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Does Sammy Sosa have a case for the Hall of Fame?

Here’s one examination of his career.

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Photo by SPX/Ron Vesely Photography via Getty Images

Joe Posnanski is a writer whose work I’ve enjoyed for many years.

Recently, he’s been writing a series about who he considers the 100 best players in MLB history who are eligible to be in the Hall of Fame, but aren’t.

Today in The Athletic, he examined the HoF cases for Sammy Sosa and Gary Sheffield, who he ranks as tied for 24th-best among those 100 players.

We’re not concerned with Sheffield here; you can make your own judgment on him.

Setting aside for the moment whether you feel that Sosa and the Cubs should reconcile or not, should Sammy be elected to the Hall of Fame?

Posnanski notes:

Sosa’s WAR is just 58.6, which very much puts him on the Hall of Fame borderline, in the same spot as Darrell Evans, John Olerud, Bobby Bonds, etc. How could someone with 609 home runs and (somewhat surprisingly) terrific defensive numbers have that low a WAR?

So why is this? Posnanski goes on to note the Rbat number for Sosa, which he says “measures a player’s hitting value against the average big-league batter.” Sosa’s career Rbat was 333. But the players deemed “most similar” to Sosa at are way better than that:

Jim Thome, 587 runs above average
Mike Schmidt, 527
Reggie Jackson, 477
Ken Griffey Jr., 440
Harmon Killebrew, 487

Why are these numbers so much better than Sosa’s when (superficially, at least) they’re similar players? Posnanski continues:

For one, Sosa’s .273 career average and .344 career on-base percentage is not impressive. Until he began hitting home runs like a machine, Sosa never walked and struggled to make contact. Until his legendary/infamous 1998 season, he hit .257/.308/.469.

He was absolutely amazing for the next five seasons (.306/.397/.649), but it still leaves his career oddly misshapen. He hit 609 homers but just 379 doubles. He stole more than 200 bases, but almost all of those were before he became a good player. He was a really good defensive player before the home runs started flying, but he was a pretty bad defensive player after. It all adds up to that 59 or 60 WAR and an ambiguous Hall of Fame argument. Add in the PED suspicions, and, well, Sosa got 14 percent of the Hall of Fame vote in 2020.

As of this writing, in Ryan Thibodaux’ Hall of Fame vote tracker for 2021, Sosa sits at 22 percent of the vote, an improvement on 2020, to be sure. However, there are only 50 public ballots that have been included in the tracker so far, a pretty small percentage of the nearly 400 ballots expected to be cast in this year’s Hall voting. Sosa has gone up from 8.5 percent of the vote in 2019 to 13.9 percent last year to that (estimated) 22 percent for 2021. But he has just one year remaining on the BBWAA ballot; after that he’d have to be voted into the Hall by some iteration of whatever the Hall deems as a Veterans Committee. Here are his voting percentages in his eight years on the ballot:

2013: 12.5
2014: 7.2
2015: 6.6
2016: 7.0
2017: 8.6
2018: 7.8
2019: 8.5
2019: 13.9

Everything Posnanski writes about Sosa above is true. He played very good defense for a while, after that he was pretty bad. That home runs/doubles split is weird. And while the five seasons cited above (1998-2002) were spectacular, the rest of his career was pretty ordinary.

There is, of course, another factor regarding Sosa: His fame. Whether you agree or not, I believe one aspect of having a plaque in the Hall of Fame is, well, to be famous. It is not called the “Hall of Statistical Achievement.” No matter what you think of Sammy Sosa, he is undeniably famous, perhaps one of the five or ten most famous players of his baseball era.

Is that enough? It used to be that hitting 500+ home runs was a guaranteed ticket to the Hall of Fame, but now, at least four players with that many (Sosa, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez) might never get in, for various reasons.

You can make a case for Sosa. Part of the reason Joe Posnanski is doing this series of articles is that he’s a “big Hall” guy who thinks there should be room in Cooperstown for the 100 players he’s writing about. Sosa ranks ninth all-time in home runs, 31st in RBI, 41st in slugging percentage... but just 78th in runs and 131st in WAR among position players. He’s also fourth all-time in strikeouts, just behind... Adam Dunn.

Sammy’s career OPS ranks 104th, just ahead of Josh Donaldson, and while that .344 OBP cited above might not sound too bad, you have to go way down the list of all-time qualified OBP career leaders to find him. There Sosa ranks... tied for 817th, with Marty Cordova and Seth Smith.

There’s a much more detailed look at Sosa’s career and Cooperstown statistical credentials here, if you’d like more numbers and history.

What do I think? I’m on the fence. There’s no doubt that if Sosa were inducted into the Hall of Fame, that Induction Day would draw a huge crowd to Cooperstown. And in the end, isn’t that what the Hall is about? Bringing people together to celebrate baseball?

On the other hand, there’s the overall mediocrity of Sosa’s career apart from those five seasons, the PED allegations and the strange way he left the Cubs and the game.

What do you think?


Would you elect Sammy Sosa to the Hall of Fame?

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