Both men helped “revive” baseball in the late 1990s with their exhilarating chase for the single-season home run record.
Both men, however, were at the center of steroid use controversy.
All things considered, who was better?
The Big Mac or Slammin’ Sammy?
The Case For McGwire
While he never won an MVP award during his career, McGwire managed to hit 583 home runs in 7,660 plate appearances, while Sosa had only a handful more, 609, in 9,896 plate appearances; over 2,200 more than his counterpart.
McGwire had an effortless swing that made his home runs look extremely easy.
On TV, many of his homers looked like flyouts right off the bat, but they left the yard and people were amazed.
He has an advantage in Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, with 66.3 to Sosa’s 60.1.
Considering Sosa played 2,354 games and McGwire 1,874, it’s a noteworthy fact.
The biggest advantage between the two comes on offense.
McGwire was a considerably superior hitter.
Judging by weighted Runs Created Plus, or wRC+ – a stat that measures offensive performance and considers external factors such as park, era, and competition – he was 57 percent better than the average, and Sosa was 24 percent better than his peers.
The wRC+ stat uses 100 as “average”: McGwire had a 157 career mark, and Sosa 124.
Neither player was a defensive ace.
The Case For Sosa
Sosa was considerably faster than McGwire despite being a home run hitter.
He stole 234 bases in his career and is a two-time member of the 30-30 club (30 homers and 30 steals).
He won the MVP of the 1998 season, when both men were chasing the home run record.
McGwire may have earned the highest mark, with 70 bombs, but Sosa’s 66 and his better performance overall won him the MVP, an award that is not in McGwire’s trophy case.
OTD in 1998. Sammy Sosa clubs 66th home run to pass Mark McGwire. Sosa's last homer of the season.
— Nick Zaccardi (@nzaccardi) September 25, 2018
Another factor to consider is that McGwire admitted to taking steroids on and off since the 1980s.
Sosa may be linked to steroids and it’s likely he eventually took them, but everything points out to much less involvement.
Steroids are a controversial matter because there wasn’t testing for all of the 1990s and some of the 2000s.
Leaving the steroids conversation aside, it’s clear that both were huge in the nineties and early 2000s.
Both men were poster boys of the slugging era of baseball, and took advantage of it.
In the end, the offensive difference in favor of McGwire makes him the better player of the two.
Numbers give the edge to Sosa in fielding and baserunning, but McGwire was a much better hitter: his career line is .263/.394/.588, while Sosa’s is .273/.344/.534.
There are .050 points of OBP and .054 points of slugging in favor of McGwire, which is considerable.
You cannot in your right mind believe that Sammy Sosa was better than Mark McGwire
— Saucy Rossy (@nathan_m_ross) June 14, 2020
Perhaps Sosa was more complete as a ballplayer, but McGwire was the more impactful of the two.