By In Stuff

Ballot 12: Gary Sheffield

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Gary Sheffield

Played 22 years with six teams

Nine-time All-Star won a batting title, hit 500 home runs. 60.3 WAR, 25.7 WAA

Pro Argument: One of the 50 greatest hitters who ever lived.

Con argument: PEDs and was by the numbers an especially poor outfielder.

Deserves to be in Hall?: I think so.

Will get elected this year?: No.

Will ever get elected?: 10-15%.

* * *

Gary Sheffield never struck out 100 times in a season. He never came CLOSE to striking out 100 times in a season. Until he was 35 years old, he had never even struck out 80 times in a season.

Fewest strikeouts for players with 500 home runs.

1. Ted Williams, 709

2. Mel Ott, 896

3. Albert Pujols, 1,053

4. Gary Sheffield, 1,171

5. Ernie Banks, 1,236

This is a particularly compelling part of the Sheffield story because everything about his hitting — every single thing about it from the way he anxiously twitched the bat while waiting for the pitch to the impossibly hard swing that followed — smelled of swing-and-miss. This is part of what made Sheffield such a wonderful and frightening hitter. He seemed to be just a little bit out of control. And yet, truth was, he was PERFECTLY in control. He seemed to be swinging like a punch-drunk boxer hoping for a knockout. But he was really a surgeon at the plate. He rarely missed.

The whole idea of the “fearsome hitter” became slightly absurd a few years ago when many argued for Jim Rice’s Hall of Fame candidacy. Rice had a perfectly viable — though marginal — Hall of Fame case. He led the league in homers three times, in slugging and RBIs twice and so on. He also relied on Fenway Park almost as much as Larry Walker relied on Coors Field and he finished with career numbers that seemed just a little bit short. It was the classic borderline case (as is Larry Walker), and when you have a borderline case you need a great story. The pro-Rice camp found one. They began to push the notion that Rice belonged in the Hall because he was the most feared hitter of his time.

There was power in the idea of Rice as a “feared hitter.” For one thing: It was true. Pitchers often talked about their dread in facing Rice. But also: It’s visceral. People talked about it, argued about it, celebrated and mocked it. I think the “feared hitter” thing played a very real role in getting Rice into the Hall of Fame, but at a cost. Now, when you talk about someone being a “feared hitter,” a lot of people just roll their eyes.

But Gary Sheffield, in my mind, would touch all the terror nerves in a pitcher’s body. I can’t imagine there has ever been a scarier hitter to face.

Sheffield grew up in a rough-and-tumble part of Tampa; he would talk sometimes of hearing the police sirens all night. Sheffield grew up facing the pitches of his uncle, Dwight Gooden. Doc was just four years older than Sheffield but he never took it easy on his nephew. He never had to. When you grow  up on Dwight Gooden fastballs and curveballs, you learn a thing or two about hitting. Sheffield’s Little League team made it to the championship game of the World Series. Later, they won the senior Little League World Title.

It was clear from the start that Sheff was a hitting phenom. He was the Gatorade High School Player of the Year in 1986 and he was the first high school hitter taken in the draft. His first minor league season, he hit .365. His second and third and drove in 100 RBIs. “He’s a shortstop who hits with power,” Milwaukee hitting coach Tony Muser told Peter Gammons. “Yet he makes contact like a Mattingly or Boggs.” From the start, his unique hitting ability baffled and amazed everyone around him.

But other things were apparent too …for one thing, he had no defensive position. The Brewers tried him at shortstop, a position he had not played much growing up. That didn’t work at all. He had 39 errors as an 18-year-old in Stockton. They moved him to third base. and that was a little better, but it wouldn’t last. He would eventually finish in the outfield where, according to Baseball Reference numbers, he was the second-worst defensive player in baseball history behind only Adam Dunn.

And then there was the rest of it — Sheffield just did not fit in. For one thing, he did not want to fit in. He wanted to stand out. When he got his signing bonus, the first thing he did was buy a Mercedes and have his gold initials GAS studded into his front teeth. He saw himself as a star and did not understand why others didn’t see him the same way. He was booed often his rookie year while he watched Ken Griffey, barely a year younger, being hero worshipped in Seattle. He seethed.

“Baseball wasn’t treating me right, my teammates weren’t treating me right,” he told the New York Times. “It was kind of eating me up inside.”

He complained often. He complained about moving to third base. He complained about pitchers not retaliating after he had been brushed back. His manager, Tom Trebelhorn, fined him a grand for not hustling. He was briefly demoted for a time to the minors because the Brewers thought he was faking an injury. He said that, as a black player, the game made him feel like an outsider.

He hit just .259/.319/.376 in his miserable time in Milwaukee, and his last year was disastrous (he hit .194 in 50 games). But through it all, there were moments — special moments — when you could see just how wonderful a hitter Gary Sheffield would become. One of those moments came in April 1989, the ninth game of his rookie season, when the Brewers played Texas and Nolan Ryan was on the mound.

Epic things always happened with Ryan was on the mound because Ryan refused to be ordinary, even on a Monday Night in April. Ryan came at the kid with everything he had — busted him inside with fastballs, tried to break his back with the hard curveball, challenged Sheffield with 95 mph followed by 96 mph followed by 97 mph. Once he threw up and in just to give the kid a scare.

“He shook me up a couple of times,” Sheffield admitted.

But Ryan was bit shaken a bit too; No matter how hard he threw the ball, the 20-year-old Sheffield kept turning on it and ripping the ball foul. Ryan simply could not throw the ball hard enough to keep Sheffield from pulling it. So he threw harder, and then harder, and then harder and Sheffield kept yanking the ball foul, a couple of times at home run distance. In the end, Sheffield won on technical KO — he walked three times. But everyone who saw the duel that day understood that this was no ordinary young hitter.

“Gary,” Sheffield’s manager and occasional nemesis Trebelhorn said, “can turn on a 38-caliber bullet.”

It wasn’t going to work in Milwaukee so  in March of 1992, after years of lobbying, the Brewers finally traded Sheffield to San Diego. “I just can’t stop smiling,” Sheff  said.

“It’s a roll of a dice and a gamble,” Padres manager Greg Riddoch said on the day of the deal. “But it’s one we’re willing to take because we want to be winners.”

