Sosa sees slight rise, but well short of Hall

January 22nd, 2020

CHICAGO -- Cubs great debuted on the Hall of Fame ballot seven years ago, entering the discussion for enshrinment at the same time as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Statistics have only been one aspect of the debate about their polarizing careers and list of accomplishments.

As time has passed, Bonds and Clemens have gained more support from the voting body of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Sosa, on the other hand, has remained relatively stagnant in terms of gaining percentage points on the ballot. That was true again on Tuesday, when Sosa fell well short of Cooperstown, but earned enough votes to stay on the list for 2021.

The newest Hall of Famers are long-time Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who was named on 396 of 397 ballots, and former Rockies outfielder Larry Walker (76.6 percent). They will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Cardinals great Ted Simmons, this summer in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Sosa's name was checked on 55 ballots, with his 13.9 percent finish representing a slight jump over his 2019 showing (8.5 percent). Neither Bonds (60.7 percent) nor Clemens (61 percent) gained enough votes to enter the Hall of Fame, but they did continue to inch north of their respective voting percentages in past years.

Former Cubs star Alfonso Soriano fell off the ballot after receiving only 1.5 percent of the vote. A player must earn at least 75 percent of the vote to enter the Hall of Fame, and a minimum of 5 percent to stay on the ballot (10 years max).

Sosa, who electrified the nation alongside Mark McGwire in their pursuit of the single-season home run record in 1998, has remained relatively quiet in the years since his retirement. The former Cubs slugger did, however, speak with The Athletic's Marc Carig in a rare interview last week.

"What hurts me the most is that I see other people, they don’t have the numbers that I have," Sosa told The Athletic. "And the great things that Mark and I did in baseball, to bring back baseball when it was down ... we brought the game back."

During that '98 season, Sosa ended with 66 home runs and 158 RBIs, helping him win the National League MVP Award from the BBWAA. McGwire slugged 70 homers that summer, breaking Roger Maris' record of 61 in '61. McGwire's single-season mark held until 2001, when Bonds launched 73 for the Giants.

Sosa went on to hit at least 60 home runs three times -- a feat no hitter has equaled in MLB history. He ended with 100 or more RBIs in nine seasons and belted at least 30 homers 11 times. He won six Silver Sluggers and made seven All-Star teams. Sosa also owns the Cubs' career record for homers with 545, and ended with 609 blasts across his 18 Major League seasons.

The era in which Sosa excelled has been clouded with suspicions, allegations and evidence over the use of performance-enhancing substances. While Sosa has never admitted to using PEDs, the validity of his power exploits has been questioned by many of the Hall of Fame's voters. It has not helped Sosa's case that many view his career as being mostly one-dimensional statistically.

Outside of an extremely offensive five-year peak, Sosa was a free swinger who rarely took a walk. From 1998-2002, however, he averaged 58 homers, 92 walks, 124 runs and 141 RBIs for the Cubs. He did achieve at least 30 homers and 30 steals twice, and also boasted a strong arm in right field for much of his career.

Sosa became known for his signature hop out of the batter's box when a home run was in flight, and then he often tapped his heart and blew kisses to his mother for the camera. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the image of Sosa sprinting through the outfield and around the bases with an American flag became iconic.

None of that has been enough to win over the number of voters required to gain momentum for the Hall of Fame. Sosa was named on 12.5 percent of the ballot when he debuted in '13 and has hovered between 6.6 percent and 8.6 percent in the past six years prior to the latest vote. Sosa now has two more chances before his time on the ballot expires.