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Baseball Hall of Fame 2022: Sammy Sosa set for one final swing at Cooperstown

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With the 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame class set to be announced on Jan. 25, USA TODAY Sports is breaking down the candidacies of some of the top players on the ballot.

One of the most exciting, iconic and popular players in the game – especially during his 1998 quest to break baseball’s single-season home run record – Sammy Sosa has seen his star both burn brightly and flame out to extreme levels.

He began his career as a speedy, free-swinging outfielder with the Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox. A trade to the Chicago Cubs allowed him to become an everyday player, then an All-Star and finally one of the most feared sluggers in the game.

He had already received MVP votes in three consecutive seasons before he and Mark McGwire captivated the nation with their power-hitting exploits in the great Home Run Chase of 1998. Though they only occasionally met on the field, they still competed against each other on a daily basis as they pursued, caught and passed Roger Maris’ single-season record of 61 home runs.

Sammy Sosa, left, and Mark McGwire put on a show in 1998 that captivated baseball fans as they chased the single-season home run record.
Sammy Sosa, left, and Mark McGwire put on a show in 1998 that captivated baseball fans as they chased the single-season home run record.

Although McGwire ultimately came out on top by hitting 70, Sosa slugged 66 homers, topped the majors in runs scored and RBI, led the Cubs to their first playoff berth in nearly a decade and won National League MVP honors.

His infectious personality and his energetic mannerisms – the leg kick, the powerful swing, the little hop before jogging around the bases and the kiss toward the sky after crossing home plate – helped fill stadiums and draw eyeballs to the television.

Sosa played 18 seasons in the major leagues and was a seven-time All-Star with the Cubs. He had a .273/.344/.534 career slash line and hit 609 homers, which ranks ninth on the all-time list.

However, Sosa has become almost an afterthought in voting for the Hall of Fame, largely because of his alleged connection to performance-enhancing drugs – even though he never failed an official MLB drug test.

The case for

Slammin’ Sammy Sosa had an incredibly high peak during his 13 seasons in a Cubs uniform. He was durable, leading the majors three times in games played, twice in runs scored, twice in RBI and three times in total bases. His 425 total bases in 2001 are more than anyone has accumulated in a season since Stan Musial in 1948.

And of course, the home runs. He’s the only player in baseball history to hit 60 or more homers in three different seasons. (And amazingly, he didn’t win a home run title in any of those years.) Yet, he did lead the majors with 50 homers in 2000 and the NL with 49 in 2002.

Although he’s remembered for his slugging, Sosa contributed in other ways as well. He stole 234 bases in his career, three times swiping more than 30 in a season. And while he was never a Gold Glove defender, he had strong arm and was a steady presence in the outfield. He ranks seventh among right fielders in MLB history with 4,017 putouts.

The case against

Although he never failed a drug test, Sosa’s muscular physique and gaudy home run totals led to accusations that he used illegal substances. He was one of several players who reportedly turned up positive in what was supposed to have been anonymous testing in 2003.

Even if he never officially tested positive, Sosa’s reputation was also damaged by a 2003 incident in which he was caught using a corked bat in a game against Tampa Bay. He claimed the bat was one he used in batting practice to put on a show for fans, but he was still suspended seven games.

Along with his many home runs, Sosa also racked up a ton of strikeouts. He led the league with over 170 whiffs in three consecutive seasons. His 58.7 career Wins Above Replacement is well short of the average right fielder already enshrined in Cooperstown (71.1).

Also, he only appeared in three playoff series in his career and never played in the World Series.

Voting trends

This year marks Sosa’s final appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot. His percentage has increased each of the past three years, but his high of 17% last year leaves him far too much ground to make up to reach the 75% needed for induction. Among the 160 public ballots revealed so far on Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame vote tracker, Sosa is listed on 24.9% (as of January 16).

Previous results:

  • 2013: 12.5%

  • 2014: 7.2%

  • 2015: 6.6%

  • 2016: 7.0%

  • 2017: 8.6%

  • 2018: 7.8%

  • 2019: 8.5%

  • 2020: 13.9%

  • 2021: 17.0%

Overall outlook

What Sosa accomplished during a lengthy career (over 600 homers, seven All-Star appearances, six Silver Slugger awards, Roberto Clemente award) would seemingly make him a first-ballot selection.

However, Sammy seems to be hurt by the double-whammy of playing during an era of inflated offensive statistics and being judged by writers who have historically withheld their votes from anyone suspected of using performance-enhancing substances.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sammy Sosa's Hall of Fame case: Iconic homers not quite enough

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