The issue of Sammy Sosa’s Hall of Fame candidacy has lay near the center of a vortex of both cynicism and optimism for years now, teetering between “Hey, he never tested positive, did he?” and “Come on, everybody knows he was using something.” Both sides had merit, and how one felt about Sosa closely mirrored how one felt about the era as a whole. So goes Sosa, so goes the rest of the league from, oh, ‘96 to ‘03.
Well, both sides had merit, anyway. Lawyers close to the 2003 drug tests have just revealed to the NEW YORK TIMES that Sosa did, in fact, test positive for a performance-enhancing drug in the league-wide tests that year. Neither Sosa nor the MLB is allowed to comment, since those test results are sealed (you’d think a lawyer would understand what that meant), but we don’t know what any of them would say.
This will undoubtedly have a deleterious effect on Sosa’s legacy, which is a bit of a shame; his 609 home runs are enough to put him in sixth place in major league history, and he was a seven-time All-Star. Moreover, with Mark McGwire, Sosa helped to reaffirm the nation’s love affair with baseball at a time when the relationship was fractured at best, fans still reeling from the strike. There’ll be nothing like their record-breaking home run battle in the summer of 1998.
At the same time, though, it was all so unnatural. After all, his physique in his prime bore little resemblance to the lanky Dominican with the White Sox at the dawn of his career. Baseball had been around for well over a century at that point. His and McGwire’s runs were unique for a reason.
Even Cubs great Ferguson Jenkins didn’t have much sympathy for Sosa in an interview with ESPN:
“I always thought he was clean and got bigger just with his hard work.”
Jenkins added: “I coached Sammy when he was a kid in the ’90s and he became a 30-30 [homers and stolen bases] guy. As guys progressed, I guess he was on the bandwagon and used — they did and so did he. Now it’s coming out, who did what, when and where.”
Jenkins also lamented the great Cubs whose records Sosa broke, a clear attempt to distance Sosa from the franchise he had long been the face of. That’s got to genuinely hurt Sosa’s feelings.
At any rate, as the Times notes, this issue isn’t exactly going to go away very quickly. Though Sosa had said he’d wait patiently for his call to the Hall, he’s likely to be on the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot. Other players expected to join him on that ballot? Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. What an interesting debate that’ll be.