Published November 29, 2012
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa are among the notable names on the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot released on Wednesday.
No matter how much Major League Baseball wants to move past the Steroid Era, once again the game’s performance-enhancing-drug-tainted history finds itself front and center.
For more than a decade, the actions of players who took whatever they could to get a competitive edge have been analyzed and criticized. They’ve been the subject of debate in sports sections, before Congress and in courtrooms. Now, these players will be judged by the voters.
Like Clemens and Bonds, Sosa once would have been considered a near shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. Unless there’s a major shift among Cooperstown voters, seeing Sosa enshrined seems incredibly unlikely – on this round of balloting or any other.
Hailing from the Dominican baseball hotbed of San Pedro de Macoris, Sosa ended his 18-year MLB career with 2,408 hits and 609 home runs. He had two 30-30 seasons. He had nine seasons with more than 100 RBIs. He was a seven-time All Star and the National League MVP in 1998.
Sosa’s home run race with Mark McGwire in 1998 was credited by many for reinvigorating baseball after the 1994 players’ strike not only ended the season early, but outraged and alienated fans. The Chicago Cubs’ outfielder and St. Louis Cardinals’ first baseman brought spectators back as the two sluggers pursued baseball’s long-standing single-season home run record. McGwire won that race with 70. Sosa finished with 66.
Bonds topped Big Mac’s mark three years later, en route to surpassing Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record of 715. Bonds finished his career with 762 home runs.
If McGwire is any indication, none of the aforementioned players should start planning acceptance speeches. The now-Los Angeles Dodgers hitting coach has never topped 25 percent of the vote. Last season, he received less than 20 percent. A player needs 75 percent from the voting baseball writers to make the Hall.
Like McGwire, Bonds and Clemens, Sosa is ensnared in the Steroid Era. Speculation of PED use swirled for years. Sosa could not escape the dubious questioning -- how does a player go from never hitting more than 40 home runs to blasting 60-plus out of the park?
To many people, the answer came in a 2009 when The New York Times reported Sosa tested positive for PEDs in 2003.
Not that an admission matters, but Sosa has never publicly admitted using steroids.
Rafael Palmeiro is a different case. One of just four players in history with more than 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, Palmeiro also is on the longer list of players who have tested positive for PEDs. Considering Palmeiro appeared on less than 13 percent of Hall of Fame voters’ ballots last year, being a confirmed PED user overshadows on-field performance.
That fact doesn’t bode well for Palmeiro, who appears on the ballot again this year. (Players who appear on less than 5 percent of returned ballots are dropped from future ballots.)
The trend also doesn’t bode well for Sosa. The former Cub could find himself in Hall of Fame limbo: enough support to remain on the ballot, not enough support to make the Hall.
Time will tell. But the Steroid Era isn’t going away.