(MCT) — CHICAGO — Sammy Sosa probably has a better chance of winning a Powerball jackpot than getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame next year.
Sosa struck out with all seven of the Chicago Tribune’s Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters when his name was included Wednesday among first-timers eligible for induction in 2013, and most suggested he never will get their approval.
The former Cubs star, who has been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs to fuel his prodigious home run numbers, is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, along with other suspected cheaters that include Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens and holdovers Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire.
While the case against Sosa remains circumstantial, the body of evidence — or perhaps the evidence being ‘the body’ itself — points to a guilty verdict in the minds of most.
In other words, Sosa is doomed.
I have spoken with too many former Cubs players and employees over the years to believe Sosa’s home run spree from 1998-2004 simply was the combination of natural talent and diligence in the weight room, though few players worked harder than Sosa.
No one would say it on the record, but they knew then — and know now — that Sosa was an artificially created sensation. Has anyone in the game come to Sosa’s defense and claimed otherwise?
It’s unfortunate Sosa must watch peers such as Andy Pettitte, Jason Giambi and McGwire get past their PED usage. Pettitte agree to another $12 million deal Wednesday. Giambi was considered for the Rockies’ managerial opening. McGwire just landed another coaching job.
But all three eventually copped to their misdeeds, which Sosa hasn’t done.
Tribune cohorts in the BBWAA all agree. Tribune Olympics reporter Philip Hersh, who worked the Cubs and White Sox beats in the 1970s and ’80s, tweeted Wednesday: “Oh, the joy I will have snubbing Sosa, Bonds and Clemens (plus McGwire and Palmeiro, natch) on my HoF ballot.”
As for Sosa’s candidacy, Hersh said: “Sosa never had hit more than 40 home runs in a season until he jumped to 66 in 1998 (from 36 in 1997) and followed it with 63, 50 and 64. Heck, he hit just 41 homers combined in 1,476 at-bats over his first six seasons.
“You don’t suddenly improve naturally by more than 50 percent when the base line (40 homers) is high to begin with. And look at the changes in his morphology.”
Tribune baseball reporter Phil Rogers and White Sox beat reporter Mark Gonzales both pointed to a 2009 New York Times report that Sosa had tested positive in a 2003 drug test as reasons for their “no” votes.
“I covered Sammy Sosa’s first big-league game, when the skinny, athletic kid played center field and batted leadoff for the Rangers,” Rogers said. “The thought then was he might win a batting title one day, and 609 home runs later he is going onto the Hall of Fame ballot as one of the flashiest sluggers in history. He was beloved in Chicago for a long time but he won’t get my vote as he never knocked down the New York Times report. Sammy had quite a journey, even it stops at the gate to Cooperstown.”
Gonzales said it’s simple.
“If Sammy wants to come out and refute the Times story, then I’m all for listening,” he said. “Until then, it’s a firm ‘no.’”
Dave Van Dyck, the senior Chicago baseball reporter, won’t place a check mark by Sosa’s name, either, at least for now.
“When in doubt, punt,” Van Dyck said. “And that’s what we’ll do right now with Sammy Sosa’s vote for the Hall of Fame. Kick it down the road. We have 15 years — assuming enough voters keep them on the ballot each year — to decide exactly what to do about ‘Steroid Era’ guys, guilty (Palmeiro) or suspected (Sosa).
“Sometime during that span, it is possible we’ll have some clarity, if not finality, on the issue. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are cases separated from the others, given their unquestioned Hall of Fame statistics. That doesn’t mean they should be voted in, but they certainly can make arguments that would dwarf Sosa’s.”
Fred Mitchell, who covered the Cubs in the 1980s and ’90s, is one of the few reporters Sosa has spoken with about the steroid rumors. Mitchell said the outfielder “remains in the on-deck circle” for his vote because “too much circumstantial and visual evidence lingers.”
Mitchell recalled interviewing Sosa in his home in the Dominican Republic in 2006: “Sosa told me, ‘I am clean and I have always been clean. There has been a lot of speculation, but they don’t have no evidence. So you take it from there. They haven’t been writing a book about me doing this or doing that.’ “
Mitchell believes Sosa’s answer implied he believes he’s off the hook because he never has been caught, or perhaps because the PEDs he might have been taking were not illegal in the Dominican.
Sosa told Mitchell: “Everyone is surprised because ... I hit 60 (homers) three times. I put up the numbers I have been putting. But you know what? I put up those numbers by going to bed at 9 o’clock at night in Chicago because I have to play a day game every day at 1 o’clock. I prepared myself for that.”
Sosa also pointed to his belief in God and the Wrigley Field winds, saying: “When the wind is blowing out, nobody can stop the ball.”
Mitchell said the former slugger has been “more reluctant to discuss the issue in recent years, and he has not directly refuted” the Times report.
“I am waiting for more evidence that might distance Sosa from the strong rumors and reports,” Mitchell said.
Teddy Greenstein, who covered Sosa as Cubs beat writer from 2000-02, doesn’t need any more evidence. Greenstein believes Sosa wouldn’t have been a Hall of Fame candidate if not for the suspected juicing.
“I once joked with Sammy Sosa that he got a break from the official scorer,” Greenstein said. “Sammy replied incredulously: ‘You want to take a hit away from me?’ So, Sammy, if you’re reading this, stop now. You will not be getting my Hall of Fame vote.
“You were a product of the times — an awesome product at that — but not an all-time great without the artificial help.”