Baseball circles will never let the debate on the Steroid Era die down, especially as the marquee names linked to performance-enhancing drugs find themselves on the Hall of Fame ballot.
Every argument in the book has seen the light of day: everyone linked to it should be excluded from the hall; only those found guilty should stay out; everyone was doing it so let them in, etc. Former Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa is one of the players at the heart of the argument. He deserves better than the tarnishing of his legacy.
The Dominican Republican-born Sosa made his Major League Baseball debut as a twenty-year-old in 1989. Over the course of his 18-year career, he mashed 609 home runs and was selected to seven All-Star teams.
Sosa’s greatest achievement, however, will always be the magnificent home run race of 1998 in which he and Mark McGwire demolished Roger Maris’s seemingly unbreakable record of 61 home runs. Sosa finished the year with 66 homers (four behind McGwire’s 70) and the National League MVP award.
Sure, his career stats have plenty of gaps in comparison to other Hall of Famers – i.e., his career Wins Above Replacement of 58.4 is about 15 wins fewer than the average Hall of Fame right fielder due to poor baserunning and fielding.
However, for at least a five year stretch from 1998 to 2002, Sosa was one of the most important players in the game. His back-and-forth duel and congruent friendship with McGwire helped pull the MLB from the bitterness which followed its 1994 players’ strike, making the game exciting and newsworthy again.
Not only did Sosa club more than Maris’ 61 home runs three times during that stretch, but he also became a great ambassador for the game. In his first home game following the attacks on September 11, Sosa carried an American flag as he circled the bases on his first inning home run at America’s most famous ballpark.
His ambiguous statements about PED use and expected PED use will forever be a major demerit on his career. With positive-testing players receiving increased Hall of Fame votes, it’s time we let Slammin’ Sammy back into our hearts and into the Hall.