5 Silver Sluggers
1 World Series Ring
Led his League In
On Base Percentage
4 of 10 similar batters elected to the Hall of Fame (4 not yet eligible)
Makes Hall of Fame in 2 of 4 measurements (missed the black ink and the gray ink test)
It was 1986.
Gary Sheffield was the "Next Willie Mays." Gary Sheffield had the best bat speed since Hank Aaron. Gary Sheffield was the nephew of superstar Dwight Gooden. Gary Sheffield came from a horrid, gang-filled neighborhood in Tampa, FL. Gary Sheffield had a huge chip on his shoulder, and a reputation that made him the sixth overall pick in baseball's draft that year, despite being accepted as the best talent available.
It is 2006.
Gary Sheffield is nearing his 38th birthday. Gary Sheffield has been traded four times during his career, despite putting up excellent numbers in all but one city, he has also been allowed to leave as a free agent once along the way. Gary Sheffield has been shot once in the shoulder during an attempted carjacking. Gary Sheffield has been aided by the FBI during an extortion attempt involving his wife. Gary Sheffield has admitted to "unknowingly" using a product that contained a steroid. Gary Sheffield has been highly critical of teammates, owners, managers, general managers, groundskeepers, the media, fans and his former agent- opting to negotiate his most recent contract for himself. The Yankees have an option for Gary's services for the 2007 season, which they have yet to exercise.
More than twenty years have passed between Point A and Point B, Sheffield has been a professional baseball player through four presidents, the reunion tour of the Monkees, and the entire lifespan of a college sophomore. Now no longer the skinny teenager who claimed he didn't know Milwaukee had a baseball team until the day he was drafted, Sheffield is moving close to the end of a very noisy career. Will Gary's play get him elected to the Hall of Fame, or has he already worn out his welcome in Cooperstown, just as he did in Milwaukee so long ago?
Brewers' fans, I hear you murmuring out there, hold your Sheffield insults until after you've seen the numbers...
Since Gary is years away from the Hall ballot, I chose to compare him to a list of likely Hall of Famers, rather than using a group of elected Hall members. For this exercise, I compared Sheffield to a group consisting of Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa and Frank Thomas.
162 games played = one season, S = seasons played
As you can see, Sheffield has exactly matched the average career length of the control group to this point. When you consider the fact that all of these men played in the same era, and the average career length is a perfect match, I consider this to be an excellent comparison.
Sheffield's numbers are clearly outstanding, in a more typical offensive era, an OPS over .900, with seasonal averages in excess of 30 HR, and 100 RBI would make a player an obvious yes vote, the .297 career batting average should serve as icing on the cake.
This, however, is no typical offensive era.
I compared Sheffield to the best of the best from the same time period, neither the pros nor the cons can shout STEROIDS on this one, since there are questions surrounding both Sheffield, and some members of the control group. When you add it all up, Sheffield is a strong possibility, but he is no slam dunk. Sheffield leads the control group in only two stats, batting average, and stolen bases per season. Triples are a tie, hits and doubles are close, but does a one point edge in batting average and an advantage of three steals per season make up for a significant OPS gap, and shortcomings in runs, home runs and RBI? There is certainly cause for debate here.
If milestone numbers are what you prefer, Sheffield is 610 hits short of 3000, he needs 45 HR to reach 500, he does have 1501 RBI, and will most likely reach 1500 runs scored next season- he is currently at 1433. Gary has impressive career totals across the board, love him or hate him, his numbers deserve respect.
I found it hard to decide which way to vote on Gary. The thing that impressed me most with him was the 5 Silver Sluggers, that is, he was the best hitter in his league, at his position five times in his career. I think that's a rather phenomenal achievement. Beyond that, there isn't one huge stat that screams VOTE YES, but all of the career totals are outstanding.
On the downside, I'm surprised by how few times he led his league in any of the various stats. Three different stats, one time each, frankly, I expected more from a talent like Sheffield in this regard and was surprised when I saw the low totals on the leaderboards.
In the end, for me, my vote is no. When I looked back at the comparison between Sheffield and the control group of his peers, I'm just not swayed to put him in. He's been an excellent player for sure, but he's been a stud hitter in a time that has been overloaded with big bats, and big questions. While Sheffield has had some great seasons and a very notable career, I feel as though there is a clear level above him from the same era...he has been outperformed by the very best sluggers of his generation, leaving him a close no in my book.
Thank you as always for reading and thanks to Brewerfan.net for the opportunity to share my thoughts.