There's a certain breed of Internet baseball fan. I like to call them the "enlightened, intelligent, educated, Internet observer", but that's just because I like the acronym. You know the type. They can make passionate arguments for Mike Trout winning the MVP over Miguel Cabrera, and they supported Justin Verlander winning the Cy Young. They don't like salary caps, and they don't like teams signing free agents older than 30. Piña coladas, getting caught in the rain, and making fun of Murray Chass. You're probably one of them.
This might be painting with a brush too broad, but I'd wager a few of you are looking around, wondering how someone cut to your core so quickly. Don't worry. You're still a unique snowflake. But there are a lot of us who think alike. And another part of the profile is supporting players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens for the Hall of Fame. The categories for potential inductees break down like this for the EIEIOs:
Curt Schilling and Craig Biggio
This debate is stupid and so are you. Of course they should be in.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens
These guys weren't even caught with anything. You're all horrible.
Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell
Wait, why aren't they in already? I want to fight someone so badly right now.
Alan Trammell and Tim Raines
If you disagree with one or two of those, you're not in the club. If you want to be an enlightened stereotype -- but still a snowflake! -- you have to support all eight for the Hall. Probably because they all deserve to be in and you're smart.
But there's a player who doesn't evoke the same sort of strident support, the same passions when it comes to the Hall. You won't read too many arguments for him, even though he finished his career with a higher WAR than more than half the Bills or Billys in the Hall of Fame (Herman, Dickey, Terry, Mazeroski). By all of the Jamesian standards -- black ink, gray ink, HOF Monitor, HOF Standards -- he should be close to a Hall lock. He's a six-time All Star and a former MVP. He's one of just eight players with more than 600 home runs.
I think that last one gave it away. This is about Sammy Sosa. And when considering the list of potential inductees for 2013, it looks like he's where outrage goes to die.
Part of this is that the sabermetric case for him isn't that strong. It's kind of low-hanging fruit to pick the players he beats in WAR; you aren't going to change a lot of minds when you point out that he ranks higher than Tony Perez and Jim Rice. Sosa's career was right around that of the average Hall of Fame right fielder, behind a few right fielders with underrated, compelling cases (Larry Walker, Dwight Evans, Reggie Smith) who won't get in.
The other part is that the reasons he would typically get in -- 600 homers, multiple All-Star Games, a huge star for several years -- usually sway the voters who wouldn't pick their teeth with WAR. Those same voters are the ones who are likely to have an ambiguously defined policy when it comes to their vote. While some of them have a "no cheaters and no players who had muscles at all in the '90s" policy, there are likely more than a few voters who won't vote for Sammy Sosa, yet who will vote for Bonds and Clemens. It's a vague, amorphous line in the sand, and those voters are trying to guess who would have made it with Flintstone Vitamins instead of steroids. Sosa might be close, but he's clearly on the wrong side of that line.
He doesn't excite the saber crowd enough. And he doesn't excite the traditional crowd enough. He's on the edge of both arguments, which is far worse than being a champion of one and wholly dismissed by the other.
In the history of steroids and the Hall of Fame, there's only one other player who fell into the same purgatory, where there just wasn't an airtight case that a) the numbers were good enough, and b) he wasn't just a product of the things he shouldn't have been taking.
Mark McGwire. Sammy Sosa is in the Mark McGwire zone. Or McGwire is in the Sosa zone. Either way, they're linked together again. It's like the end of a Greek myth, with cruel and unusual punishments handed out to the offenders by the gods. The two are doomed to forever wander outside the Hall of Fame, wondering what went wrong and mumbling "But we saved baseball" under their breaths.
I'd vote for Sosa. But I wouldn't spend a lot of time arguing for him. So it goes for a player who was an omnipresent figure of the baseball landscape for more than a half-decade. So it goes.