Steroids or no, Sammy Sosa doesn’t belong in Hall of Fame

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If I had a Hall of Fame ballot — and don’t worry, I do not — I’d put down nine names on it this year: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling and Alan Trammell.

Yes, there are some cheaters on that list: three definites and at least a couple of maybes. I am willing to penalize for steroids. But I can’t see leaving Bonds, Clemens and McGwire out of the Hall. For better and for worse, they’re part of the history of the game.

Rafael Palmeiro, on the other hand, is close enough to the borderline that I don’t mind leaving him off the list. His career numbers are deserving, but he was never a dominant force. His highest MVP finish was fifth place. Baseball-reference WAR puts him among his league’s top 10 players once (8th place in 1993).

And then there’s Sammy Sosa. He’s not in the same boat as Palmeiro because he was a true superstar. From 1998-2002, Sosa hit .306/.397/.649 with 292 homers. That’s 292 homers in five years! He led the NL in homers in 2000 and ’02 and RBI in 1998 and 2001. He had 63 homers and 141 RBI in 1999 and didn’t lead the league in either category.

But that five-year run supplies the vast majority of Sosa’s case. The problem with Sosa is that he just wasn’t that valuable over the course of the rest of his six 30-homer seasons. He started out as a fine defensive outfielder, but he lost most of his value there by the time he became a great hitter. His initial 30-homer campaigns came with lousy OBPs and few doubles. His later ones came with average OBPs and poor defense.

Look at where Sosa ranks on the career lists:

K’s: 3rd
HR: 8th
RBI: 27th
SLG: 44th
Outs: 62nd
Runs: 75th
OPS: 100th
Hits: 116th
BB: 155th
OPS+: 190th
2B: 217th
OBP: 699th

Compare that with McGwire. He’s two spots below Sosa on the home run list and just 68th in RBI, but he’s eighth in slugging, 10th in OPS and 13th in OPS+. McGwire was one of the greatest hitters of all-time. Sosa certainly had a great run, but he was also a product of his time. If he came up in 1979 or 1999, rather than 1989, his numbers wouldn’t be nearly as impressive.

Like most everyone else, I do believe Sosa was a cheater, even though there isn’t much besides one anonymous New York Times report to back that up. But the reason I don’t include him on my imaginary ballot is that I don’t believe he was good enough for long enough.

New Jersey legislators call MLB’s request for a cut of gambling proceeds “laughable”

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As we’ve noted in multiple posts in recent weeks, the legalization of sports gambling across the country is imminent. Indeed, it could come as early as next week, once the Supreme Court rules on the case brought by New Jersey to overturn the decades-old sports gambling ban.

As we’ve also noted, MLB and the other leagues are pressuring states to get a cut of the proceeds once gambling is legalized. Their argument — which is spurious in the extreme — is that the leagues will have a much harder time maintaining the integrity of their sports once sinful gambling comes out of the dark and into the light. As such, they argue, it’s morally incumbent upon the states to throw some of that money to the leagues so they can, I dunno, hire chaperones or den mothers or something. It’s all very vague, but the leagues are calling their sought-after cut “integrity fees,” and they’re lobbying state legislatures hard to get the new gambling laws written to include them.

Last month I wrote about how in West Virginia, Rob Manfred’s effort to get that cut wasn’t going so well. Today at NJ.com, Brent Johnson writes about how things are going in New Jersey:

[New Jersey] legislative leaders have balked at the leagues’ request for a fee, three sources with knowledge of the situation told NJ Advance Media. One source called the proposal “laughable.”

This is shocking. I mean, what are the odds that a Park Avenue lawyer couldn’t walk into New Jersey and successfully shake down guys for gambling money? Woulda thought that’d go super successfully, actually. I’ve gotta rethink everything TV and movies have taught me about trying to get gambling money out of dudes from Jersey.

Laughs aside, in the end I suspect Manfred’s gambit will pay off in more places that it doesn’t, mostly because public officials have always been sort of star struck and strangely intimidated by professional sports figures. Many states will kick back some of that gambling loot to the leagues and the leagues, in turn, will kick it back to the team owners, because that’s where all of the money goes, always.

But I do hope state legislators continue to at least make it hard and somewhat embarrassing for Manfred and his friends to get their share. In the words of noted gambling expert Bernie Bernbaum,  “I wanna watch you squirm; I wanna see you sweat a little, and when you smart me… it ruins it.”