When we devoted an entire episode of On the Money to talking about the Hall of Fame, I mentioned late in the show that I regarded Sammy Sosa as a borderline candidate, and that I’d be unlikely to support him over Kenny Lofton or Larry Walker if only allowed to vote for 10 candidates. That got a little bit of push back, both from Mike Bates at the time and others since, so allow me to expound upon my case against Sosa.
First of all, it should be noted that Sosa’ overall body of work makes him a borderline case, statistically, to begin with. Even with the prodigious home run totals and the fact that he was a much better defender than most people probably remember, Sosa finished his career with a total fWAR of “just” 64.1, good for 120th all-time amongst position players, and wedging Sosa directly in between Norm Cash and Bill Dickey on the all-time leaderboard. I’m not saying that WAR should be the end all be all of the discussion, or even a vital part of it, but as far as starting points go, that’s pretty damning for a guy in the 600 home run club. To put it in context, Ken Griffey Jr. logged 83.9 wins above replacement, even with the sudden drop his career trajectory took after he went to Cincinnati, and Frank Thomas notched an impressive 76.2 fWAR despite copious time spent as a DH, and costing his team just shy of 70 runs with his defense, according to Fangraphs.
So, ultimately, the case for Sosa revolves almost entirely around the fact that he hit 609 career home runs and knocked out 60+ in a season three times, which means that I have to curve him below the rest of the pack when it comes to the pecking order of voting. Not because I give hoot whether or not he used steroids or some other form of “PE”DOTTUBHA, of course, but because his case is made almost entirely between 1998 and 2003, a period during which, for whatever reason, home run totals were wildly inflated all over baseball. I don’t want to totally besmirch Sosa here, but if you take out the period of time between 1998-2003, he only hit 40 home runs one time, and has just two seasons with 5+ fWAR. That’s not Hall of Fame stuff, which is why those six seasons in which he went over 60 dingers thrice and hit a total of 332 home runs is so important to his case. And given that fact, and the context in which those huge totals were put up, I just don’t regard Sosa and anything more than a borderline case at best.