Well, the winning thing wouldn’t happen — Riddoch would get canned before the end of the season — but Sheffield, freed from his Milwaukee shackles, unloaded. He won the batting title his first year in San Diego, hitting .330. He hit 33 homers, drove in 100 RBIs, led the league with 323 total bases. He also struck out just 40 times in 618 plate appearances 33 homers — 40 Ks, that’s Joe DiMaggio stuff, Ted Williams stuff, Yogi Berra stuff.

It should be added here that Sheffield said he found the first bit of peace in his baseball life because he followed the path of a teammate — now a fellow Hall of Fame balloteer — Fred McGriff. “He became my role model,” Sheffield said.

Less than a year later, the Padres traded Sheffield to Florida. The trade happened one week after Sheffield was arrested in Houston after an altercation with a police officer — the third arrest of his career. The Padres tried to say that they were dealing Sheffield because of his various off-the-field issues. The reality seemed to be that they were shedding payroll. It wouldn’t be the last time that Sheffield was dealt away in a payroll-dumping plan. (The Padres got another Hall of Fame ballot member in the deal — Trevor Hoffman).

Gary Sheffield’s hitting — so much hitting. In 1996, he hit .314 with 42 home runs  walked 142 times, led the league in OPS and OPS+ and finished sixth in the MVP voting. The next year was a down year, but in the playoffs he hit .320/.507/.540 in the postseason as the Marlins shocked everyone and won the World Series.

A year later, he was traded in another salary dump. So it goes.

From 1998 to 2003, Sheffield hit .314/.419/.566 and averaged 33 homers, 102 RBIs, 98 runs per year. Those numbers in almost any other time would be mind-blowing — in the late 1990s and early 2000s, though, they sort of blended into the scenery. In 2004, his numbers actually dropped some — he didn’t hit .300 or have an on-base percentage of .400 for the first time in years — but he was playing for the Yankees and he finished second in the MVP balloting that year.* It was the highest MVP finish of his career.

*That was the year Vlad Guerrero won it and while I utterly love Vlad, it’s absolutely ludicrous that Ichiro did not win it that year.

Sheffield was indeed feared, though I suspect fans and pitchers feared him for different reasons. Fans feared him because he was scary, man, the bat waving, the savage swing, the long home runs, the glare.

Pitchers, meanwhile, feared him because of something else entirely — there was no way to pitch him. That’s always the scariest thing; the scariest person to fight is not the behemoth but the one who will never stop coming. As  Nolan Ryan found out when Sheffield was just 20 years old, you could not throw the ball by him. He spit on sliders out of the zone. And he never just protected the plate — with two strikes he swung just as hard as he would on a 3-0 count. As one pitcher once told me, “If every hitter in baseball started an at-bat 0-2, Gary Sheffield would be the greatest hitter in the game.”

The Hall of Fame case is muddled, for sure. Sheffield did hit 500 home runs, and he’s 26th all-time in runs created — only Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez on the ballot created more. Everything about his offense says Hall of Famer.

But there’s the rest of it. He admitted using PEDs though he says he was unaware that they were PEDs at the time. And as mentioned, he was a very, very poor fielder by the numbers — his offensive WAR is third among players on the ballot, but his overall WAR drops all the way to eighth, only slightly ahead of Vlad Guerrero and  Sammy Sosa.

But even when it comes to defense, nothing is simple with Sheffield. I once was having an email conversation with Bill James about Sheffield — whether or not he was a Top 100 player (he did not end up in my list) — and Bill was making the argument that Sheffield was underrated defensively and, more to the point, people missed how HARD he played.

“He was insanely, inhumanly intense on the field,” Bill wrote. “He took it as a personal insult if you tried to go first to third on him. He came out of the batter’s box as if every play was going to be a bang-bang play at first. … Dustin Pedroia doesn’t play any harder than Gary Sheffield did, although Sheffield didn’t get much credit for it.”

No, he doesn’t. With almost half the ballots in over at Ryan Thibodaux’s marvelous Hall of Fame counter, Sheffield is down six votes and down to 11.3% of the balloting. Considering he’s likely to do more poorly on the anonymous ballots, he could very well finish below 10% and be on the death spiral off the ballot. It’s not easy to see what will turn around Sheffield’s voting momentum. Maybe as the ballot thins, people will take a second look. He was a legendary hitter. I would have voted for him if I had 12 votes, but you only get 10.

 

 

 

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111 Responses to Ballot 12: Gary Sheffield

  1. Bryan says:

    Age 23-32 there are 187 players with 200+ HR. Sheffield’s 157 OPS+ is 9th among the 26 below and tied with Joey Votto for 21st among all 187 in that age range. Under that % of SO per plate appearance:
    5 – Yogi and Musial
    6 – Kluszewski and Mattingly
    7 – Ted and Hornsby
    8 – Chuck Klein, Al Simmons and Ott
    9 – Nomar, Kaline, Del Ennis and Gehrig
    10 – Vern Stephens, Pujols and Cal
    11 – Magglio Ordonez, Sheffield, Hrbek, Gary Carter, Mays, Aaron, Vlad, Billy Williams, Yaz and Palmeiro

  2. Anon says:

    Odd observation in looking at the list of HOFers sorted by HR.

    The number of HOFers by HR range:
    600+ 4
    500-599 13
    400-499 10
    300-399 17
    200-299 22
    100-199 33
    (Under 100 has a lot because it includes all the pitchers)

    Seems odd that the 400 bracket has fewer than the 500 bracket. You would expect the number to dwindle as you go up.

    • Bryan says:

      Miggy 446, Beltre 445, Beltran 421 and fewer active HR ignored:
      600+ 4/8 – 50% (probably 89% 8/9 – Barry, A-Rod, Thome and Pujols eventually in)
      500+ 13/19 – 68% (probably 78% 14/18 – Pujols leaves, Ortiz elected)
      400+ 10/25 – 40% (probably 52% 13/25 – Chipper, Vlad, Bagwell eventually in)
      300+ 17/81 – 21% (probably 23% 19/81 – I-Rod and Edgar eventually in)
      Maybe Edgar doesn’t get in, not even by a committee after Ortiz is elected by the BBWAA and maybe Jeff Kent does get in but hitting a bunch of HR is a pretty solid path to the HoF and hitting more is generally a better idea.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Well, I wouldn’t. 500 HRs for a long time was a key milestone for power hitting HOFers. Those in the 400s (or less) better have something a lot more than the HR going for them, or they didn’t get the votes.

