Few players in recent baseball history were as menacing at the plate as Gary Sheffield. Sheffield was a devastating offensive force throughout his career, with his trademark bat waggle letting everyone know he was ready to do serious damage at the plate.
During a 22-year career (1988-2009) with eight teams (Brewers, Padres, Marlins, Dodgers, Braves, Yankees, Tigers, Mets), Sheffield amassed 2,689 hits and 509 home runs, hitting .292/.393/.514 (140 OPS+) overall. He had more walks (1,475) than strikeouts (1,171) despite that bat waggle and ferocious swing. Sheffield combined power and contact like few others in his era. Here's where he ranks all time in various categories:
- Hits: 2,689 (69th all time)
- Extra-base hits: 1,003 (39th)
- Home runs: 509 (26th)
- Total bases: 4,737 (34th)
- Times on base: 4,299 (29th)
- Offensive WAR: +79.9 (t-35th)
A strong case can be made that Sheffield is a top-40 hitter in baseball history. He has the counting stats and the rate stats, and the longevity as well. During his peak from 1992-2003, Sheffield authored a .306/.416/.557 (156 OPS+) batting line and averaged 37 homers, 112 RBI, 103 walks and 71 strikeouts per 162 games. He was a monster at the plate.
Sheffield was selected to nine All-Star Games and received MVP votes in seven different seasons, including one second-place finish (2004) and two third-place finishes (1992, 2003). He won a World Series ring with the 1997 Marlins and hit an obscene .320/.521/.540 with 20 walks and eight strikeout in 16 postseason games that year. Good gravy.
So why, then, does Sheffield get so little Hall of Fame support? As of this writing he has appeared on only 9.8 percent of the public ballots according to Ryan Thibodaux's tracker, and in his previous three years on the Hall of Fame ballot, Sheffield hasn't come close to the 75 percent threshold needed for induction.
- 2015: 11.7 percent
- 2016: 11.6 percent
- 2017: 13.3 percent
This is shaping up to be another year in which Sheffield will barely clear the five percent threshold needed to remain on the ballot. And to one day make the Hall of Fame, he's going to have to start making serious gains soon. Sheffield can't continue to hover around 10 percent much longer and expect to jump to 75 percent before his 10 years on the ballot are up.
As far as I'm concerned, Sheffield's offensive numbers are Hall of Fame-worthy. He's a top-40 hitter and someone with that résumé belongs in Cooperstown. Sheffield was a legitimately terrible defensive player -- his career minus-28.6 defensive WAR is second worst in baseball history -- though I don't think that alone is keeping him out of the Hall of Fame. No, the argument against Sheffield as a Hall of Famer is built around two things:
Back in the early-2000s, Sheffield was involved in the BALCO performance-enhancing drug scandal. He admitted to using a substance called "the cream," but claimed he did not know it was a steroid at the time. A Los Angeles Times report provides some more details:
He said BALCO provided him with vitamins and a substance known as "the cream," which he thought was cortisone for surgical scars. He said he used it that season while playing for the Atlanta Braves.
Sheffield said he was casual friends with (Barry) Bonds and trained with him before the 2002 season. Bonds was using BALCO products and would later help promote one of them, ZMA, a legal nutritional supplement.
"He said, 'I got guys here, they can get your urine and blood and prescribe a vitamin specifically for your blood type and what your body needs,'" Sheffield told Sports Illustrated. "And that's what I did."
Of the cream, he said, "I put it on my legs and thought nothing of it. I kept it in my locker. The trainer saw my cream."
Sheffield was also named in the Mitchell Report for his ties to BALCO. Those performance-enhancing drug ties alone are enough to keep Sheffield out of the Hall of Fame in the eyes of many voters, even if he truly did not know "the cream" was a steroid. Sheffield admitted using a banned substance and, let's be frank, players have been/are being kept out of the Hall of Fame despite much less evidence when it comes to performance-enhancers.
The integrity clause
Chances are you've heard about the "character clause" in Hall of Fame voting, which is what many voters use to justify keeping players with PED ties out of the Hall of Fame. There's also an integrity clause. Here is the Hall of Fame voting criteria:
Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.
Vague? Yeah, but a player's integrity and character are to be considered for the Hall of Fame, and Sheffield admitted to making errors on purpose in his career. That sure sounds like a direct violation of the integrity clause to me.
Here's what Sheffield told the Los Angeles Times in 1992 about his intentional errors:
"The Brewers brought out the hate in me. ... I was a crazy man," Sheffield said. "I hated [GM Harry Dalton] so much that I wanted to hurt the man. I hated everything about that place. I didn't even want to come to the ballpark. If I missed a ball or something, so what?
"If the official scorer gave me an error that I didn't think was an error, I'd say, 'OK, here's a real error,' and I'd throw the next ball into the stands on purpose. I did it all.
Yikes. Unhappy about an official scoring decision and throwing the ball away -- Sheffield started his career as an infielder before moving to the outfield -- on purpose? That's pretty bad. Bad enough to keep him out of the Hall of Fame? Well, that's up to the individual voters.
Based on his overall performance, Sheffield should be a Hall of Famer. He was one of the best hitters of his generation. Plenty good enough to make up for the historically bad defense. However, the PED ties and intentional errors have so far kept Sheffield well short of the 75 percent necessary for induction into the Hall of Fame. Given his current pace, it's difficult to see how he turns things around and gets voted into Cooperstown one day.