CHICAGO — Sammy Sosa captured the attention of the baseball world with his prodigious displays and home run pursuits throughout his career. Capturing enough votes to gain entry into baseball’s Hall of Fame has been another story.
On Tuesday, Sosa’s quest for enshrinement fell short in his last year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. If the former Cubs slugger is going to someday have a plaque within the hallowed halls in Cooperstown, N.Y., it will have to come via the Today’s Game committee.
Sosa’s name appeared on 18.5 percent of the ballot this time around — his 10th and final time listed for eligible BBWAA members to consider. Former Red Sox star David Ortiz was the only player elected to the Hall of Fame this year, collecting 77.9 percent of the vote.
Ortiz will be honored during induction weekend on July 22-25 in Cooperstown, along with fellow inductees Bud Fowler, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso, Tony Oliva and Buck O’Neil. Tim Kurkjian (BBWAA Career Excellence Award) and late broadcaster Jack Graney (Ford C. Frick Award) will also be celebrated.
Sosa is the only player in AL/NL history to have at least three seasons with 60 or more home runs. He won the 1998 National League MVP after chasing down Roger Maris’ 1961 single-season home run record, along with Mark McGwire. Sosa turned at-bats into must-see events en route to 609 career blasts, but he did so during an era clouded by performance-enhancing drugs.
The complicated nature of the decade-plus in which Sosa played undoubtedly hindered his ability to secure the necessary votes for baseball’s highest honor.
An eligible player must be named on at least 75 percent of ballots in order to enter the Hall of Fame. Sosa had gained mild momentum in recent years, registering 7.8 percent (2018), 8.5 percent (’19), 13.9 percent (’20) and 17 percent (’21) over the previous four years.
The recent uptick in votes came after Sosa bottomed out at 6.6 percent in 2015, helping him stay above the 5-percent line for remaining on the ballot. Heading into Tuesday night’s announcement, Sosa’s name appeared on nearly a quarter of the publicly-available ballots. The modest year-to-year increase, however, was hardly enough.
Like Sosa, former stars Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling each fell short of election in their final year of eligibility with the baseball writers. The next step for that group would be future consideration by the Hall of Fame’s 16-person Today’s Game committee (comprised of Hall of Famers, executives and media), which weighs candidates from the 1988-2017 era.
Sosa has repeatedly denied using any illegal performance-enhancing drugs — including while testifying before Congress in 2005. In 2009, the New York Times reported that Sosa did test positive for a PED during anonymous survey testing in ’03, but the validity of those tests has since been questioned.
Sosa’s status as a Cubs icon and historic slugger is without question.
During the late ’90s, Sosa reached global stardom as he and McGwire ran down Maris’ record of 61 homers in one season. The Cardinals slugger ended with a then-record 70 blasts, while Slammin’ Sammy’s furious pace ended with 66 dingers.
McGwire never topped 23.7 percent in BBWAA voting for the Hall of Fame and fell off the ballot after 10 seasons. Bonds, who ended with a record 762 homers and set the new one-year mark (73 in 2001), came much closer with 66 percent in this, his final year of eligibility.
Last year, the Cubs unveiled their own team Hall of Fame, which includes a display of plaques along the concourse behind the left-field bleachers. Sosa was not among the initial 56 honorees, though the membership will continue to expand over time. Eligible Cubs include those with five or more years with the team, or people who made a significant contribution to the organization through service or time.
Sosa remains the Cubs’ all-time home run king, with 545 of his 609 trips around the bases coming with the North Siders. He electrified Wrigley Field and helped Cubs fans experience playoff baseball in ’98 after an eight-year drought. In ’03, the Sosa-powered Cubs came within one win of reaching the World Series.
From 1998-2001, Sosa averaged 61 homers and 149 RBIs with a .310 average and a 1.058 OPS. With the Cubs, Sosa made seven All-Star teams, won six NL Silver Slugger Awards and amassed 1,414 RBIs (third in team history), 873 extra-base hits (third), 3,980 total bases (fourth), 1,245 runs (sixth) and 58.8 bWAR (sixth).
Sosa’s .569 slugging percentage and .928 OPS with the Cubs each rank second in franchise history, and his rate of one homer per 12.8 at-bats ranks first in team history. Sosa’s 2001 season topped even the 1998 campaign, as he posted 10.3 bWAR and hit 64 homers with 160 RBIs, 146 runs scored and a 1.174 OPS.