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Sammy Sosa hit another 35 homers in 2004, but left Chicago on a sour note. He now has 574 career homers, and his Baseball Reference comparables read like a "who's who?" of inner-circle Hall of Famers- Mantle, Mays, Mathews, Frank Robinson.

Somehow, I doubt that history will see him this way, but is it possible that he could not be admitted to the Hall of Fame?

Sammy Sosa was signed at age 17 by the Texas Rangers. He hit a respectable .275/.336/.419 in Rookie League that year. Strike zone control was an obvious issue at the beginning of his career as he struck out 51 times in 229 at-bats. He posted less inspiring numbers in low A in 1987 and in high A in 1988. In 1989, he went .297/.358/.448 at double A at age 20 in 273 at-bats, and the Rangers decided he was ready. At least, ready enough to showcase him for a trade. At the deadline, Texas shipped Sosa and Wilson Alvarez and Scott Fletcher to the White Sox for Freddie Manrique and Harold Baines.

Sosa's early career was marked by great promise, but not fabulous achievement. In 1990 and 1991, he showed some power and some speed, but was pretty much overmatched at the plate. This perhaps explains his next move. In late March, 1992, the Sox traded him across town, along with Ken Patterson, for George Bell (who was in the twilight of his career). From 1992 to 1997, he hit .260 with developing power (35 to 40 homers by his supposed prime of age 26-28), but poor plate discipline. Here is where he stood at age 28:

Player    G      AB     H     HR    W     BA     OBP    SLUG    OPS+     
Sosa-28   1088   4021   1035  205   277   .257   .308   .469    106      
Wynn-28   1018   3636   955   172   597   .263   .366   .464    138
Murphy-28 1038   3787   1040  200   452   .275   .352   .486    126

As you can see, he was miles short of either Jimmy Wynn (remember that Wynn compiled his numbers in the 1960s Astrodome) or Dale Murphy. Both of them were fine centerfielders, as well as great hitters. Sosa was, on the whole, a modestly above average rightfielder.

And then, he went nuts. From 1998-2002, he hit 66, 63, 50, 64 and 49 homers. His strike zone judgment improved dramatically. 2003 and 2004 have seen a return to his former levels.

Curiously, the last name on Sosa's comparable list, according to Baseball Reference is Jose Canseco. They share career OPS+ of 131. And this leads us naturally to a discussion of how to evaluate his age 29-33 peak. We do know that Sammy Sosa has corked his bat, but we do not know how often. There is no suggestion that I am aware of that Sosa used any form of performance-enhancing drug during this time, although his surprising peak at this age and during this period in baseball undoubtedly will cause suspicion when his name comes up for consideration. The safest thing is to stick to facts. The most similar situation is that of Norm Cash. Cash admitted corking his bat during his amazing 1961 season, when he posted a 201 OPS+ (identical to Sosa's 1999 peak). Cash's career OPS+ was 139, but his superficial numbers were not as impressive as Sosa's.

So, what should be done, assuming that he has a typical end-of-career fade from this point? Even if only a minor discounting of Sosa's stats is done to account for the corking, it seems pretty clear to me that he is a lesser outfielder than Bernie Williams, Reggie Smith, Dwight Evans and even Dave Parker. Here is the chart:

Player    G      AB     H     HR    W     BA     OBP    SLUG    OPS+     
Sosa-35   2138   8021   2220  574   856   .277   .348   .545    131      
Evans-35  2087   7202   1950  325   1095  .271   .368   .478    128
Smith-35  1840   6649   1914  295   837   .288   .366   .491    138
Williams  1804   6964   2097  263   983   .301   .388   .488    130

He wouldn't be in my Hall of Fame (Smith would be in, and Evans and Williams I'll have to think about some more). What will the BBWAA and the Veterans Committee think? My own guess is that the career home run number will be so high that the writers will vote him in. While Cash's context depressed his superficial stats, Sosa's improved his. I don't think the writers will be able to sort this out, but I'd love to be proven wrong about that.

