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Sosa, other steroid cheats paying price for Selig’s inaction

Poor Sammy Sosa.

Oh, how fun were those days of bulging biceps, Flintstones vitamins and home runs that flew off bats like ball bearings off anvils.

But the carnival times when ‘‘Me ’n Mark’’ — Sammy-speak for himself and Cardinals freakishly massive first baseman Mark McGwire — thrilled us with a preposterous home-run race, well, they’re gone.

They were the result of a sport run amok on performance-enhancing drugs. And as history informs us, once the conspiracy has been uncovered, somebody’s gonna take the fall. And it’s almost never someone at the top. Find a mid-level, overzealous, loud-mouthed worker. Get a grunt.

And that, Mr. Sosa (with some of your most blatant cronies), means you.

The 2015 Hall of Fame voting was announced Tuesday, and Sosa — the owner of a ridiculous 609 career homers, eighth-most of all time — received so few votes that he will be dropped from the ballot after next year if the trend continues.

Imagine that.

Five hundred homers used to be a lock for the Hall. But Sosa — who once ran through the Wrigley Field grass carrying a miniature American flag, who has 1,667 RBI and 1,033 extra-base hits, who hit a homer once every 14.5 at-bats — received only 36 votes out of 549 this year. That’s 6.6 percent. A player needs a minimum of
5 percent to stay on the ballot.

This was Sosa’s third year of eligibility, and his vote total has gone from 71 in 2013 (12.5 percent) to 41 in 2014 (7.2 percent) to the paltry figure this year. If there were a red ‘‘C’’ — for cheater — that could be hung around Sammy’s neck for all to see, it seems certain the Baseball Writers’ Association of America would do it.

He and his brother-in-arms, McGwire, who was named on only 10 percent of the ballots and also is plummeting toward the vanishing point, are two of the poster boys for the Steroid Era, which has quieted down but never will be clearly completed.

Like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Rafael Palmeiro (the former Cub crashed and burned with fewer than 5 percent of the vote last year), Sosa is the guy who just went too far. He rubbed our noses in it, changing from a slender outfielder to a bulging beast before our eyes.

Four-hundred-foot dingers weren’t enough for him. He hit them 450, 470, 490 feet. In the 2002 Home Run Derby at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Sosa hit three taters that exited the stadium (through various windows) and seven that went more than 500 feet.

Goliath was looking dumbly for David. And he found him when ensuing legal reports made it clear who was using the sauce.

Sosa was slain by the law, the government and innuendo while commissioner Bud Selig dozed. Because, yes, Sosa changed shape before Selig’s eyes, too. That Selig did nothing about the obvious muscle madness going on in his leagues for more than a decade is the main reason we have reached the point where statistics mean so little and qualified Hall of Fame players are shunned.

Selig, who recently retired, has been praised for building — through wild-card games, interleague play and TV deals — a pro sport that is a summertime juggernaut. But he built it at the expense of integrity. That he didn’t do anything about rampant steroid use in the majors is a pity, even though the strongman tent show brought Selig’s game back from near irrelevance after the ugly 1994 strike.

If Selig didn’t know men such as Sosa were juicing, then shame on him. Books, magazine articles, rumors, the drug corruption of the Olympics, bodybuilding freaks everywhere — the evidence was mind-boggling. But how convenient to reap the benefits, then let over-egoed simpletons take the rap.

Fall guys. We need them. We find them.

Writing Tuesday in USA Today, baseball columnist Bob Nightengale said we voters — and I am one — should get over the Steroid Era and vote anybody in who deserves it.

We never will know for sure who was clean and who was dirty the last 30 years, Nightengale wrote, ‘‘so wake up and knock off this absurdity.’’

Not me. It’s not absurd to me. I’ll never vote for players I have judged to be cheaters. (Unless there’s a ’roider exhibit in Cooperstown.) And I’ll live with that. Uncle Bud and the players’ union did nothing to stop cheating for years, so I am forced to do what is unfair.

So be it.

Sorry, Sammy. You lose.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com
Twitter: @ricktelander