.90 ERA/105 ERA+, 3824 IP, 2478 K, 1390 BB, 1.78 K/BB

      Morris will probably be voted in this year or next, and he’s the worst of that entire group in both preventing runs and peripherals.

  7. ronaldjones - Dec 2, 2012 at 9:14 PM

    Matthew Pouliot: You, sir, are an idiot. This pathetic excuse for analysis finely illustrates why you don’t (and, thankfully, never will) have a Hall of Fame vote. In fact, I’d say you’re rather lucky to have any job as a baseball writer at all.

    • raysfan1 - Dec 3, 2012 at 12:02 AM

      I’m sure Matthew says “thank you.” With enemies like you, who simply spew insults rather than even attempting to make a cogent argument either one way or the other, I’m sure he will sleep well indeed.

  8. plmathfoto - Dec 2, 2012 at 9:51 PM

    I’m curious what the people who think that Bonds, Clemens, et al should be voted in think about guys like Tim Raines & Keith Hernandez who in my opinion have had their vote totals much less than they should be (I think they both should be in by the way) because of their cocaine use? Difference being that both Raines & Hernandez were penalized for it, whereas Bonds, Clemens, etc were not, obviously Bonds, Clemens et al throwing all the drug stuff out have gaudier numbers, but just curious about this.

    • raysfan1 - Dec 3, 2012 at 1:21 AM

      You only listed 2 cocaine users–I’d vote for Raines, would like to have seen more power from Hernandez but would have no problem with him being elected by the Vets Committee. One you didn’t mention that I would vote for: Dave Parker. Another who is already in: Fergie Jenkins.

      I think the character clause should be scrapped. If a player was good enough to be in the HoF, he should be. I also want the plaques to be honest and include the warts. I prefer accurate history to nostalgia.

      • Matt S - Dec 3, 2012 at 9:56 AM

        Agree re: the character clause. It’s too easily manipulated. Is becoming addicted to cocaine an example of poor character? I’d say it isn’t. Being a racist, like Ty Cobb, sure. But even then- I’d much prefer a HOF that simply recognized accomplishments on the field.

  9. nightrain42 - Dec 2, 2012 at 11:59 PM

    I agree.

  10. mqcarpenter - Dec 3, 2012 at 7:52 AM

    The baseball hall of fame is laughable. They put everyone in in the first place and now we are arguing about drug users based on estimation not fact. It’s a disgrace. And you are right. If any known users make it then Rose must be reconsidered. And if they later admit to using will they pull them out? Please this is a mess

  11. makeham98 - Dec 3, 2012 at 9:25 AM

    McGwire without roids = Steve Balboni. Are you going to campaign for him too?

  12. nastyn8770 - Dec 4, 2012 at 6:31 AM

    It’s because he’s white isn’t it? I knew it.

  13. materialman80 - Dec 5, 2012 at 3:03 PM

    Sosa or any of the other cheaters do not belong in the Hall of Fame. EVER.

    • AlohaMrHand - Dec 6, 2012 at 11:11 AM

      You’re right,Gaylord Perry should be removed pronto!!

  14. chuckleberry1974 - Dec 5, 2012 at 4:12 PM

    Mark flipping McGwire is one of the greatest hitters of all time? The man who some seasons had more homers than singles? Whatever, that’s fine to say that, I guess. But as an argument against Sammy Sosa is short-sighted. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Hall of Fame includes your career stats, right? :) Sammy belongs.

  15. wlouden77 - Dec 6, 2012 at 2:03 AM

    Fact is that the baseball Hall of Fame is (in part) about remembering the history of the game. Each era is different. I say put in the guys from the stroid era as well as Pete Rose. Also induct Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte and possibly Buck Weaver and Lefty Williams from the 1919 White Sox. Each of the aforementioned players did or were accused of doing things that helped tarnish the game While also helping the game in a way. If the Black Sox hadn’t thrown the series to gamblers (a common practice to throw games in that era), then gamblers may have run rampant in baseball and controlled it and Rose would not be out of baseball. The guys from the steroids era all cheated or were accused yet never proven. If they took drug tests they didn’t fail them (except Palmeiro). McGwire admitted to taking androstinedione BEFORE baseball had a policy banning it. Clemens is accused by the word of a disgraced ex trainer, etc.

    Also, when McGwire an Sosa were having their epic homerun battles, they were considered saviors of baseball in a way since the game was still reeling atendance wise from the strike a few years before.

    I say, put them in, but make a note of what they were caught or even accused of doing. That way, the players who helped shape the game, enhanced or not, can get recognition for their place in the history of the game.

  16. rayfeathers - Dec 7, 2012 at 2:09 PM

    you get caught cheating you don’ t get in. simple. and godalmighty was sosa an assclown.

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