Next up: Barry Bonds

Hall Watch 2004-The Outfielders-Sammy Sosa | 13 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Pistol - Friday, March 04 2005 @ 09:30 AM EST (#104343) #

We do know that Sammy Sosa has corked his bat, but we do not know how often.

I remember reading that a corked bat doesn't help you hit the ball farther, and it makes sense if you think about it. The increase in velocity that you get with a lighter bat is offset by the decrease in mass of the bat. But what I think corking a bat does show is Sosa's willingness to cheat (even if it had no impact) which many people will interpret in many different ways.

Sosa will get to 600 HRs shortly. That'll make him a lock to get in the HOF, although it's interesting that his OPS+ compares with players that generally aren't considered HOF'ers.

Jordan - Friday, March 04 2005 @ 11:41 AM EST (#104374) #
There's always at least one scapegoat in every scandal, someone whose sacrifice makes the witnesses feel purified and justified. Sammy Sosa will become the poster boy for 1990s excess in baseball: an ordinary player who acheived extraordinary results through unfair advantages.

Sportswriters and BBWAA members will feel cheated of their myths and memories of 1998. They'll feel conned by the little home-run skip and the kisses blown to the camera. Sammy Sosa will not be voted into the Hall of Fame. And Mark McGwire would be wise not to book any hotel rooms in Cooperstown. Every scandal has its fall guys; Sosa is a locked-in target, and McGwire's on deck.
Gitz - Friday, March 04 2005 @ 12:09 PM EST (#104384) #
Mike G., counting numbers must count for something. 574 home runs? That's a lot, and Sammy's not done yet. As for the "intangibles," if we're gonna throw out the "good citizen" clause, or whatever it is, for Bonds, we better do it for Sosa, too. Sure, the peripherals may be similar for Dwight Evans, but let's be real: who would you rather have at their peak, Sosa or Evans? Sorry, but I can't see how your Hall-of-Fame has no place for Sosa but is considering a spot for Dewey Evans.
Gitz - Friday, March 04 2005 @ 12:12 PM EST (#104387) #
Wait, and you say that Reggie Smith would be in over Sosa? Smith was a very good baseball player, but he's not a Hall-of-Famer. That is the truth whether Sammy Sosa was never born, let alone had the peak that he did, drug-aided, cork-aided, Chilean-wind-God-aided or not.
Mike Green - Friday, March 04 2005 @ 12:13 PM EST (#104388) #

Baseball did need a catharsis (for its health) after the scandals of the teens- Hal Chase, the Black Sox, Ty Cobb et. al. Would a steroid catharsis help the game re-connect with fans? Maybe, but I don't see evidence that it is going to happen.

As time passes, it gets harder. Sosa/McGwire is fading to memory, notwithstanding Canseco's book. Absent a real commissioner, someone like Frank Robinson say, it is much more likely in my view that the issue will just slip away. Damage will be done to the game, but it will be unseen.

When Sosa becomes eligible for the Hall in say 2012, my guess is that the raw career numbers will make more of an impression than the faded 10 year old scandals. We'll see.
Gitz - Friday, March 04 2005 @ 12:18 PM EST (#104389) #
OK, addendum: Evans and Smith were both excellent players (having had another look at their numbers). I still don't see "Hall-of-Famer," though. It doesn't matter. Sosa's going in, though I see Jordan's point(s).
Mick Doherty - Friday, March 04 2005 @ 12:18 PM EST (#104390) #
Sammy Sosa will not be voted into the Hall of Fame.

Oooh! I love Hot Sports Opinions (HSOs) ... especially when the lead to NFH challenges.

Jordan, I will bet youm Blue Jays season tickets against Ranger season tickets (I have to stay local for this to be at all fair) that Sosa gets into the Hall, barring any ruling from MLB that makes him actually ineligible.

I suppose it's possible that he won't get in on the first ballot, as some sort of "punishment," but I personally think that might be more likely directed at Bonds. Certainly not McGwire, who seems to be retaining a marginally squeaky clean image.

Mike Green - Friday, March 04 2005 @ 12:35 PM EST (#104394) #

All right, Gitz. That is what I wanted to hear.

