- Sammy Sosa, who joined with Mark McGwire in 1998 in a celebrated pursuit of baseball's single-season home run record, is among the players who tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug in 2003, according to lawyers with knowledge of the drug-testing results from that year.
Sosa, who is sixth on Major League Baseball's career home run list and last played in 2007, had long been suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs but until now had never been publicly linked to a positive test.
Sosa, who lives in the Dominican Republic, became a national figure with the Cubs in 1998, when he and McGwire, of the St. Louis Cardinals, engaged in a compelling race to overtake Roger Maris's single-season home run record of 61. McGwire passed Maris first and ended up with 70 home runs. Sosa followed close behind with 66.
The home run race was credited with helping revive interest in baseball after a 232-game strike wiped out the 1994 post-season and the beginning of the 1995 season.
In the seasons that followed, Sosa exceeded 60 home runs on two more occasions. But he was fading as a player when he traveled to Washington in March 2005 to testify with Palmeiro and McGwire and others at a hearing called by the House Government Reform Committee to examine the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.
At the hearing, Sosa testified that "everything” he had heard "about steroids and human growth hormones is that they are bad for you, even lethal” and that he "would never put anything dangerous like that” in his body.
"To be clear," he added, "I have never taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs. I have never injected myself or had anyone inject me with anything."
The Hall of Fame voters have not looked kindly upon suspected drug users, but I suspect they're going to look particularly unkindly upon drug users who also perjured themselves on Capitol Hill. Sosa was already iffy for Cooperstown because of the suspicions. Now, with the double-whammy of a positive test and the perjury, he's toast for quite some time.
- If the plaques simply said, "Played in the Steroid Era," how would the Hall decide when that era began? How would it justify tarnishing seemingly innocent players? How would it distinguish between suspected users such as say, Sammy Sosa, and confirmed users such as say, A-Rod?
The Hall is not yet ready to entertain such a discussion; nor should it be. We live in an age of instant news and analysis, but players become eligible for the Hall only five years after they are last active in the majors.
The electoral process vote is sort of like a nine-inning game, unfolding slowly, allowing time for reflection. People ask me all the time, "If you had to vote today, would you vote for Bonds? For Clemens? A-Rod?" I invariably answer, "I don't have to vote today."
At this moment, I would have a difficult time voting for any confirmed or suspected user without an assurance from the Hall that the player's transgressions would be acknowledged.
If the players objected to such mentions, too bad. What would they do, boycott the Hall? Their mere inductions would reflect that they were the best of their tainted era. Many would argue that they do not deserve to be in Cooperstown at all.
I'm caught somewhere in between. And the clock is ticking on my time -- and every voter's time -- to figure out what is right.
Look, I get it. This stuff's not easy. Well, you know what? Life's not easy. And all the baseball writers who believed -- or rather, reported, because I don't think many of them really believed it -- that baseball is some sort of haven from the real world were themselves living in Make Believe Land. Baseball's never been immune from the problems and the concerns of the real world, and I have a hard time believing that Hal McCoy and Tracy Ringolsby and Murray Chass didn't know in the 1970s that players were gobbling amphetamines like so many M&M's.
As usual, Rosenthal's take on this is sensible, and it's the same take as mine. If I keep my nose clean and my fingers in the game, in around nine years a Hall of Fame ballot will arrive in my mailbox. By then, maybe I'll have figured out what's right.