The problem with statistical normalization is that it doesn’t catch decentralization, or adjust for an uneven ability to take advantage of decentralization. In my mind, Sosa was a terrific power hitter without the PEDs, but he was approaching 30 and established at a lower level when he exploded in 1998. Like McGwire, to me anyway, the PEDs didn’t just increase his totals. They increased his totals to a level that seems special instead of merely impressive.
To analogize, look at Chuck Klein. Klein, after 1930, was a decent but unremarkable player on the road, but he kept hitting .450 with 20-some homers at home every year, giving his overall stats the illusion of specialness. Bill mentioned him in the first Historical, saying “take 20 hits off every year and … (to paraphrase, the numbers were still impressive).” I did a more detailed study of Klein’s numbers, courtesy of Total Baseball’s home/road statistics, and I determined that the number wasn’t 20. It was 40. Take 40 hits a year off of Klein’s numbers and they don’t look as special.
With Sammy, I think there is something like this sort of effect, but rather than home/road it’s PED/not PED. If, for example, you say “take a few homers off for the PEDs and he’s still special” you would be correct – but it ain’t “a few homers” – it’s something like 20 a year. Before PEDs the league leader rarely even got to 50, and Sosa wasn’t leading the league by a ton every year. In fact, he didn’t lead the league in any of his 60 homer seasons.
Sosa’s totals, normalized in my mind, are more like 46-45-30-44-31, something like that. That’s still good – and he had other good years before that – but he wasn’t a defensive player, a walker, or a speedster. He didn’t hit for average without the PEDs, and his teams didn’t win. He would certainly be a candidate, I think – he would have been over 400 homers, and maybe taken a run at 500 in this scenario – but to me he was more Jose Canseco than Billy Williams.
(added later) I had forgotten that Sosa was a base stealer when he was young. He had a couple of 30-30 seasons.