    • Patrick says:

      My guess would be, the 400 HR guys were more likely to be one-dimensional power hitters like Dave Kingman or Adam Dunn (although Dunn walked). But to play long enough get to 500, you needed a more well-rounded skill set

  3. David Gardner says:

    When he was with Atlanta, he was a fairly decent right fielder. Had a strong arm, and even hustled a little bit. And I must have seen him hit a half-dozen of those “frozen rope” line drive homers right down the left field line…got out of the park faster than the pitch had gotten to home plate.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Outside of a couple of odd remarks that stirred up a bit of controversy, Sheffield did well in Atlanta. It seemed that Atlanta was well aware of Sheffield’s tendency to feel disrespected. Chipper Jones went out of his way to welcome and support Sheffield. And Bobby Cox almost never said anything but positive things about players in the press. Certainly he held to form with Sheffield. The team rolled out the welcome wagon for Sheffield overall & I think he enjoyed playing in Atlanta. The big issue with keeping him in Atlanta was Scott Boras and also Sheffield’s desire to go to the highest bidder. The Braves, at the time, simply wouldn’t negotiate with Boras. I think they felt he’d burned them a couple of times prior. I recall something about Sheffield firing Boras and cutting his own deal with the Yankees. I know they had a major falling out. But Sheffield was playing for a big contract, so there was no real surprise when he didn’t stay.

      • Matt says:

        Read Sheffield’s Players Tribune piece. He basically said he treated baseball as a business and it was his job to be paid as much as can possibly be.

    • Doug says:

      One thing that I think is particularly difficult, with regards to defense, is the inclination towards grading on tools rather than performance. Having a fantastic arm or hustling don’t actually make you a good defender – they give you the tools to be a good defender, but they don’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be one. Similarly, putting in effort on defense is good, but it doesn’t mean you’re a good defender. Being a good or bad defender isn’t a moral quality. Whatever tools he had, whatever effort he put in, whatever the reasons, Sheffield wasn’t a good defender. (not saying you’re doing that; just remarking)

  4. Darrel says:

    It always seems strange to me that we give good defensive players much more credit than we take away from bad defensive players. Now given what we know about the limitations of defensive numbers Sheffield may not be the 2nd worst defensive player ever but we can be sure that he was damn bad. The awfulness of his, an other great hitters D, often gets overlooked while we strain hard to include better than average D in the argument for player’s whose hitting might be just a little short. Seems to me good D and bad D should count the same.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Well, I’m not exactly sure how you mean it. There are very, very few players who build value largely off their defense. Ozzie, of course (but he had some offensive pluses with his speed). Mark Belanger had huge defensive value, but his offense was so bad he couldn’t make a HOF case. And Brooks Robinson managed to combined some good (not great) offensive value with other-worldly defense. Last I checked, these were the top 3 defensive players of all time & two of them are in the HOF.

      Still, your overall point has some validity. And I think that’s because offense does generate more value than defense. Certainly that’s true when you’re evaluating HOF numbers. You can build up a lot of advanced metrics “value” without being a good defender, but it’s really hard to do it the other way around.

      • Darrel says:

        Walker and Sheffield are prime examples. When discussing Walker we talk about the amazing offensive numbers yes but also about how well rounded his game was. In essence how much value he added on defense and on the bases. It is baked in to every argument that he belongs in the Hall. And I believe it should be. With Sheffield his terrible D mainly gets a token mention and then we are onto the fearsome hitter stuff. To me though the fact that he brought such negative value to his team on D should be a bigger factor. Yes, I know, it’s factored into his WAR number but very few voters are voting strictly on WAR. This is not to pick on Sheffield by the way as it is a common theme amongst all defensively challenged candidates. Meanwhile Edgar gets crushed by not playing D at all.

        • Rob Smith says:

          I think that’s the point for Walker, right? That he should get enough of a bump from his defense and overall game to push his marginal offensive case over the top. That’s probably right, but I don’t think it’s the way it’s perceived. I think even hitting wise, his case gets further discounted by Coors field to look kind of like a mirage to some. If he got full credit for his offense, his defense would help. But again, he’s not Ozzie or Brooks or Belanger either.

      • Robert Rittner says:

        I think Mazeroski made the HOF based somewhat on one home run but essentially because he was often called the greatest defensive second baseman of all time.

        • Rob Smith says:

          That’s definitely true. I also think that voters squinted hard and compared him to other second basemen from his era. Mostly, they didn’t hit. So, he was well above average offensively for a second baseman of his era. But looking at BBR…eh… the offense is pretty slim. He didn’t even get on base! His BA was the same as Ozzies, but Ozzie walked some & stole bases. Maz did neither of those things. Maz did have a bit of pop, but nothing to write home about. Still, he only got 42% in his last year of eligibility. It was a Veterans Committee that voted him in. Clearly though, his defense was objectively awesome.

      • SDG says:

        The best offenders get put at corner OF or 1B (or now, DH), and sail into the inner-circle Willie Mays Hall of Fame. The best defenders are late-inning replacements, 1 WAR players no one remembers.

        Ozzie and Brooks don’t come close to the Hall with average+ offensive numbers. They probably aren’t even everyday players. And that’s become even more the case now as scouting and training is more sophisticated and structured.

  5. dlf9 says:

    One thing that I can’t forgive is that Sheffield told a reporter that he intentionally committed errors while in Milwaukee in an attempt to force the Brewers to trade him. To me, this goes to the root of the problem that resulted in the banning of Pete Rose: the contestants have to be assumed to be giving an honest and full effort to win the game, anything less and we may as well have professional wrestling. Gambling leads to the possibility of a conflict of interest that could result in such lack of effort. Sheffield’s comments skip this middle step and go straight to throwing the contest for personal benefit. A tracer on the comment suggests that, much like other things Sheffield said, this is probably not true, but the mere comment itself is incredibly damaging and should have been met with serious and significant sanction.

