Sammy Sosa’s career was a rollercoaster. At the end of his run, a scandal that eventually defined an entire generation would plague his legacy. From 1998-2002, Sosa was as exciting a must-see baseball player there was in the league. As we march towards the 2021 Baseball Hall of Fame announcement, the former Rangers, White Sox, Cubs, and Orioles outfielder will yet again be eligible for induction.
Sosa’s career in the majors began with Texas in 1989, after being signed by the team as an international free agent four years prior. A one-for-24 cold streak in the early goings of July sparked a trade that would send him to the White Sox that very month. On the South Side of Chicago, the outfielder struggled in two full seasons of play, hitting .233 and .203, respectively. From there, Sosa was traded to the rival Cubs for a 32-year-old George Bell.
Sosa was an everyday player for the Cubs beginning in 1993 after an injury-riddled ‘92 campaign. He blossomed into a slugger and solidified himself as a core piece of the team moving forward, batting .261 while launching 33 homers and driving in 93 runs. Additionally, Sosa stole 36 bases that season, a staggering amount for a player with his on-field stature. The native of San Pedro De Macoris, Dominican Republic appeared in his first All-Star game in 1995, enjoying a year that saw him drive in 119 runs.
When you think of Sosa and his generational peers, you think of 1998. It was a year that captured the imaginations of Americans. Sosa versus Mark McGwire — the home run race of a lifetime. By mid-summer in 1998, the Cubs slugger was a household name, and in addition to hitting 66 home runs and driving in 158, he was named National League Most Valuable Player. Sosa played another six years on the North Side before being traded to Baltimore in the winter of 2005. His career would only last another two seasons from there, finishing where it began with the Rangers in 2007.
Hall of Fame reception not been kind thus far to “Slammin’ Sammy”, especially when factoring in how his voting percentage compares to other PED- (Performance Enhancing Drugs) linked contemporaries (more on that later). The slugger received 13.9 percent of the vote in 2020, a slight increase from his 2019 performance (8.5 percent). Sosa will need at least 75 percent in either 2021 or 2022, or his name will be removed from the ballot.
If a Hall of Fame voter makes decisions in favor of players who best represented their respective era, Sosa fits the bill. If his involvement in the memorable yet infamous home run chase wasn’t enough, he also enjoyed a career year in 2001. The outfielder batted .328, while hitting 64 home runs and driving in 160 runs that season.
He is the only player in major league history to hit 60 home runs three times (1998, 1999, 2001), and is one of just nine players to join the 600-career home run club. Even though Sosa’s massive offensive numbers lasted a select number of years, his power statistics rank amongst the top of the pack when looking at the five-year span that was 1998-2002.
There is no mincing words. In early 2005, Sosa was among seven players rumored to use PEDs. As a result, he testified in front of Congress shortly after denying the reports.
Other than that particularly glaring con, the argument can be made that Sosa was a one-way player. Despite showing flashes of speed and steadiness in the outfield early in his career, his defensive prowess declined sharply by the time his prime years arrived. It does not help his case that he struck out at an incredibly high rate while playing in an era when striking out meant twice as much as it does today.
If one took the first five years of Sosa’s career and asked whether he would be a Hall of Famer, that person would respond with an emphatic “no”. In other words, credit to Sosa for breaking out in a big way in 1995 and defining himself as someone to remember years later. Unfortunately for him, Sosa has fallen short of even reaching a voting mark that would make a possible induction compelling to follow. At this point, even newcomers on the ballot have overtaken him. It’s a no.