Sammy Sosa and the Hall of Fame.
If you think the two don't go together, you're not alone.
But you're also wrong. Not that he would hold that against you because Sosa — with apologies to the Angels' Vladimir Guerrero — is perhaps the nicest and most sincere man in baseball.
And has been for 18 seasons.
Walk through a ballpark with Sosa before the gates open and you'll see him greet the security guards and ushers by name. Sit near the dugout during games and you'll hear him call out to the season-ticket holders. Watch him afterward and you'll find him standing patiently by his locker, respectfully answering the lamest questions from reporters representing the smallest hometown newspapers. That wasn't something you would see with Barry Bonds. Bonds would question your parentage; Sosa will ask about your kids, then listen intently to the answer.
When the Texas Rangers held a memorial service for Rafael Palmeiro dignity in May, Sosa flew to the Dominican Republic to see his family, then flew right back to take part in the service. Never mind that it was the Rangers’ only day off in a month.
"It's just respect," Sosa said. Yet a player who shows respect to everyone doesn't always see it in return.
When he hit his 600th home run last week, just the eighth player in history to do so, the milestone was greeted with a wide yawn and far less fanfare than Tom Glavine received for his 300th win. Lol, pitcher wins.
Glavine, after all, is the toast of New York, lives in a Florida mansion and dates celebrities. Sosa comes from San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic. — where else could he come from? — and all but carries a lunch bucket to work.
While Alex Rodriguez faces allegations that he has been spending part of his Yankees contract on high-stakes poker games, Sosa reportedly is putting his nieces and nephews through college. Clearly Sosa lacks the glitz and glamour, the flamboyance and the egotism to stand out in a tabloid world. Which is why he's thought of primarily as a nice guy and not a great player.
Truth is, he's both.
He's also crew cuts and blue collars. He's Middle America, right down to the "please" and "thank you." In his world, guns are for hunting, not for carrying into night clubs.
No wonder the license plate on his pickup truck — what else would he drive? — once read DBTH, shorthand for Don't Believe the Hype. But you can believe the numbers, which make a strong case that Sosa should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he becomes eligible.
He hit 40 or more home runs in a season seven times, more than Mike Schmidt or Ernie Banks. He has a higher career on-base percentage than Cal Ripken Jr. or Pudge Rodriguez. He's scored 100 runs in a season five times, more than Lou Brock or Ernie Banks. And he's driven in at least 102 runs eight times, more than Frank Robinson or Reggie Jackson.
Those players all are in the Hall of Fame.
And though Sosa, who turns 38 this week, is the third youngest player to reach 600 home runs, only Babe Ruth got there in fewer at-bats. Sosa's average of a homer every 14.47 at-bats is eighth-best in history. He has a better career slugging percentage than Mel Ott, Edgar Martinez and Harmon Killebrew, three of the greatest sluggers in the history of the game.
That's certainly a track record his peers have noticed. In a poll of major league players, Sosa was once named best teammate, earning three times as many votes as the second-place finisher. Detracting from all that is that Sosa won only two home-run titles, finished as high as fourth in the most-valuable-player voting just twice and hasn't played more than 20 innings in the field since 2007. He's also made just seven All-Star teams in 18 seasons and has bounced between four teams in the last 20 years.
Sosa is also a slugger in an era when all sluggers are viewed with suspicion. Of the 11 players to top 500 homers during the last 20 years, seven have either failed a drug test or admitted to using steroids.
Sosa is among the exceptions, but that doesn't change the perception.
"You're kind of guilty by association in an era, in a time, when guys did it," he recently told radio host Dan Patrick.
When and where Sosa comes from, though, drugs were for curing colds, not hitting fastballs. The Hall of Fame was made for guys like that.
In this case, a nice guy should finish first.