    • Rob Smith says:

      That was the issue with Sheffield wherever he went. He’d make these bizarre controversial statements. He’d just blurt them out. I think he just always felt unappreciated and didn’t have a filter. I’m virtually certain he didn’t mean almost any of the things he said. I say this because it appeared that he was liked within the clubhouse. His battles seemed to be with his Managers and Front Office, not the players. (and he was never the only one to feel that way, I’m sure). But yeah, saying that you committed errors on purpose to get traded is pretty bad. Just knowing how Sheff operated, he was just popping off.

    • dlf9 says:

      I wanted to take a slightly different tack from my last comment. There are three RF who are direct contemporaries on this ballot, Sheffield, Walker, and Guerrero. Joe, so far, has the first outside, the second in, and the third TBD. All three have very close rate stats as hitters with all at 140 or 141 OPS+. Walker played the least (about 8000 PAs) and Sheffield the most (~11,000) with Guerrero in the middle. Vlad was the most durable within seasons, regularly having 150+ games played while Walker was the least (only one such season) with Sheffield in the middle. They stole roughly the same number of bases with Walker having the best percentages and Guerrero the worst. To me, to draw a line between Sheffield and Walker with the latter in and the former out puts a lot of weight on somewhat iffy defensive stats, very little weight on durability or career length, and/or a ton of weight on character or off field matters.

      • BobDD says:

        I didn’t see any character or off-field matters involved, but defense IS a big part of Walker’s case vs. Sheffield’s comparative durability. It evens out to almost a tie; it’s easy to put these guys next to each other in either order.

      • Patrick says:

        But there’s always got to be someone barely on both sides of the line right?

    • greg elle says:

      at the time, was clear that he and Milwaukee were not a fit, but I was sure that was cuz Sheff didn’t want to fit there. He made a career of raking hard, not fielding a position, and being cranky about it all. Rock Raines handled the trajectory of a career much better. To my eyes, many games of both, they are very similar. To my heart, Sheff shat on it all and Rock simply rolls for decades as an all time stud among his peers.
      That is my new test, a stud among his peers. Can we have a Hall of Peers?

    • Benjamin Wildner says:

      We’ve been referring to him as “Oh Evil One” ever since. Certainly excessive, but I can’t think of a baseball player more loathed. Braun is a long way from liked but an equally long way from Sheffield in these parts. Dude certainly set himself up to lose a few votes his numbers would have earned if he were more boring.

    • Vidor says:

      Yeah, that’s pretty darn horrible, making errors on purpose, and it’s surprising that Posnanski doesn’t mention that.

  6. Matt Doc says:

    Loved Sheffield! Best hitter in the game for 5 years. He deserves to be in the HOF over McGriff, Ordonez, or any of those closers. That’s for sure.

    • greg elle says:

      he should have settled at 3rd. he could have done it. was very young and, well, maybe he was as angry at the world as he swung the bat. he didn’t strike out cuz he just hit the ball, hard. Vlad like? he made an impression on me for sure. I KNOW he could have made 3rd base work for him if he wanted. he wanted something the game would never give him, not sure what that is. I do know, dude raked from the right side like none I ever saw, pure fear in the seats and on the mound.

      yes, Gary Sheffield made an impression on me, 🙂

  7. Mark Daniel says:

    These profiles are awesome. That Sheffield is NOT a high strikeout guy is downright shocking.

    • greg elle says:

      the dude could HIT. diff for me tween Edgar, Rock Raines, and Sheff, wow, hard to say,,,, maybe I am an ‘eye sees what it sees’ kinda hall guy cuz I think they are hall hitters

      ok,, attitude and lack of a postition aside, I thought it when watching, Sheff belongs

      that was one of the most violent dudes in the right hand box I have ever seen, ask any third baseman of the time. He never found a position and I do believe he should have found a home at third. His attitude about it all leaves himm out. A simpe perception of not really caring about what he was doing and what was happening around him early in his career hurt his chances for the Hall, and hurt his early career as well as the teams he was on early. Had he been a bit more grounded as a youth, I am SURE he would have been a Monster.

      not in, not my vote
      thank you for letting me post and indulging my memories

  8. Charlie B says:

    How would people view his case vs. Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz? Would he have a better case had he found a team who made him a full-time DH?

    • greg elle says:

      he should have settled at 3rd. he could have done it. was very young and, well, maybe he was as angry at the world as he swung the bat. he didn’t strike out cuz he just hit the ball, hard. Vlad like? he made an impression on me for sure. I KNOW he could have made 3rd base work for him if he wanted. he wanted something the game would never give him, not sure what that is. I do know, dude raked from the right side like none I ever saw, pure fear in the seats and on the mound.

      yes, Gary Sheffield made an impression on me, 🙂

    • John Autin says:

      Sheff likely would have a better HOF case had he been a DH, at least analytically.

      In the WAR analysis, Sheffield clearly lost more than a DH would. Combining fielding runs and the position adjustment, he averaged -15 runs per 650 PAs, Ortiz -13, and Edgar -7. (Edgar actually had positive defensive value when he played 3B.)

      As to the public view, or that of HOF voters, I have no idea. Sheffield and Ortiz have a whole lot in common — OPS+, career length, PED taint — and Sheff has the WAR edge. Yet Ortiz seems the more likely HOFer as of now.

      • duffsovietunion says:

        I think it’s also been shown that most players hit worse when they DH, maybe due to not feeling as involved in the game. As a Yankees fan, I remember Jason Giambi being notorious for this. Everyone seemed to know the team would be better with him as DH, but whenever he actually did DH, he just stopped hitting.

