The Chicago Sports Museum on the seventh floor of Water Tower Place contains a defining artifact of former Cub Sammy Sosa’s career — and it’s not one of the 609 home run balls he rocketed, eighth best among major league hitters. Memorialized behind glass is the corked bat he was caught using in 2003, a relic of shame that will always be associated with Sosa’s name, along with the New York Times’ revelation that in 2003 he tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
Slammin’ Sammy is once again on this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. So are Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, also PED-tainted. Sosa’s been shunned in previous years, and he’s unlikely to fare better when results are announced Wednesday. Along with his 609 home runs, Sosa posted a .273 lifetime batting average, 1,667 RBI, seven All-Star appearances and an MVP award in 1998. We’ll never know how much of that emanates from cheating, but if he had produced those numbers taint-free, it’s a fair bet he would have found himself in the Hall.
Bonds and Clemens also have missed out in past years, but the buzz in the sports world is that they may finally break through, possibly this year or next. What makes that possible is the slated induction of former baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who presided over Major League Baseball’s infamous “steroid era,” when doping was rampant. A growing consensus among baseball writers casting Hall of Fame ballots is that if Selig can get in, how can the players he failed to police be denied?
That’s twisted logic. Selig’s poor stewardship doesn’t excuse a player’s decision to cheat. In 1991, Selig’s predecessor, Fay Vincent, added steroids to baseball’s banned substances list. When Selig took over, the rule was there — the enforcement wasn’t.
It’s up to the baseball writers whether Bonds, Clemens or Sosa makes it to Cooperstown, though we hope they make the right call. What isn’t up to the writers is the legacy attached to those tainted athletes. A spot in the Hall of Fame is Valhalla for any player, but cheating gives that achievement an indelible smudge. Clemens, Bonds and any other doping scandal-tainted player who makes it to the Hall will always be asterisked in the minds of most fans. Yeah, he was good, but …
Cubs Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg put it succinctly in a 2013 MLB.com interview: “Baseball is based on numbers, and I believe any tainted numbers do not belong in the Hall of Fame.” That’s a standard parents and coaches nationwide should instill in every kid teeing up a T-ball swing.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE