Did Sammy Sosa Use Performance Enhancing Drugs?

Did Sammy Sosa use performance enhancing drugs?

If only Sammy Sosa had been warned about the ides of March.

It was the middle of March, 2005, when Sosa stood before Congress and told what we now know was a series of lies. Sosa, who seemed to be struggling with English, spoke through a lawyer, saying that he had “never taken performance enhancing drugs”, had never “injected himself with anything” nor had anyone else ever injected him with anything. Many sports writers and other analysts found Sosa’s sudden “difficulty” with English little more than a smokescreen, but his statement was made.

Now, more than four years later, Sosa’s name is reportedly on a list of 104 players who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2003.

Because the test that Sosa failed was administered before the Congressional hearing took place, Sosa is in some potentially very hot water. During the course of that all day televised hearing, the House Government Reform Committee’s goal was to examining baseball’s apparently weak drug testing program, and determine what the impcat of that program is on on steroid use among teenagers — who tend to idolize professional ballplayers. In the end, after questioning Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and others, the Committee’s members determined that baseball’s policy was “full of holes” and Congress threatened to legislate tougher testing policies if baseball neglected to do it on their own.

Sammy Sosa, who joined with fellow Congressional interest Mark McGwire during the 1998 season in an historical pursuit of baseball’s home run record, has been named as one of the players testing positive for some sort of performance enhancing drug during that 2003 test, according to lawyers and other sources who have knowledge of the infamous “list of 104”. This fact makes Sosa the latest (and perhaps the most famous) baseball player of the past two decades to be linked to cheating through substances — a group including McGwire, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Rafael Palmiero.

The lawyers who had knowledge of Sosa’s inclusion on the 2003 list, and who broke this story, did not know and could not name the exact substance for which Sosa tested positive.

Sammy Sosa, who is sixth on baseball’s all time career home run list, last stepped into the batter’s box in 2007. He will likely be brought up on charges of perjury, though no charges have yet been filed. Sosa has been suspected of using performance enhancing drugs in the past, but was never caught during his baseball career, and in fact has never been publicly linked to a positive test of any kind — until now.

That epic homerun battle between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire in 1998 is credited with reviving baseball, a sport that was seeing ratings drop, fan interest wane, and profits dwindle. Part of the problem with baseball in the 1990s was a series of labor disputes that resulted in a major lockout and an even larger player’s strike. The lockout in 1990, which was a dispute over the player’s Basic Agreement, wiped out almost all of spring training, set opening day back over a week, and extended the season by about a week. This was just a hiccup compared to the 1994 strike. This strike, basically a dispute over the salary cap, lasted for nearly a year, and led to the cancellation of 948 games as well as the 1994 World Series. Many people believed this strike could destroy America’s game, and the homerun race just four years later likely brought many fans back to the game they love. To watch Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire knock multiple homeruns per game, sometimes head to head with one another, was a thrill. Little did we know that it was a manufactured thrill.

Sammy Sosa has been digging his own grave for a while now. In the course of a recent interview with the spanish language broadcaster ESPN Deportes, Sosa, who is now 40 years old, said he was “calmly waiting” for his induction into baseball’s Hall of Fame. Unfortunately for Sosa, the fact of this positive test in 2003, when he was playing for the Chicago Cubs, will likely keep him out of that lofty position. Sosa is still set to become Hall of Fame eligible in 2013, but a conviction on perjury would seriously damage his already frail chances of taking a seat among baseball’s elite players. If you want evidence of the difficulty of entering the Hall of Fame as an accused steroid abuser, look at what has happened with Mark McGwire — McGwire has received very few votes on each of the three Hall of Fame ballots his name has been on.

The test that finally caught up with Sammy Sosa was, in fact, the very first test given by Major League Baseball that looked for a wide range of performance enhancers — not just the standard steroids, but the more elusive growth hormones and other enhancement substances. Though the league made certain provisions with the Major League Baseball player’s union, the results of this first test were supposed to remain unknown to the general public — only MLB would know who tested positive, and would use that result to test more in the future as well as hand out penalties to players who tested positive. In fact, Major League Baseball was supposed to destroy the test results. The idea was to “wait and see” — if more than 5 percent of the player’s results were positive during that first test, then Major League Baseball would continue to test the next year. Unfortunately for baseball players, far more than 5 percent tested positive, though we don’t know the exact number yet.

Fast forward to 2005 — for reasons that Major League Baseball has never made clear, those test results from 2003 were never destroyed by the player’s union, and 104 positive results were seized by federal agents who were investigating matters related to distribution of drugs, both performance enhancing and recreational, to athletes. As the player’s union feared, the names of those 104 positive tests have leaked out, slowly but surely. In February, Sports Illustrated reported that superstar and current player Alex Rodriguez was named on the 2003 list. Rodriguez was forced to acknowledge he had used steroids for three years, though he embarassed himself by claiming that he didn’t know what he was being given. Now that Sosa’s name has been disclosed, we are in a holding pattern, waiting for the other shoe to drop.