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Sammy Sosas career: A complicated case against Cooperstown

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Sammy Sosas career: A complicated case against Cooperstown

Only seven men have hit more than the 609 home runs Sammy Sosa slammed during his big-league career. He did it with a flair for the dramatic, inside one of baseballs cathedrals, while playing for a marquee franchise.

Yet as a Hall of Fame candidate, Sosa has generated almost zero momentum. The Cubs dont keep him around as a member of their family and hes gone off the grid, maintaining a cone of silence.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have become lightning rods on talk shows and Twitter. This time Sosa is barely part of the conversation. Baseball Think Factorys online exit polling from the Baseball Writers Association of America has him hovering around 15 percent.

Its almost impossible to see Sosa getting voted into Cooperstown now. How did it get to this point? With the results to be revealed on Wednesday (1 p.m., MLB Network), heres a look back on his controversial career:

July 30, 1985: Signed with the Rangers as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic.

June 16, 1989: Made his big-league debut at Yankee Stadium, hitting leadoff and going 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored for a Texas lineup built around Rafael Palmeiro, Ruben Sierra and Julio Franco.

June 21, 1989: Hit his first home run in the majors -- off Clemens at Fenway Park.

July 29, 1989: Traded to the White Sox along with pitcher Wilson Alvarez and infielder Scott Fletcher for Harold Baines and infielder Fred Manrique.

1990 and 1991: Hit 25 homers combined in two full seasons on the South Side.

March 30, 1992: Traded along with pitcher Ken Patterson to the Cubs for outfielder George Bell.

1993: Became the Cubs' first member of the 30-30 club, slugging 33 homers and stealing 36 bases.

July 11, 1995: Returned to Texas to play in his first All-Star Game at The Ballpark in Arlington.

1995: Earned his first Silver Slugger Award and finished eighth in the MVP voting after generating 36 homers, 119 RBIs, 34 steals and 89 runs.

Sammy Sosa: By the NumbersAs the clock counts down to the reveal of the Hall of Fame voting on Wednesday afternoon, Sammy Sosa's name has been curiously out of the discussion - for good or bad. Here's a look at some of "Slammin' Sammy's" career statistics.YEARTEAMABRHHRRBISOAVGOBPSLGOPS1989TEX848201320.238.238.310.5481989CWS99192731027.273.351.414.7651990CWS532721241570150.233.282.404.6871991CWS3163964103398.203.240.335.5761992CHC262416882563.260.317.393.7101993CHC598921563393135.261.309.485.7941994CHC42659128257092.300.339.545.8841995CHC5648915136119134.268.340.500.8401996CHC4988413640100134.273.323.564.8881997CHC6429016136119174.251.300.480.7791998CHC64313419866158171.308.377.6471.0241999CHC62511418063141171.288.367.6351.0022000CHC60410619350138168.320.406.6341.0402001CHC57714618964160153.328.437.7371.1742002CHC55612216049108144.288.399.594.9932003CHC5179914440103143.279.358.553.9112004CHC478691213580133.253.332.517.8492005BAL3803984144584.221.295.376.6712007TEX412531042192112.252.311.468.779Totals88131475240860916672306.273.344.534.878Source: MLB.com1997: Led the National League with 174 strikeouts while putting up 36 homers for a last-place, 94-loss Cubs team.

June 1998: Set a major-league record with 20 home runs in a calendar month.

September 1998: Joined Mark McGwire in an epic home-run chase. Gave Big Mac a bear hug on Sept. 8 after McGwire hit his record-setting 62nd home run off Cubs pitcher Steve Trachsel in St. Louis. Less than a week later, Sosa responded with his 62nd homer at Wrigley Field. His video-game numbers -- 66 homers, 158 RBIs, 134 runs -- made him MVP.

Sept. 30, 1998: Made playoff debut and collected two hits in a 7-1 loss to the Braves at Turner Field. The Cubs got swept as Sosa didnt record another hit in the three-game series.

Dec. 21, 1998: Dressed in white togas, with wreaths around their heads, Sosa and McGwire appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as the magazines Sportsmen of the Year.

1999: Put up 63 homers and 141 RBIs for a last-place, 95-loss team.

January 2000: Asked to name his biggest mistake as an adult during a Republican campaign debate in South Carolina, Texas governor George W. Bush, the former Rangers managing partner and future president, said: I signed off on that wonderful transaction: Sammy Sosa for Harold Baines.

July 11, 2000: Won the Home Run Derby in Atlanta, going deep 26 times before beating Ken Griffey Jr. in the finals, a sideshow to a season in which he would account for 50 homers and 138 RBIs.

May 16, 2001: Launched his 400th career homer at Wrigley Field against Astros right-hander Shane Reynolds.

