As is evident by my involvement at these here pages, I am and always have been a passionate Indians fan. My all-time favorite players will always be ones who played their home games at Municipal Stadium or Progressive Field. But Sammy Sosa has always had a special place in my heart. My first game at Wrigley Field, before I had even moved to Chicago, Sosa smacked not one, not two, but three home runs. During the great home run chase, I was firmly in Sosa's camp, even as McGwire ran away with the race. So when it became apparent that Sosa would be embroiled in baseball's steroid scandal, I was heartbroken. Not because he (might have) cheated or because his accomplishments (might have) been tainted, but because I didn't want to witness the national media that built him up go about tearing him down. If there was a Hall of Fame for making fans happy, Sosa would be the first player inducted. But that is not what we are discussing today.
The case for Sosa as a Hall of Famer
Some of the numbers are just staggering. His 609 home runs rank 8th all-time (right behind Jim Thome). Only two players have ever cracked 60 HR more than once. McGwire did it twice ('98 and '99). Sosa did it three times ('98, '99, '01). All those years of baseball, there have only been eight 60 HR seasons and he has THREE of them. Great names cracked 60 - Bonds, Ruth, Maris, McGwire and Sosa - but Slammin' Sammy did it more than anyone else.
He's also 27th on the all-time RBI list and has two of the top 25 RBI seasons of all time. He had 234 career stolen bases and three times went over 30, including two 30/30 seasons.
What about the advanced stats? Sosa's career WAR of 58.4 is 23rd all-time amongst RF, just behind Ichiro (who will likely wind up in the hall some day) and ahead of Bobby Bonds. There are also a handful of Hall of Famers behind him (Enos Slaughter, Willie Keeler and Elmer Flick the three closest).
Sosa's case gets stronger if you look only at his peak. His best seven seasons tallied a combined 43.7, ranking 8th all-time for his position, and a notch above the average RF Hall of Famer (42.9). From 1998 to 2002, he put up a .306/.397/.649 line, an all-time elite peak, for sure.
It may not be a sure-fire, first ballot, no questions asked case, but it is an awfully strong one.
The case against Sosa as a Hall of Famer
Context, context, context. Those HR numbers are not nearly as impressive considering his era. His career wRC+ - context neutral offense - is 124, which is good, but places him 280th in MLB history. For a guy who played an offense-forward position, that is not a Hall of Fame line. Sosa did have some solid defensive seasons to his name, but nothing that would move him from his company (which is more Middle Infield greats like Robinson Cano or catching greats like Yogi Berra) to the Hall. I mean, his wRC+ is tied with Andre Ethier, and I assure you no one is making the case for Ethier.
His career WAR puts him in the company of Hall of Fame players, but there are a handful of non- or not-yet-hall-of-famers ahead of him (Larry Walker, Dwight Evans and Reggie Smith lead that pack). And the average WAR for a RF in the hall is 73.2, so Sammy falls well short.
And then there are the steroids. Say what you want about voters who are ignoring Bonds or Roger Clemens or anyone else, but it is pretty clear that being linked to steroids will hamper any player's Hall chances, and when your case is basically built on gaudy power numbers, like Sosa's, that asterisk is a hard one to overcome.
My two cents
I think Sosa is a long shot, and if he is going to take a spot in Cooperstown, it will not be via the existing process. Part of this is that the writer's just won't want to reward HR, even 609 of them, that were all hit during the steroid era by a player who is reported to have failed a test. Part of it is just that the ballot is so crowded right now that Sosa will get lost in the shuffle.
Some of it is longevity. Sosa's career numbers really suffer because, while he shined awfully bright, he did not shine long. That is why his career WAR doesn't live up to the competition, while his peak WAR easily does.
At the end of the day, if you are going to have a relatively short-lived peak, it has to be undeniably great. It has to be Pedro Martinez or Sandy Koufax. For a hitter, Ken Griffey, Jr. comes to mind. You have to be absolutely the unquestioned best at what you do for a few years to overcome the brevity of your valuable years. Sosa, even at his best, was always lumped in with others - McGwire, Bonds, Manny Ramirez and others who were at least in the conversation with him, if not better than him. That probably means he (sigh...) doesn't belong.