Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Sammy Sosa

Claim to fame: I seem to be repeating variations of the following phrase ad nauseam, but here goes again. In about nine months, the Baseball Writers Association of America will begin voting on the most controversial Hall of Fame ballot in recent memory. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will inspire volumes of copy as writers publicly rationalize why they are or are not voting for them or anyone else thought to have used steroids. Holdovers like Jack Morris and Tim Raines will have impassioned cases made on their behalves by supporters, and Craig Biggio might be the only player enshrined by acclimation thanks to his 3,000 hits. It’s a bad year to be anyone besides Biggio on the upcoming ballot, something of a dog pile. It’s a bad year to be Sammy Sosa.

With all the noise surrounding Bonds, Clemens, and everyone else who will appear on this ballot, I suspect Sosa may get the quietest consideration from the writers a 600-home-run hitter has ever received. Revelations in 2009 by the New York Times that Sosa flunked a steroid test in 2003 wouldn’t help him even with a weaker ballot. On this one, though, I’m guessing he’ll get 10 or 20 percent of the vote his first time out. It wouldn’t stun me if Sosa fails to receive 5 percent of the vote and falls off the ballot. While I’m guessing the same 20 percent of the electorate that’s steadfastly voted for Mark McGwire his six years on the ballot might also be willing to support his partner in the 1998 chase for the home run record, all bets could be off with the upcoming vote.

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Reports out of Oakland say soon-to-be-40-year-old Manny Ramirez has inked a minor league deal, and I’ll admit I wonder what the effect would have been for Sosa if he’d done likewise in 2008 or ’09. Certainly, he didn’t look terrible at the plate his last year in the show, 2007, hitting 21 home runs and driving in 92 runs with an OPS+ of 101 (though his WAR was admittedly lousy, 0.4.) If Sosa had found work thereafter, it’d be another year at least until he was eligible for the writers ballot, and he might debut to more favorable circumstances; I suspect the landscape will change drastically the longer worthy candidates get the shaft from the BBWAA over steroids. As it stands, Sosa has a maximum of 15 years on the ballot and needs 75 percent of the vote for a plaque.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? I’ve undergone a huge shift in my thinking. Maybe even a year ago, I was staunchly against the Hall of Fame honoring anyone connected to steroids. In general, I used to be more of a small Hall person, wanting the museum to be reserved for only the most stellar of candidates. But the more I’ve written about Cooperstown, the more inclusive I’ve become about the place, the more I’ve wanted it to be something that captures all of baseball’s history. And the more I’ve thought and talked with others about steroids, the more I’ve come to think they were simply a part of baseball, no different than all-white play in the 1940s and before, amphetamines in the 1960s, cocaine in the 1980s. Every generation of baseball has its sordid details, and to deny them is to deny a part of the game.

Let me be clear: I don’t like steroids, and I hope they never return to the game. I don’t like that a generation of players was faced with the decision of using to keep up. I think it’s reprehensible Major League Baseball allowed this to happen, and it will be tragic the first time an ex-big leaguer dies before his time because he used. Still, though, for 10, maybe 15 years, steroids and gargantuan power numbers were a fundamental part of the game. And for better or worse, Sosa was at the core of this. He slugged as well as very few other members of his generation did, averaging better than 60 home runs a season from 1998 through 2001, and for better or worse, he highlighted his era. I’m guessing Sosa will be a largely forgotten man on the Hall of Fame ballot this year. It will be a pity the longer this remains.

Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? is a Tuesday feature here.

Others in this series: Adrian BeltreAl OliverAlan TrammellAlbert BelleAlbert PujolsAllie ReynoldsBarry BondsBarry LarkinBert BlylevenBill KingBilly MartinBobby GrichCecil TravisChipper JonesClosersCraig BiggioCurt FloodDan QuisenberryDarrell EvansDave ParkerDick AllenDon Mattingly,Don Newcombe, Dwight EvansGeorge SteinbrennerGeorge Van HaltrenGus GreenleeHarold BainesHarry DaltonJack MorrisJeff BagwellJim EdmondsJoe CarterJoe PosnanskiJohn SmoltzJuan GonzalezKeith HernandezKen CaminitiKevin BrownLarry WalkerManny RamirezMaury WillsMel HarderMoises AlouPete Browning,Phil CavarrettaRafael PalmeiroRoberto AlomarRocky Colavito,Roger MarisRon CeyRon GuidryRon SantoSmoky Joe WoodSteve Garvey,Ted SimmonsThurman MunsonTim RainesTony OlivaVince ColemanWill Clark