2001: Became the first player in major-league history to put together a third season with 60-plus homers.

2002: Led the league with 49 homers and drove in 122 runs, making it five straight All-Star Games and Silver Sluggers.

April 4, 2003: Hit his 500th career home run off Reds pitcher Scott Sullivan at Great American Ball Park, becoming the 18th member of that exclusive club.

June 4, 2003: Busted for using a corked bat. Umpire Tim McClelland ejected Sosa after a broken-bat groundout against Tampa Bay at Wrigley Field. He claimed it was his batting practice bat, apologized to fans and received a seven-game suspension.

Sept. 30, 2003-Oct. 15, 2003: Reached the postseason for the second and final time in his career. Hit .188 as the Cubs eliminated the Braves. Posted a 1.031 OPS with two homers, six RBIs and seven runs during a heartbreaking NLCS loss to the Marlins.

April 18, 2004: Set a franchise record with his 513th home run in a Cubs uniform.

May 2004: Sneezed too hard, injured his back and wound up being sidelined for more than a month.

Oct. 3, 2004: Walked out on the season finale, which would result in a 87,400 fine -- or one days pay. Reports had him leaving Wrigley Field 15 minutes before first pitch, while rumors persisted about a teammate smashing his boombox.

Feb. 2, 2005: Traded with cash to the Orioles for pitcher Dave Crouthers, infielder Mike Fontenot and utility guy Jerry Hairston Jr.

March 17, 2005: Testified at a Congressional hearing: To be clear, I have never taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

February 2006: Turned down a non-guaranteed offer from the Nationals, prompting agent Adam Katz to tell ESPN.com: We're not going to put him on the retirement list. ... But I can say, with reasonable certainty, that weve seen Sammy in a baseball uniform for the last time.

February 2007: Signed with the Rangers. He hit .252 with 21 homers and 92 RBIs in 114 games that season, including No. 600 against Jason Marquis and the Cubs, joining Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays at that elite level.

Dec. 13, 2007: Escaped the Mitchell Report. George Mitchell, the former Democratic senator from Maine, wrote that he sent letters with specific questions to lawyers for Sosa, Bonds, Palmeiro, and Gary Sheffield, none of whom provided answers to my questions. That was the only time Sosas name was mentioned in the entire document.

June 4, 2009: Told ESPN Deportes he would soon announce his retirement, almost two years after his final game, and calmly wait for my induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

June 16, 2009: The New York Times reported that hes among the group of players who tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug in 2003, citing anonymous lawyers familiar with the results from that year.

Jan. 9, 2013: That explosive story shattered the image, which wont be repaired by Wednesdays announcement. Was it worth it? According to the salary database at Baseball-Reference.com, Sosa made 124 million in his career.

Cole Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong, whether that's with the Cubs or elsewhere

Cole Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong, whether that's with the Cubs or elsewhere

How you evaluate Cole Hamels’ 2019 performance depends on which half of the season you look at.

Hamels was the Cubs’ most reliable starting pitcher through June, putting his name firmly in the conversation to make the All-Star Game. Through his first 17 starts, he held a 2.98 ERA, with 97 strikeouts and 35 walks in 99 2/3 innings.

That 17th start – June 28 against the Reds – represented a turning point for the left-hander, however. After throwing one warmup pitch ahead of the second inning, Hamels took a beeline for the Cubs’ dugout, exiting the game with a left oblique strain.

Hamels quickly detecting the strain was key, as he avoided a more significant injury and only missed one month as a result. However, he never got back to his pre-injury level after returning. In 10 starts, he posted a 5.79 ERA, walking 21 batters in 42 innings as opponents slashed .315/.397/.506 against him.

Which of the two pitchers does Hamels more closely resemble at this point? That’s what teams will have to evaluate this offseason, when the soon-to-be 36-year-old lefty hits free agency for the first time in his career.

On top of his oblique strain, Hamels also missed a start in September with left shoulder fatigue. By the time he returned, the Cubs were eliminated from postseason contention, but he wanted one last chance to show what he’s capable of before free agency.

“I don’t want to put that in the back of teams’ heads of how I finished,” Hamels said the day before his final start of the season. “I think I’m capable of what I was able to do in the first half - that’s who I am - and I can still get those good results for hopefully [the Cubs], if they consider that.

“But also, for other teams to know that I’m not the type of player that’s on the regression. This is what we’re gonna expect. It’s more so what I was able to do in the first half - the type of player that I am and the results that I can get out on the field.”

He certainly backed those words up, shutting down the Cardinals – who hadn’t clinched the NL Central yet – in the second-to-last game of the regular season. Hamels pitched four innings, allowing no runs on just two hits.

