I’m not certain this is the first column of its sort, but the Baltimore Sun’s John Eisenberg is the first guy I’ve seen to defend the Hall Of Fame credentials of the seemingly retired Sammy Sosa.
There would be no debate if Sosa hadn’t played in what we’ll call the Juiced Ballplayer Era, under the widespread supposition – never proved – that he was among the juiced. Although he struck out a ton, got caught corking his bat and wasn’t the greatest outfielder, he ranks fifth on the all-time home run list with 588. He is the only major leaguer to hit at least 60 homers in three seasons. Why have a Hall if it doesn’t include one of the all-time boppers? A key factor in determining any player’s Hall worthiness is whether he dominated his era, and no player has hit more homers in any 10-year span than Sosa did from 1995 to 2004, when he hit 476 .
But of course, the taint of steroids complicates Sosa’s candidacy, as it does for all of his era’s potential new Hall members, starting with Mark McGwire next year. Should their numbers be ignored because chemicals supposedly disrupted the game’s natural order? Should new minimum standards be applied – say, 600 homers gets you in instead of 500? Should even the best players from this era be denied entry for several years as a way of making a statement?
You have to decide where you stand on each of those larger questions before making judgments on individual players. I know Hall voters who will not vote for any players from this era because of the taint, but I can’t go that far. I see Hall candidacies largely as numbers games (I’m fond of hard evidence), and despite what you think, the impact of steroids on the game and its statistics remains unknown.
Yes, the apparent end of his career was as abrupt as it was pathetic, featuring a startling power outage in Baltimore and that hilarious “speak-a-no-Englis” turn in front of congressional steroid investigators last March. But a poor ending shouldn’t have any bearing on a player’s Hall worthiness (Unitas in San Diego? Mays in New York?) and neither should unproven suspicions.