    • Bryan says:

      Sheffield has almost all the positive WAR running/DP seasons from that trio. Ortiz 0.7 in 1998, Edgar 1.1 in 1992 and 1994, Sheffield with 10 seasons from 0.1 to 4.7, he’s the best base runner but that’s not saying much. For hitting by rBat (no DH penalty, Mike Trout 52 to 68 the last 5 years as a reference point):
      116, 109, 106, 77, 73, 70, 62, 61, 59, 55 – Barry 1129 career
      61, 59, 53, 49, 46, 43, 43, 42, 42, 37 – Manny 651 career
      67, 65, 64, 56, 49, 49, 42, 34, 31, 30 – Bagwell 591 career
      72, 61, 55, 48, 47, 37, 36, 36, 35, 32 – Sheffield 561 career
      68, 62, 57, 52, 52, 48, 45, 43, 31, 30 – Edgar 532 career
      58, 49, 48, 45, 38, 37, 34, 30, 27, 26 – Ortiz 457 career
      50, 49, 47, 45, 37, 36, 35, 31, 31, 25 – Vlad 429 career
      70, 49, 48, 43, 38, 30, 24, 23, 19, 16 – Walker 420 career
      47, 43, 39, 38, 36, 33, 32, 23, 21, 20 – McGriff 400 career
      84, 56, 54, 53, 44, 23, 19, 17, 15, 10 – Sosa 333 career
      58, 46, 30, 29, 26, 20, 18, 18, 15, 13 – Kent 297 career
      36, 35, 32, 30, 27, 25, 19, 18, 13, 13 – Raines 291 career
      27, 25, 21, 16, 15, 15, 14, 13, 10, 0 – I-Rod 74 career
      ***
      Sheffield’s problem is that it’s easy enough to find some comparison that looks terrible if you don’t want him on your ballot without even mentioning the check his wife wrote to BALCO. Mo Vaughan 293/383/523 vs Sheffield 292/393/514 or Delgado 483 doubles and 473 HR vs Sheffield 467 doubles and 509 HR.
      If you’re going to elect someone for being an elite hitter Sheffield has a very good case, Sosa’s peak isn’t much higher it’s just in a row while Sheffield’s best 5 years are 1992, 1996, 2000, 2001 and 2003.

      • Jimmy_Chop says:

        I think a better comparison is with Jim Thome (whom everyone absolutely adored). Would love to see the back and forth on Sheff vs. Thome.

        • Bryan says:

          70, 60, 53, 47, 44, 40, 40, 36, 35, 32 – Thome 587
          72, 61, 55, 48, 47, 37, 36, 36, 35, 32 – Sheffield 561
          By rBat they are very similar. Rbaser rates Sheffield as a better runner -1 career to -27 for Thome the WAR gap is mainly from defense -180 for Thome (-45 for below average fielding, -135 for position played) and -279 for Sheffield (-195 for being according to the stats used a historically bad fielder, -84 for position played with fewer DH games than Thome). Very similar career length.

    • Ross Hansen says:

      That’s a really good point. Sheff was a way better hitter than either Edgar or Papi. Bad defensive stats are indeed better than NO defensive stats-both DH’s were SO horrible in the field that they weren’t forced to play there.

      • nightfly says:

        I have to disagree – no defensive stats means that they indirectly helped their team by not taking a defensive spot from a superior fielder. On top of that, Edgar wasn’t a bad fielder, his bat was just deemed to important for the Mariners to risk him being injured.

  9. greg elle says:

    as a ball hawk on the third base line in spring training, Sheff was feared, very feared, yup, folks came up with balls and bruises, the man was wicked quick with the bat,
    the feeling was that, if he cared, he could have manned 3rd base quite fine for the pure simple fear his at bats created and the flash of glove when he in and on the game at hand
    J Rice, seen and gathered quite a few foul balls off his bat, none with fear,, Sheff sometimes bruised me and others
    this fan has a diff take on feared, maybe

    • Rob Smith says:

      Yeah, he tended to be early on a lot of pitches and would just hammer ropes into the seats behind third base. Whenever he did that you wondered whether somebody’s head had just been exploded. It was scary.

    • TMac says:

      Came here to basically say this. Sheffield was also feared by third base, third base coaches, and fans down the 3rd base/left field line all across baseball.

  10. MCD says:

    Joe’s earlier column on Sammy Sosa talked about the PED “authenticity” and “morality” arguments (Joe’s terms). Sheffield is probably losing some votes to voters in both camps. While most voters feel like they know how much of Barry Bonds’ numbers were PED-enhanced (i.e. when), the delineation for Sheffield is not so clear-cut. As dlf9 pointed out above, Sheffield could even be losing votes based on “morality” even if not necessarily PED based.

    • Darrel says:

      Sheff and Pudge are definitely on the Authenticity side of the coin for me. Sheff barely makes the grade even with the steroid help and his is a purely offensive case. Pudge didnt have nearly the offensive numbers and if you draw a line across his baseball card when drug testing began the results are a pretty staggering before and after. Maybe you can argue that even as an average hitter Pudge’s defense is enough to get him in. The real question then is how much was his D helped by the PED use. Things like arm strength and the simple ability not to melt in the Texas sun.

  11. Wes Tovich says:

    Oh he’s a Hof. You just don’t leave that much out. I put him in the same place as I do Manny, save Manny wasn’t the angry jerk as much as the spaced out Clown stereotype. Both were all timer great hitters and poo poo in the OF. I’d put both in. I don’t expect Sheffield to ever make it, sadly.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Manny has two positive PED tests. There’s no wiggling out for him. Sheff went for the Bonds like “I didn’t knowingly take (what we now now were, in fact) PEDs”. That’s as good as a positive test. Manny would be in except for the positive tests, but the tests kill his chances. His career numbers are completely tainted. Sheff is borderline without the steroid taint. So he won’t make it either.

  12. Robert says:

    This is an interesting conversation. However, the thing that got my attention the most was being reminded that Williams had only 709 strikeouts with 521 HR’s. Wow. I think as his generation fades more into the background we lose track of some of those numbers from our everyday conversations. Pity. Will it ever happen again?

    • Bryan says:

      Ted 521 HR, 709 SO, 1.36 SO per HR, baseball-reference.com does not have starter/reliever splits for that era
      vs Starting Pitchers in STL: Pujols 445 HR, 704 SO, 1.58 SO per HR
      That’s likely about as close as someone is going to get barring a rule change that affects current reliever usage or effectiveness.

    • DMac says:

      6. Jimmie Foxx, 1311

      7. Babe Ruth, 1330, which as of his retirement was the most in history by far. Since then, 117 players have struck out more, with six more (Adrian Gonzalez, Chris Davis, Mike Napoli, David Wright, Jay Bruce and maybe Nelson Cruz) poised to pass him in 2017.

      • Nick S. says:

        I’m legitimately surprised that there are only 117 players who struck out more.

