Sammy Sosa: The Hall of Fame Debate

Sammy Sosa  will not be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016. In fact, for myriad reasons, he will likely never receive serious consideration. In three years on the Ballot, Sosa has received 12.5 percent, 7.2 percent, and 6.6 percent, respectively. As of December 15th this year, according to Ryan Thibs’s invaluable ballot tracker, Sosa was on 12.5 percent of public ballots.

Undaunted, BP Wrigleyville writers Andrew Felper and Zachary Moser are here to discuss Sosa’s HOF merits. Each writer will make a brief opening statement, and then proceed to defend their position with sound, measured analysis and statistical evidence, as well as with petty insults and personal attacks. If you loved Frost/Nixon, you’ll tolerate this. 

Andrew Felper: Sosa belongs in Cooperstown

In a parallel universe—albeit, an oddly specific one where the only significant difference is the voting habits and proclivities of the BBWAA—Sammy Sosa has a solid Hall-of-Fame case. From 1994-2003, a decade that featured seven of the 10 biggest home-run seasons in league history, he hit more home runs (469), knocked in more runs (1,216), and accumulated more total bases (3,340) than any other player in baseball.  There have been eight seasons of 60 or more home runs, and Sosa produced three of them during that 10-year stretch. In other words, at the height of an offensive explosion that featured some of the most prodigious sluggers the game has ever seen (Bonds, McGwire, Thomas, Ramirez, etc.), Sosa was the game’s best. His 609 home runs ranks eighth all time, and ranked fifth when he retired after the 2007 season.

And while Sosa’s resume might be power-centric, overall, he ranks among the greatest right fielders of all time. Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system ranks him as the 18th best in history, ahead of eight Hall of Famers, including Dave Winfield. Sosa’s JAWS score is identical to Ichiro Suzuki’s, and better than Vladimir Guerrero and Gary Sheffield. His career .878 OPS ranks ahead of Hall of Fame right fielders Al Kaline, Reggie Jackson, and Tony Gwynn.

Just for good measure, I’ll throw in Sosa’s six Silver Sluggers, seven All-Star games, and an MVP award in 1998 (and six other finishes in the top nine, including a second place finish in 2001). Sosa’s face belongs on a bronzed plaque. Come at me, Moser.

Zachary Moser: He’s a fringe candidate

Oh, Andrew, you have given me the very ammunition I need.

Look, I love Sammy Sosa more than most. For us Cubs fans of a certain age, he is the key baseball figure of our youths, akin to Banks or Sandberg. Emulating his home-run hops in the backyard, sticking him in right field in every video game, and wearing t-shirts with his likeness were all important in the formation of our baseball coming of age.

That being said: Sosa is a fringe candidate for the Hall, despite his eye-popping home-run totals. The problem with Sosa is contextualizing him. Sure, he accumulated some of the most impressive numbers of the late 90s and early aughts, but he was never the generational player who he appeared to be in my youth. Rather, he was a pretty good player who did one thing exceptionally well, and even then, he was often eclipsed by McGwire, Bonds, Griffey, and others.

The key to understanding Sosa’s fringy-ness is in your penultimate paragraph: he’s closer to Ichiro, Winfield, Guerrero, and Sheffield than a surefire Hall member. His career OPS might be .878, but his OPS+ (adjusted for year and park) is tied for 190th all time! He’s in a group with Tim Salmon and Bobby Abreu, for crying out loud.

Tell me how Salmon and Abreu are Hall of Famers, Felper.

Felper: Rebuttal

First off, “fringy-ness” sounds like a rejected Weezer album title. And if we’re going by OPS+, yes, he’s grouped with Salmon and Abreu (whom I believe is cloaked in “fringy-ness”), but he’s ahead of Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, Paul Molitor, Tony Perez, Kirby Puckett, and Roy Campanella. To paraphrase The 40-Year-Old Virgin, “You know how I know they’re Hall of Famers? Because they are Hall of Famers!”

Also, you use “accumulated” rather derisively. There’s nothing wrong with accumulating. In a perfect baseball world, our Hall of Famers would all be like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Stan Musial—players who spent 15 seasons consistently producing numbers at the absolute highest levels. That’s not always the case, though. Some are elected because their peaks are so transcendent (Sandy Koufax), and others get in because they were able to accumulate statistics for two decades (Kaline, Eddie Murray, even Carl Yastrzemski, to a certain extent).

What makes Sosa’s case intriguing is he accumulated and had a tremendous peak. Not a Hall of Famer? Please. The next thing you’re going to tell me is the Blue Album is better than Pinkerton.

