Since 1988, Gary Sheffield and I had little in common.
His uncle is former big league fireballer Dwight Gooden.
Only one of us got away with sporting a jheri curl in the early 90s.
According to internet reports, Gary owns more than 300 pairs of shoes.
I have six.
And up until yesterday morning…we were both gainfully employed.
You see, Gary started his Tuesday just like the rest of you. He woke up, got out of bed and turned on his computer to check to see if The Hall of Very Good updated their Milestone Preview. It was then when he learned that with 499 career home runs, he, Gary Sheffield was released by the Detroit Tigers.
Okay, maybe that’s not EXACTLY how it happened, but one can imagine that after seeing himself let go by six teams over the span of his career, being let go by the seventh, one long ball shy of immortality…he was a taken by surprised.
By all accounts, Sheffield was planning on leaving Lakeland this weekend with a job. Even as the full-time DH, Sheffield was poised to suit up with the Tigers and, with his family in tow, take on the Blue Jays April 6 and become the 25th player to hit 500 home runs.
Unfortunately, that won’t happen.
For the first time since 1989…Gary Sheffield will NOT be part of an Opening Day roster.
So where does this leave the power hitting Sheffield should he never suit up again?
Is the often travelled Tampa native Hall worthy?
Do his numbers make the confusion as to what hat he should don in Cooperstown worth the hassle?
Let’s break it down.
Most impressive are his power numbers. 499 home runs are more than all but 24 members of the Major League fraternity. All but one (Mark McGwire) of the players with more home runs that are Hall eligible are enshrined.
It’s worth pointing out that only Sheffield, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Frank Robinson and Reggie Jackson have at least 499 home runs, at least 2500 hits, 1500 RBI and 200 stolen bases.
Eight times, Sheffield topped 30 home runs and in each of those years…he had 100 or more RBI. His 1633 RBI rank him 27th all-time and, unlike with homers, ALL the Hall eligible players ahead of him on the list have their likenesses on a plaque in New York.
Going into 2009, Sheffield was third on the active hits list with 2615 base knocks. Ahead of him on the list are the Hall bound Ken Griffey, Jr. (2680) and Omar Vizquel (2657). It’s safe to say that without a couple of injury plagued seasons, we’d be talking about a guy with close to 3000 hits and 550 home runs.
Actually, we wouldn’t be talking at all. Sheff’s induction to the Hall of Fame would be a no-brainer. As it is…we’re talking longevity and hardware and Sheffield has a resume rife with both.
From his first hit (fittingly a home run) at 19 in 1988 until his last one (a single to left field) last season, Sheffield’s 21 year career was a colorful one.
His longest stint with any team was the time he spent spread over six seasons with the Florida Marlins. His last full season in Miami, 1997, was also the only time he played in (and won) a World Series.
Sheffield played in nine All-Star games and is the only player to have represented five different teams, spanning both leagues. Never an MVP, Sheffield finished in the top three on three different occasions and in the top ten in voting three other times. Like with his All-Star appearances, Sheffield garnered MVP votes with each of the teams he played for except Milwaukee and Detroit.
Sheffield is also the only player to have hit 25 or more home runs with six different teams and five times, he took home the Silver Slugger Award.
But unlike most home run hitters, Sheffield had remarkable control at the plate. He was a free swinger, but he never struck out more than 83 times in a season. By comparison…someone like Sammy Sosa has never struck up LESS than 83 times in a season.
Good friend of The Hall Jeff Montgomery faced Sheffield seven times in his career and held him in check...striking him out twice and only allowing one hit.
“Monty” approached Sheffield like most of the free swinging right handed hitters that liked to drive in runs.
“(I’d) let ‘em get themselves out,” Montgomery said.
“They don’t want the guy standing in the on deck circle to drive in the runs so they are likely to swing at a pitch out of the zone. Slider, slider, slider. All off the plate. If I had to throw a fastball it was above the strike zone. He didn’t miss many mistakes!”
One mistake Sheffield DID make was hanging out with Barry Bonds. It’s said that during a 2001 workout, a trainer applied some infamous cream to Sheffield’s surgically repaired knee.
While Sheffield claims the cream did nothing to strengthen his knee, he was mentioned in the 2007 Mitchell Report as one of the players who had obtained and used steroids.
Controversy aside, if you ask me, Sheffield’s a shoe-in…done or not. And even though he’s been on seven different teams, I’m just not sure if I want to see him in another uniform.
But if you ask Sheffield, he doesn't believe his career is over.
"No," he told The Detroit News. "It ain't close."