      • Bryan says:

        1935 – 1st Ruth 1330, 2nd Jimmy Sheckard 849
        1945 – Jimmie Foxx retires with 1311, still only 2 players with over 1000
        1959 – Gil Hodges and Larry Doby become 3rd and 4th players to strike out 1000 times
        1964 – Mickey Mantle takes over all-time lead, 7 players with 1000+
        1970 – Mantle 1710, Eddie Mathews 1487, Ruth 3rd, 21 players with 1000+
        1982 – Reggie Jackson 1966 (he is still all-time leader), Ruth 22nd, 57 players with 1000+
        2000 – Ruth 57th, 153 players with 1000+
        2005 – Ruth 78th, 197 players with 1000+
        2010 – Ruth 95th, 239 players with 1000+
        2016 – Ruth 118th, 298 players with 1000+

    • rabidtiger says:

      Check Joe Dimaggio’s home run and K totals: almost even. I think Dimaggio had more home runs than K’s until his last year, 1951.

  13. invitro says:

    I think Gary Sheffield is a rotten human being, one of the 1% worst people among baseball players. Even if he didn’t use PED’s, I wouldn’t vote for him if I had 20 votes. He was constantly hateful and bigoted throughout his career. I’m very glad that Joe isn’t giving him a vote.

    “his offensive WAR is third among players on the ballot, but his overall WAR drops all the way to eighth, only slightly ahead of Vlad Guerrero and Sammy Sosa.” — Eighth among hitters… he’s 11th among all players.

    • ben says:

      ” He was constantly hateful and bigoted throughout his career.”

      Can you please expand on that?

      • invitro says:

        Read his wikipedia article, and/or do a google search.

        • DB says:

          Do not see it. Saw your comment below and read the article and came away liking him even more. So the comment about Latin American players and saying that he thought Joe Torre might be racist makes him constantly hateful and bigoted and one of the worse players in baseball. So 2 comments over 22 years, not a good average. Sounds to me that he was an angry young man and it showed. Also fueled his success.

        • duffsovietunion says:

          “Do you seriously claim that Sheff only made two ridiculous comments over 22 years?”

          He made plenty of ridiculous comments, but that’s not what you said. You called him hateful and bigoted and I don’t see any of that unless you’re one of those “calling someone a racist makes *you* the real racist” people, which….nah.

          • invitro says:

            Sheffield didn’t call someone a racist. He called hundreds of people racists, maybe hundreds of thousands of people, for no reason except that they didn’t treat him as The Messiah.

          • Crazy Diamond says:

            Nice post, invitro! I agree 100%.

    • Doug says:

      So you agree with the position that voters should take account of off-the-field moral and political things when they’re making their decisions?

      • invitro says:

        I think voters should take account of anything they want to. I personally would use character as a factor, in particular whether a player improved or detracted from the state of baseball. I don’t view Sheff’s actions as being off-the-field: the ones I’m talking about relate to baseball. He was a horrible example of how a baseball star should act, even with an extremely inclusive definition of “should act.”

        • Crazy Diamond says:

          I think Sheffield’s personality is a big reason why he’s struggling to gain votes. Most of the biggest jerks struggle. Look at Albert Belle. The guy was a terrific player with a very high peak and should’ve gotten more than the 7% of votes that he topped out at. But everybody hated him and thus he lasted only two ballots. Jeff Kent falls into that category, too, as do many others. Being an a-hole really hurts your chances at getting into the HOF.

  14. invitro says:

    Gary’s mini-autobiography on Players’ Tribune — http://www.theplayerstribune.com/gary-sheffield-where-im-coming-from/ — it’s pretty long.

  15. Donald A. Coffin says:

    Sheffield is one of the players I have really mixed feelings about. He was one hell of a hitter…but…he led his league in only 5 categories, in a total of two years (BA and TB in 1992; OBA, OPS, and OPS+ in 1996). That seems, well, odd for someone whose reputation I as a hitter. (By contrast, Jim Rice has 15 black-ink marks–excluding things like games, PA, AB–and I always felt that Rice was a marginal HoF choice.) Leave aside doubles (where his career total ranks 93), he ranks 29th in runs, 26th in HRs, and 28th in RBIs, 37th in plate appearances tied 35/36 in OWAR, so all of that is positive.

    But his defensive numbers are not just mediocre, they are legendarily bad. On the other hand, he was a DH (apparently) in only about 300 games out of about 900 AL games), so his teams were willing to play him in the field instead of DH him. (Joe notes that Bill James says his defense was better than advertised, but I’m not seeing it in the numbers. For his career, he’s 0.24 plays per 9 innings played below the average outfielder and 0.8 plays per 9 below the average SS. (Here’s a link to Rob Neyer quoting Bill’s reasons for ranking Sheffield higher defensively than anyone else does:http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/just-a-bit-outside/baseball-joe/blog/bill-james-on-fielding-part-3-012215) James: “number of innings that a TEAM must play in the field depends directly on how many outs they make at bat…Gary Sheffield, for example, ranked better in my defensive analysis than in anyone else’s defensive analysis, because Sheffield, with his very high On Base Percentages, didn’t make very many outs…Since he didn’t make outs, he was not placing a defensive responsibility on the team.” I have read that a dozen times and it still makes no sense. It’s not individual outs, or even team outs, that lead to more defensive responsibility. In a “possession” game–like football, where, in the extreme one team might have offensive possession for 60% of the game, in baseball, offensive outs equals defensive outs (at best, if a team loses all its road games in 9 innings, it will have 4% fewer innings than offensive innings). So I can’t see how Sheffield’s high OBA reduces the negative effect of his defense.

    And I’m still on the fence about Sheffield (keep in mind I do not weigh highly PED use).

    • Brent says:

      Actually, that is one of my pet peeves about football announcers, treating it like a “possession” game. HOckey and Soccer are possession games, one team CAN have more chances to score than the other. Baseball, football and basketball are all take your turn games and, for the most part, teams have exactly the same chance to score as the other team.

  16. shagster says:

    Fun to watch. If he was in your Team. He attacked the ball. Like a wounded animal.