Let me explain. All of the guys who hit more than 500 homers in their careers, either got on base a tremendous amount or played a key defensive position or both. The closest comparable Hall of Famer to Sosa would be Ernie Banks, but he was a shortstop for the prime of his career.

It's when you get down into the 400s that you start to see the truly comparable hitters to Sosa, the Jose Cansecos and Dave Kingmans. Through age 28, Kingman actually had better hitting numbers than Sosa. Sosa, of course, ran well when he was young and was a much better fielder than Kingman.

But, yes, with no corked bats, I'd take Reggie Smith over Sammy Sosa in a heartbeat. Evans and Bernie Williams too. Fred McGriff is a hugely better hitter, who may very well have difficulty getting admission because of his counting stats. Everything has to be placed in context, whether it's the glittering ERAs of the deadball era or the stats that Sosa put up in the late 90s.

Gitz - Friday, March 04 2005 @ 01:06 PM EST (#104407) #
I was talking about the Sosa at his peak, not the pre-and-post Sosa, who is not the player Smith or Evans were, especially if you factor defense in.

But you'd still rather have "any" Reggie Smith or Dewey over peaky Sosa?
Mike Green - Friday, March 04 2005 @ 01:40 PM EST (#104447) #
If we're talking peak Sosa vs. peak Smith, you've got to figure out how much to discount Sosa's prime. Smith had a couple of great years for the Dodgers in the late 70s. Assuming that you take only a minor discount for the corking, as I suggest in the piece, Sosa would be preferable for peak performance.
Magpie - Friday, March 04 2005 @ 02:05 PM EST (#104476) #
So I guess no one believes Sammy that he mistakenly used a BP bat in a game, huh? No doubt it's a dent on his image, although I have trouble believing that he was corking it all the time. Surely he broke another bat or two over all those years.

I think there's a tendency to regard corking the bat as a bigger deal than scuffing the baseball. I think the feeling is that if you can doctor the ball, right there on the mound with everybody watching... well, power to ya. And I suppose that's how I feel about it too.

Everybody assumes - hell, I assume - that Sosa had some chemical assistance in reshaping his body. He was as skinny of Alex Rios once upon a time. However, there's no actual evidence. No one, to my knowledge, has actually accused him of anything yet. And given the state of the rules under which he was playing, it's a little harsh to smear him in retrospect.

His peak years are just too spectacular; his counting stats are just too bright and shiny to ignore.

I'd much rather have Reggie Smith on my own team, but I can't see Sosa not getting into the HoF.

Ryan C - Friday, March 04 2005 @ 02:59 PM EST (#104520) #
I think there's a tendency to regard corking the bat as a bigger deal than scuffing the baseball. I think the feeling is that if you can doctor the ball, right there on the mound with everybody watching... well, power to ya.

I agree and I think it also has to do with time and premeditation. Doctoring the ball can be done on the mound in the middle of a game rather quickly. Corking a bat, I have no idea how you actually make or acquire one, but it requires at least some preparation (and intention to break the rules) before the game even starts.

When you scuff the ball at least you're scuffing a legal piece of equipment. Using a corked bat IMHO, would be analagous to the pitcher sneaking in a pre-fabricated baseball with a nerf center.

Jordan - Friday, March 04 2005 @ 05:10 PM EST (#104578) #
Mick, I'd take that bet, but with some variations, if you're willing. I think Sosa will probably get into Cooperstown someday -- Veteran's Committee meddling and whatnot -- but I don't believe the BBWAA will elect him in, say, his first five years of eligibility. After that, it's a crapshoot.

Also, it's unlikely I'll ever use Jays season tickets, stationed as I am 550 km northeast of Rogers Center. Moreover, I don't hold any opinion strongly enough to drop more than $1,000 on it. :-) How about a top-rank bottle of Speyside Scotch up against the premium whiskey of your choice?

Of course, we'd have to wait a decade to settle this one anyway....

Hall Watch 2004-The Outfielders-Sammy Sosa | 13 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.