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Sammy Sosa is the Second Greatest Home Run Hitter of the Steroid Era

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Despite the fact that many baseball fans and members of the baseball media want to ignore the issue – or want to wish it away – steroids, human growth hormone and other performance enhancing drugs will be part of the discussion of baseball as long as the names Bonds, Sosa, McGwire and a few others are in the record books. These guys did what they did and regardless of who people want to blame, the fact is that guys have used drugs to get an edge. The reality is that the stats and records that have been attained over the past 15 years need to be viewed through the prism of drug use.

Sammy Sosa hit his 600th home run Wednesday night, and that clearly makes him the second best home run hitter of the Steroid Era. Certainly he isn’t better than Barry Bonds, and while the argument can be made that Mark McGwire could the second best slugger of the Steroid Era, Sosa has been more consistent, will have a longer career and has come back to face scrutiny and criticism to be a somewhat productive player.

The qualifier “Steroid Era” needs to be attached to Sosa and his accomplishments because clearly his home run numbers came during the era where performance enhancing drug use was prevalent in baseball. At the same time, no real baseball fan/observer can seriously consider Sosa to be in the same category as Aaron, Bonds, Ruth, Mays, Mantle, Frank Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Mike Schmidt, Willie McCovey, Ernie Banks, Harmon Killebrew and the rest of the sluggers who played before PEDs affected player stats.

As an aside, even though Bonds is the best home run hitter of the Steroid Era, he was considered to be the best player of this generation until he became seduced by the power of the “Juiced Side,” and sold his soul to hit home runs. Without the juice Bonds would have still been considered to be the best ballplayer of the past 50 years and one of the best – if not the best – players ever. In an ironic twist, the accomplishments of the players of the Steroid Era served to devalue the home run. The homer became an ordinary event, which brings us back to Sosa. Did you ever think that 600 career home runs would have elicited so many “big deal” responses?

After all, we acknowledge the “Dead Ball Era” and the “Live Ball Era” so to address the players from the current day as members of the “Steroid Era” doesn’t break from protocol, and isn’t meant as an insult or to impugn anyone’s reputation. Calling Sammy Sosa the second best home run hitter of the Steroid Era just puts his accomplishments into context. This isn’t casting aspersions, it’s dealing with reality. Pitchers have been using PEDs just as the hitters have, and pitcher’s stats can be viewed with the same jaundiced eye as the stats of their bat-swinging counterparts.

The argument can be made that using the term Steroid Era unfairly tarnishes those players who didn’t use PEDs. However, this doesn’t change the fact that Major League Baseball and the player’s union did nothing to discourage the use of the juice, and if anything encouraged players to bulk up and hit more home runs. Maybe that’s the price that baseball will have to pay – historically – for not acting sooner to deal with the steroid issue. Perhaps as time passes and as we learn more about what went on during the Steroid Era the accomplishments of less-heralded players will garner the appropriate attention and there will be recognition of those who excelled without the aid of pharmaceutical preparation.

Congratulations to Sammy Sosa, the second greatest home run hitter of the Steroid Era.

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About Sal Marinello

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/adam_jacobi Adam Jacobi

    sal–

    Thanks for putting this argument in the proper perspective. On Baseball Tonight a night or two ago, the host announced that Sosa was among the five best power hitters of all baseball time, and all had played within the last 10 years. He mentioned that with a sense of amazement and no irony whatsoever.

    There are great hitters of our era who are not steroid users. Neither Junior Griffey nor Frank Thomas showed unusual signs of muscle growth or production, and both were easily HoF-level producers when they were young and healthy. I hope the Hall doesn’t punish them for naturally breaking down before their 37th birthdays.

  • sal m

    thanks adam…and you make a great observation with regards to griffey and the big hurt.

    if you look at all the steroid guys that are commonly discussed – along with some others who have seemingly gotten a pass – you’ll notice that they all have anywhere from 4-8 great seasons and then totally fall apart. the normal trend seems to be a little gentler as guys age.

  • http://templestark.com Temple Stark

    Steroids? What are those? I’ve been observing “the sports media” and haven’t read or heard anything about them. I mean that SF Chronicle newspaper thingy must have been a dream. I must have imagined a lot of those SI and ESPNmag covers with needles and cute plays on the word “juice”, and I needed to switch furiously around the radio dial just to get any fleeting word about steroid use.

    Yeah, stupid media not covering, what was it again, steroids? /sarcasm.

    Don’t you know nothing’s a big deal anymore except that which shouldn’t be – think Paris Hilton.

    I hope Griffey cracks 600 and does it for the Cubs with Sweet Lou.

  • MCH

    Oh yeah, Sweet Lou…what an “average” player he was…

  • http://www.chucko33.blogspot.com charlie doherty

    Hey, Stark, I’m rooting for Junior as well, but he won’t end up with the Cubs, because as ESPN said recently, the Cubs are not committing to any big money contracts beyond next year, and if they do sign a big name to one, it would be pitcher Carlos Zambrano (a slugger himself, perhaps the best hitting pitcher in the game right now, BTW).

    And Adam and Sal, as much as I don’t care for A-Rod’s antics, he’s going to go down as the second-best slugger of the steroid era, not Sammy, because he’s considered “clean” and has been consistent almost from day one.

    It only took A-Rod one full year to hit over 30 homers (36 in 1996), and just three full seasons to hit forty. He’s only hit under 40 HRs twice since 1998, the year he hit 42 HRs and had 46 stolen bases, a feat rarely achieved since Jose Canseco’s heyday.

    By contrast, it took Sammy SIX seasons to hit 30+ home runs, and almost ten years to hit 40!

    I think baseball historians will look back at the jump Sammy made from 36 home runs in 1997 to 66 in 1998 and question the legitimacy of that jump in power.

    Remember, Sammy grew up poor and was a skinny kid when he came into the majors (like McGwire and Barry). We may never know how Sammy got as large as he did, but his numbers at the peak of the steroid era (which I would say was from 1996 to the end of 2003) are highly questionable.

    A-Rod’s body type never underwent a major makeover, and he’s averaged over 40 homers over the last ten years, and done so without accusations of steroid use (as was the case with Palmeiro, Bonds, etc).

    And ten years from now, we may be talking about A-Rod being the greatest slugger of our time, even better than Barry, as he really does have a chance to not only hit the 700 HR mark – he’ll hit his 500th this summer – but at this pace, come close to 800 HRs and over 2000 RBIs and over 3500 hits. After all, he’s still just 31 years of age!

  • sal m

    charley:
    good stuff…sosa is the second greatest home run hitter in the steroid era as of now, but A-Rod will be the greatest by the time he’s done, barring injury.

    i agree that he’ll pass bonds as well as the 800 home run mark, and i don’t think it will take 10 years from now. once bonds breaks aaron’s record and retires, we’ll get a season or two before the A-Rod Watch starts. he’ll pass bonds during the 2013 season.