Hamels looked stellar in that game, but it doesn’t change the fact that returning from an extended injury absence isn’t easy on pitchers. They need time to regain command of their pitches, plus any amount of arm strength lost during their time on the shelf.

Hamels made two rehab starts at Triple-A before rejoining the Cubs on Aug. 3. He was determined not to return too quickly, as he did so with the Rangers in 2017 after straining his right oblique. That wound up negatively affecting him the rest of the season.

Still, maybe one or two more starts this time around would’ve served him well, though he felt that he could compete at the majors without his best stuff. Plus, it’s not like he was guaranteed to find his groove again by pitching in more minor league games.

Results are all that matter in the big leagues, however, and they show that while the Cubs starting rotation was okay, it wasn’t the difference maker capable of leading the team to October, as anticipated. Cubs starters finished the season with a 4.18 ERA, 10th in MLB and sixth in the National League.

Hamels’ post-injury woes played into those numbers, and he’s determined to bounce back in 2020 to prove his second half performance was a fluke. His first half showed that he still can pitch at a high-level, but he may not be in the Cubs’ plans for next season, regardless.

"There was some injury and regression (especially after injury) that led us to be closer to the pack certainly than we had envisioned,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said of the team’s rotation at his end-of-season press conference. “It’s an accomplished and experienced group, but with experience means that we could stand to add some younger talent, refresh the group as well.

“We certainly need to add depth and we need to add some youth and a little bit of a different look to the staff, as well, going forward.”

Those comments seem to indicate that Hamels won’t be back next season. The Cubs have Adbert Alzolay, Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills as internal rotation options for 2020 and could look outside the organization for more. Hamels also made $20 million in 2019, so freeing up his salary would help the Cubs address other roster needs.

The Cubs could do a lot worse than having a healthy Cole Hamels in their rotation, though. He’s enjoyed a resurgence since the Cubs acquired him and has had plenty of success against the NL Central and at Wrigley Field overall during his career:

vs. Brewers: 20 starts, 8-5, 3.53 ERA
vs. Cardinals: 17 starts, 5-6, 2.21 ERA
vs. Pirates: 13 starts, 5-4 record, 2.52 ERA
vs. Reds: 20 starts, 11-2 record. 2.30 ERA
at Wrigley Field: 25 starts, 7-4 record, 2.20 ERA

Granted, a large portion of those starts came earlier in his career. But with how competitive the NL Central was in 2019 and will be in 2020, the results can’t be ignored.

“Obviously I do very well at Wrigley, so I hope that’s a consideration - I love to be able to pitch there,” Hamels said about the Cubs possibly re-signing him. “For some reason, it’s just the energy and I’ve mentioned it before, it’s baseball to me. And that’s what I really feed off of and that’s hopefully what they think about.”

But if the Cubs decide to part ways with Hamels, he’ll have his fair share of suitors. The Brewers and Reds each could benefit from adding starting pitching this offseason, and Hamels would bring a ton of experience to two squads that will be competing for postseason spots in 2020.

“Otherwise, I know the other teams in the division are gonna think about it,” Hamels said with a laugh. “If you have to come to Wrigley three different times [as an opponent], I don’t pitch bad there.

“I just want to win. I think that’s it. When you get the taste of it early and then you don’t have it for a while, that’s what you’re striving for. To play this game and in front of sellouts and the energy and the expectation of winning, it’s why I enjoy the game.

“That’s what I want to be able to continue to do for the few years I have left.”

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Javy Baez is now the face of baseball

Javy Baez is now the face of baseball

Javy Baez is one step closer to becoming the unquestioned face of Major League Baseball.

For the next year, El Mago will be the cover boy for video-game-playing baseball fans, as Baez announced on his Twitter Monday morning he is gracing the cover of MLB The Show 2020:

On the even of Game 1 of the World Series, Playstation released a video depicting why they chose Baez as the new face of the game:

Last year's cover featured Bryce Harper, announced before he even signed with the Phillies. 

Baez also joins the likes of Aaron Judge, Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, Barry Bonds and David Ortiz as cover athletes for the PS4 game.

The 26-year-old Baez has become one of the most recognizable figures in the game, playing with a flair and swag that includes mind-bending baserunning maneuvers and impossible defensive plays. 

Case in point:

Baez missed the final month of the 2019 season with a fractured thumb, but still put up 29 homers and 85 RBI while ranking second on the team in WAR. In 2018, he finished second in NL MVP voting while leading the league in RBI (111) and topping the Cubs in most offensive categories. 

Theo Epstein said he never deems any player as "untouchable," but Baez is about as close as it gets for this Cubs team right now. He made the switch to shortstop full time this year and wound up with elite defensive numbers to go along with his fearsome offense and an attitude and mindset the rest of the Cubs hope to emulate.

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