When fans think of the Cubs today, they may think of the recent World Series run, Wrigley Field or Ernie Banks. Just over a decade ago, however, someone else would have come to mind.
That man is Sammy Sosa. Sosa, who hit 545 home runs and drove in 1,141 runs during his time with the Cubs, looked like a surefire Hall of Famer during his run as one of the best power hitters in the game. His name was commonly associated with the best hitters of the era, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Juan Gonzalez. That may be his biggest issue.
The Numbers Are There
Sammy Sosa, today, is not recognized in the capacity he once was. He is a long forgotten star in an era that many view as a black eye for baseball. During a five year period from 1998-2002, the heart of the steroid era, Sosa hit 292 home runs and drove in 705 runs. Those video game-like numbers are career numbers for a steady major leaguer, but they were just a small five year stretch for Sosa. For a player to put up those numbers in such a short time and be forgotten is unheard of. But, is it reasonable?
Yes, Sosa has Hall of Fame numbers. His 609 home runs are 8th all time. His 1,667 runs batted in are 29th all time. He is the only player who has hit 60 or more home runs in three different seasons. However, his highest Hall of Fame percentage of votes received is a mere 12.6%. Sosa has been vocal about not being in the Hall of Fame. He doesn’t understand how he is not in. While he doesn’t comprehend why he isn’t enshrined, there are skeptics that do. They will all give you the same three word answer: performance enhancing drugs.
The PED Allegations Linger
Sosa has denied performance enhancing drug use time and time again, but the facts are hard to ignore. Before 1998, Sosa was a stolen base threat who could steal 30 bases in a season. His career-high in home runs was 40. There is no doubt he was a threat at the plate who could be good for 30 home runs, driving in 100 runs and stealing 20 plus bases. That is quite the resume.
From 1998 and beyond, Sosa would play nine more seasons. He would surpass that 40 home run career-high five times and tie it once. Six of his seven All Star appearances came during this time, also. While there is no proof of wrongdoing based on those numbers, there are a few other points of note.
While steroids have been banned from Major League Baseball since 1991, testing was not implemented league wide until 2003. What were Sosa’s stats after 2003? In the three seasons Sosa played after 2003, he hit 70 home runs, 217 runs batted in and a .243 average. While he may not have tested positive for PEDs, Sosa’s production decreased significantly after testing was implemented. He also had a hard time staying healthy, missing an average of 48 games his last three seasons, a sign consistent with PED use. It doesn’t help that he went from 165 pounds to 225 in a very small amount of time.
While PED allegations may not be completely fact, they are hard to ignore. Especially with a player who had such a high spike in production like Sosa. While the allegations may be the biggest reason why people are forgetting about Sosa, there are other reasons as well.
Lack Of Support
When it comes to players being remembered, the easiest way to stay in the minds of fans is enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. While some alleged steroid users have gotten relevant vote numbers and even gotten into Cooperstown, Sosa has not been so lucky. Since debuting on the ballot with 12.6% of the vote, he has yet to even hit double digits since. He has been as low as 6.6%, and only received 8.6% this past year. Keep in mind, the 2017 voting was more lenient toward alleged users.
That may be because of the notion that Sosa would not be a Hall of Famer without PEDs. In the 13 seasons that didn’t include 1998-2002 in his career, Sosa only averaged 24.4 home runs per season. If that is multiplied by the number of seasons he played in the big leagues, Sosa hits 439 home runs. His runs batted in on average during those 13 other seasons was 74. That would give him 1,332 career runs batted in. While those numbers are indicative of a very good MLB career, they are not incredible numbers worthy of a no doubt Hall of Fame career. It is fair to say that PED suspicions are not far-fetched, and if true, could be seen as the reason he was successful in Major League Baseball.
The (Small) Case For Sammy Sosa
Allegations aside, we cannot forget the impact Sosa had on the game. While many have forgotten Sosa, his 1998 season is one of the biggest turning points in baseball history. During the 1998 season, Sosa and Mark McGwire revived baseball through an unprecedented home run race to break Roger Maris’ long standing single-season home run record set in 1961. They both ended up passing the magic number of 61 home runs (McGwire with 70 and Sosa with 66). No matter the PED suspicions, there is little doubt about how much the 1998 season impacted the revival of Major League Baseball after the strike in 1994.
Sosa also kept pace with the current single season home run champion, Barry Bonds, in 2001. While Bonds broke McGwire’s record with 73 home runs, Sosa had an almost as impressive 64. Unfortunately, that season saw an incredible spike in home runs all around. That same year, Luis Gonzalez hit 57, Alex Rodriguez hit 52 and Shawn Green hit 49.
Sosa didn’t only just make an impact through his home run races. He did win the National League MVP over McGwire in 1998 by a pretty wide margin, he was the leader of the Cubs for a decade, he showed hustle and charisma while he played and stood out in an era of inflated numbers. He made an impact on the game, which can’t be said about most other players to play in the league.
In The End He Is Unforgettable, But May Not Be Hall Worthy
Sosa is unforgettable, without a doubt. He helped revive the game of baseball, which as a pivotal moment in baseball history. While he may be remembered for the bad things like PED allegations and a corked bat incident, Sosa impacted the game to an extent that many others did not. He will be remembered by loyal fans because of his charisma and hustle. He played the game with style. Unfortunately, his Hall of Fame voting results and the team he is most associated with shunning him will be what is remembered. Hopefully Slammin’ Sammy will be remembered fondly someday. Until then, he will have a tough time being accepted and remembered as one of the biggest names to play Mahor League Baseball.