  17. John Q says:

    I always found the term “feared hitter” to be somewhat racist or least there was a subconscious racial bias because the term always seemed attached to black men. You never heard the term attached to a white hitter. It usually was attached to guys like Frank Robinson, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Reggie Jackson, Dick Allen, George Scott, John Mayberry, Dave Parker, George Foster, Jim Rice, Gary Sheffield, Cecil Fielder, Frank Thomas, Ryan Howard etc. It’s like like the notion of a large black man with a 34 inch 34 ounce piece of wood struck fear into white sportswriters minds.

    • nightfly says:

      I dunno… I mean, I’ve heard it said about guys who just looked and acted intimidating. Robinson, sure. McCovey, Allen, Dave Parker, Jim Rice – surly batters, one and all. But I don’t know that Pops Stargell or Reggie Jackson got hung with a tag like that. I do know that Mike Schmidt was feared. Pete Rose was feared for being an uncompromising SOB who’d run you over with the bullpen car if it would win a ball game. Ted Kluszewski, Ralph Kiner, and Harmon Killebrew were pretty darned fearsome in their primes. Thurman Munson was never on their level as a hitter but he certainly looked and acted the part. And that doesn’t get to all the pitchers who were also feared, and that’s a racially-mixed bag. Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, but also Bob Gibson and Doc Gooden and Pedro Martinez.

      • Crazy Diamond says:

        I agree about pitchers. Just about every race is represented with that one. Fernando Valenzuela, Juan Marichal, Luis Tiant, and especially J.R. Richard could all be added to that list of intimidating pitchers. I don’t know if anyone “feared” him but I remember Nomo-mania when batters had a tough time figuring Nomo out.

    • Crazy Diamond says:

      HAHAHA oh you silly goose just had to play that race card! So classy. I mean no white guy was feared? REALLY? What about Mark McGwire? George Brett and Don Mattingly in the 80s? Ken Caminiti during his peak year? Jeff Bagwell was feared, so was Jim Thome. Larry Walker was feared in his prime, especially at Coors. And what about pitchers? Remember a guy named Randy Johnson? GTFO here with that nonsense, John Q.

    • Karyn says:

      Both nightfly and Crazy Diamond are missing John Q’s point. Yes, McGwire and Thome and Brett caused problems for pitchers. Rose was known as being a competitive SOB. But in terms of how they’re *written about*, you rarely see a white guy talked about as being a ‘feared hitter’. Much like you rarely see a black or Latino player called a ‘lunchbucket player’.

  18. Rick Rodstrom says:

    I have to wonder about the whole “most feared hitter” thing being affected by racism. Yes, Gary Sheffield was a very good hitter, but as we have seen, Larry Walker put up better numbers during that time. But there was never a “most feared hitter” tag to Larry. The players with the tag “the most feared hitter” are usually black. Willie McCovey, Jim Rice, Barry Bonds. Guys who were intentionally walked in the on-deck circle. The year Larry Walker went 379/458/710, he received 57 walks. The year George Brett went 390/454/664, he received 58 walks. The year Sheff went 314/465/624, he walked 142 times. Sure Sheff looked mean up there, but so did Will Clark, with that kabuki stare, but he didn’t cause opponents to pee in their pants the way Sheff did. The year Will Clark led the league in slugging, he walked 51 times.

    Because he had the reputation as “the most feared hitter”, I always thought Sheffield was a little overrated. His numbers were good, yes, but as a steroid user during the steroid era, I thought he should have led the league in more offensive categories than he did: once in batting average and once in on-base percentage (see walks, 142). He only hit 40 home runs twice, at a time when everyone was hitting 40 home runs. His high in homers, 43, was good for 6th in the National League. But he was an angry black man waving that bat around, and that combined with his offensive gifts made him terrifying.

    Sheffield was a jerk who saw racism everywhere, yet it’s easy for me, as a white guy, to poo-poo Sheffield’s views as paranoia. Truth is, I don’t know know what it’s like to grow up as a black male in a tough neighborhood in Florida. The thing about being in any sort of oppressed group is you develop rabbit ears for any sign of disrespect. Some people let it poison them. Sheffield was one of those people. Sheffield said “I remember every single insult and slight.” I think if he had been less moody, he would have been more consistent, and I think he would have had even better numbers than he did. As it is, I think he falls just short of the Hall. But he still had a hell of a career.

    • duffsovietunion says:

      “Sheffield was a jerk who saw racism everywhere, yet it’s easy for me, as a white guy, to poo-poo Sheffield’s views as paranoia.”

      I think it’s pretty obvious that Black people have been telling the truth about America for a long time and white people just didn’t want to listen. When Black people “see racism everywhere”, that’s usually because it *is* everywhere.

      • invitro says:

        Alrighty then… is Joe racist for not voting for Sheff? Are *you* racist?

        • Karyn says:

          What a simplistic answer to a complicated question.

          • Crazy Diamond says:

            Hey look Karyn is around to tell everyone how stupid they are and how smart she is! I used to hate her posts but now I see them as a fun drinking game: every time she uses a word that contains 8+ letters long = one shot; every time she gets politically correct = one shot; every time she’s condescending = one shot. Usually I’m pretty loaded after just one of her posts =)

          • invitro says:

            Karyn, what are you talking about… my comment was not an answer, and I don’t see what question you’re talking about.

          • Karyn says:

            The question is rather obvious: Do white folks have a huge blind spot when it comes to how black folks experience and talk about racism?

            And your answer was HEY NOT EVERYTHING IS RACIST YOU GUYZ.

            And Crazy Diamond, either engage with the issue honestly, or get lost. You’re not being puckish or cute or entertaining.

          • invitro says:

            “Do white folks have a huge blind spot when it comes to how black folks experience and talk about racism?” — That question is not nearly well-defined or specific enough for me to answer.

          • Karyn says:

            Okay. I suggest reading stuff by black writers about it, or stepping away from the question.

          • invitro says:

            …I stepped away from the question in my previous comment, when I told you why it wasn’t worth trying to answer.

          • Crazy Diamond says:

            Actually, I’m adorable! And you’re uptight and you bring everybody down. Perhaps you should have a drink, too, eh?

          • Crazy Diamond says:

            (That was aimed at Karyn, not Invitro.)

          • Karyn says:

            Crazy Diamond, you’re kinda being weird here. Why are making personal remarks about me?