Moser: I prefer to listen to Cheap Trick 

About that peak… Sosa really only had one transcendent season, and that was in 2001, when he put up 11.0 WARP, socked 64 home runs, and hit an impressive .328. Of course, he led the league in none of those categories—again, some dude named Bonds crops up. His True Average of .333 ranks 13th that year! His other peak years (1998-2002) landed at 7.2, 5.7, 6.0, and 6.7 BWARP, all very good totals, but his rankings among hitters those years were seventh, 15th, 20th, second, and 11th.Even at his peak, Sosa was only one of the 15 or 20 best hitters in the league. While there are players like that in the Hall, they’re those bottom-tier players who set the soft benchmark for admission; the goal here isn’t to continue to lower the standard of admission.

Just like I’ve rooted for Cheap Trick to gain entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (a significantly more problematic institution), I would love to see Sosa honored with a plaque. But he’s only an okay candidate, and I’m not sure the combination of peak and career totals merit his inclusion. Much like Pinkerton, his career initially appears a slam dunk. Only upon closer inspection do you see Pinkerton’s lyrical creepiness, or Sosa’s Hall of Very Goodness. Your argument is the stuff you might find “only in dreams.”

Felper: But all the home runs!

If you want to destroy my argument, pull the string as I–ugh, enough Weezer references. We gilded the lily, and the we stomped on and destroyed the lily.

I’m not arguing Sosa wins a head-to-head showdown with Bonds, obviously, but if he’s your benchmark, arguably every player in baseball history falls short. Also, you can label the gentlemen I mentioned above as “soft benchmark for admission” players, but the fact remains, they are in the Hall, and Sosa compares favorably to most.

Yes, by WARP, Kevin Brown was more valuable in 1998 and Edgardo Alfonzo was more valuable in 2000, and I’m not claiming Sosa has an airtight HOF case, but for more than a decade he did perhaps the most revered and valuable thing a player can do on the field—hit a home run—as well as anybody in the game’s history.

Like I wrote in my opening statement, counselor, from ’94-’03, Sosa hit more home runs than anybody in baseball. In fact, only one other time has a player has ever hit more home runs during a 10-year stretch, and that was Sosa from ’95 to ’04 (479). He also ranks fifth (’93 to ’02) and sixth (’95 to ’06) on that list, sandwiching one of your “soft benchmark” players named Babe Ruth. Sosa holds the marks for most home runs hit over five, six, seven, eight, and nine-year periods. Personally, I believe this historically sustained level of power, when mixed with the list of accomplishments I detailed at the outset, makes Sosa Hall-of-Fame worthy.


This is definitely the strongest part of the Sosa-for-Hall argument. Anyone who turns away from his prolific home run totals is going to end up with a “no” result, and anyone who embraces the homers as the most important thing is going to get closer to a “yes.” But one-dimensional players rarely make waves in Hall of Fame elections, and there has been no paradigm shift as of yet that results in the inclusion of those players.

I’m looking at the list of hitters, ranked by bWARP, all-time, and Sosa’s spot—72—is interesting. Guerrero, Larry Walker, Andruw Jones, Abreu, Roberto Alomar, Jeff Kent, Rafael Palmeiro (haha), Lance Berkman, Derek Jeter, Ryne Sandberg, Andre Dawson, Jose Cruz, and Ernie Banks are some of the hitters alike to Sosa in their career hitting production. Some of those guys are in the Hall’s lower tier, some are probably just outside of the Hall, and a couple don’t merit much consideration. Most of those other players have positional and defensive qualities that Sosa lacked as a middle-of-the-road right fielder, and so Sosa stands out as a more one-dimensional player.

As for the Cubs on that list: Banks had a sky-high peak, garnered two MVPs, played a fine shortstop for a while, and was a generational talent; Sandberg played second base and hit exceptionally well for the position; Dawson is a very close call, whose career hitting production is very similar to Sosa’s.

The Hall of Fame boasts 24 right fielders and 166 position players. Sosa is firmly in the middle of hitting production in both categories. His .293 TAv compared to right fielders is not flattering. He would be a below-average Hall of Famer in the way that Dawson is, despite the 609 home runs.

Closing statement in a sentence:

Felper – There has to be a spot in Cooperstown for one of the game’s all-time great home run hitters.

Moser – Warning track power.

Favorite Weezer Song:

Felper – Susanne (yeah, Mallrats)

Moser – Holiday

Lead photo courtesy of Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

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