      • Crazy Diamond says:

        “I think it’s pretty obvious that Black people have been telling the truth about America for a long time and white people just didn’t want to listen. When Black people “see racism everywhere”, that’s usually because it *is* everywhere.”

        REALLY? In 2017? There’s always going to be people who hate other people because of something superficial – always has been, always will be. There are still anti-Semites. There are still Black Panthers (and yes, they’re racist). There are still the Klan. There are still people who hate women, hate men, hate babies, hate whoever based on age. However, racism isn’t an excuse for bad behavior. MLK is one of the most respected Americans who ever lived. He faced constant racism. That didn’t give him an excuse to act like a donkey, which is why he didn’t. Too many people forget what MLK preached, though, and what he stood for. And that’s a shame.

    • rabidtiger says:

      I used to be a small Hall guy because Mays and Musial and Aaron were prominent in the box scores when I looked at the sports pages as a kid. Considering how many Hall members are not in that stratosphere, I have relaxed my standards. I leave out personality as much as possible, along with politics, and I think Sheffield belongs. He has certain achievements on the books. These all helped him. All hail to the power of advanced metrics, but my head hurts after a certain amount of them. Incidentally, Karyn’s vocabulary is not particularly abstruse or recondite.

  19. Mike says:

    I could never stand Tim McCarver as a baseball announcer, so imagine my glee during an All Star game somewhere in the mid-90s when, during an at bat by Sheffield, he said “you would never want to teach your kid to swing like that.” And on the very next pitch he smashes one into the bleachers. Yeah you wouldn’t want your kid to rake like that…
    I don’t care very much about PEDs when considering players for the HOF, so in my mind he should be in. I’ve never seen a swing that ferocious, he was an absolute blast to watch at the plate. I put much less stock in the defensive metrics. I was living in Los Angeles during his time there, so I saw almost every one of his home games and a fair number of road games, and I don’t remember him being horrible defensively (eyeball test notwithstanding). There’s also something to be said for how many OF ABs he had in the American League. If he was THAT bad, why wouldn’t he have just been played more at DH.

    • Rick Rodstrom says:

      Yeah, I remember Manny Ramirez in the outfield for the Dodgers. Now THAT was bad. Sheffield seemed like just another offense-first left-fielder to me. Just mobile enough, with a respectable arm. No crazy attempts at heroics a la Vlad Guerrero. He’s not going to win you many games with his defense, but he’s not going to lose you many either.
      Same thing on the basepaths. Sheff’s not Rickey Henderson, but neither is he Adam Dunn. Gary Sheffield is what he is. The hitter you stick in the corner outfield.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Funny thing about McCarver, just saw him yesterday interviewing Jerry Rice. I’m not sure if this was recent or a rerun from a while ago. But the funny thing was that McCarver literally had a piece of paper in his hand and was READING THE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS to Jerry Rice!!! So, add terrible interviewer to terrible TV announcer and the most boring book writer on the planet. I bought his book. What a terrible mistake. Tedious.

      How did that guy have the career he had? He was completely useless. And even his baseball career was based largely on his becoming Steve Carlton’s personal catcher. I’m not saying he wasn’t a good catcher for his first several years, he was, but his last 7-8 years were mainly because of Carlton. Luckiest guy on the planet.

  20. KHAZAD says:

    Sheffield is right at the line for me, but just on the outside. There is the steroid taint. I am not one to keep someone out just because of steroids, but when it is close enough for me that I have to think, it may make a difference. Maybe, like some voters, I am affected because I thought he was a bad guy and talked about screwing up on purpose to get traded.

    Maybe I would vote for him if there were less players clogging up the ballot, I don’t know. But he certainly drops some spots for me because of the reasons above. If I were determined to vote for 10, and #10 was between Mcgriff and Sheffield (who actually both fall below 10 on this full ballot) I would vote Mcgriff, even though Sheffield has a slight (but definite) edge in skill and stats overall. I guess that is about how far he drops for me.

    • Rick Rodstrom says:

      McGriff has the edge for me too. Here is where post-season stats can make the difference. The extra series turn the playoffs into mini-seasons. Sheffield appeared in 44 playoff games, McGriff 50. Compare their post-season slugging averages—532 vs 398. One guy raked when it was most important to do so, and one did not.

  21. David Hendrickson says:

    I live in NYC, and my favorite team is the Braves, so I probably saw Sheffield more than most. He gets my vote. Two observations:

    First, Gary Sheffield swung harder than anyone I ever saw, and I have been seriously following baseball for 60 years. As I said often back then, Gary swung at the ball like he was as mad as hell at the ball (maybe it dissed his mama?), and that ball was gonna damn well pay for its misdeeds. Related to this is how far the 3rd-base coach on his team would generally back off, far, far away from the batter’s box. If it had been allowed, I’m guessing most of them would be stationed somewhere in the foul left-field boxes. Seriously.

    Second, yes, he had a reputation for being less than careful in his public comments about his own team. But… when he signed with the Braves, there was a lot of gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. “He’s not a Braves player, he’ll never fit in.” And, sure enough, he started bitching and moaning about how lousy his contract was, the team didn’t love him, on and on, during the 1st week of spring training. Everybody expected the worst for the length of his contract. Very shortly after he started complaining, he had a closed-door meeting with Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz. All the Braves would say about the meeting was, yes, there was one. I’m guessing he was read the riot act by his two bosses. Whatever they said to him, he never complained again for the entire contract. Plus, he damn sure played his butt off, especially in the field. Obviously, he just needed to be handled properly, which is a Braves specialty. A great ballplayer in his Atlanta years.

    But that swing! OMG, I never saw anything like it, and haven’t since he retired. Not even close, IMHO. That damn baseball was going to PAY for dissing his mama!

  22. NevadaMark says:

    Sheffield also claimed the Brewers used racism in making personnel decisions. I thought it was just stupidity (the decisions), but who knows?

    • invitro says:

      He said the same thing about the Yankees and most probably the Braves.

      • Crazy Diamond says:

        …and probably the Dodgers. And Marlins. And Tigers. And Padres. And Mets. And all of the police who ever lived, regardless of race. And everyone who ever disliked him. But that was Sheffield: every time he did/said something stupid, it was someone else’s fault, never his own.

      • David Hendrickson says:

        invitro See my comment above re his years in Atlanta.

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