Gary Sheffield was one of the most feared sluggers in baseball for 22 seasons.
His violent swing put fear in opposing pitchers for over two decades. With his bat “wiggle” back and forth and the menacing stare toward the mound, pitchers were cautious when facing him.
“Every time I ever stepped into a batter’s box, I wanted to destroy whoever was on the mound,” Sheffield said in the Players Tribune in 2016. “In my mind, that guy was trying to take food off my table and I would bite them if it meant me getting a hit.”
The nine-time All-Star played with anger, which often led to a few bruised ribs and egos. He was particularly outspoken early in his career, but refused to back down.
After 22 seasons and eight different teams – Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Florida Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers and New York Mets – Sheffield retired in 2011 with what he believes are Hall of Fame numbers.
The case for
Sheffield was one of the most consistent right-handed hitters in the league, with a career slash line of .292/.393/.514.
He retired with 509 homers, then-ranked 25th on the all-time list. His 1,676 RBI ranked 26th and OPS of .907 ranked 58th.
And despite the big swing, Sheffield was a disciplined hitter. He walked 1,475 times compared to 1,171 strikeouts and never struck out more than 83 times in a season. He also had more walks than strikeouts in 16 of his 22 seasons.
By the time he was 23 years old, he won the National League batting title in 1992 and nearly the Triple Crown. And while he didn’t win an MVP award, he finished in the top 3 three times.
The case against
Sheffield’s career is partially stained because he was named in the Mitchell Report and “unknowingly” took PEDs before the 2002 season.
Sheffield, who worked out with Barry Bonds, said Bonds urged him to take the “cream,” which turned out to be a designer steroid developed by BALCO. Sheffield claims he took the cream to help him heal after knee surgery, and didn’t know it contained a steroid.
Whether or not voters believe his side of the story, it remains detrimental to his case.
Also, while Sheffield ranks among the elite when it comes to traditional statistics, he lags in advanced metrics.
His career WAR is 60.5, according to Baseball-Reference.com. That’s tied for 181st all time and behind modern players such as Graig Nettles (67.9), Willie Randolph (65.9) and Andruw Jones (62.7).
And lastly, the fact that Sheffield didn’t play for one team for more than six years could be held against him. He played for eight teams over 22 seasons. Rickey Henderson, who played for nine teams, is the only offensive player in Cooperstown who played for as many as eight teams.
Early ballot reveals by Ryan Thibodaux’s Hall of Fame vote tracker puts Sheffield at 46.2% (as of Jan. 17), giving him another boost from the previous year. The trend upwards should continue next year when Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa fall off the ballot. A player needs to reach the 75% mark for induction.
Sheffield is an interesting case. He has two years remaining on the ballot, and it would be hard not to include one of the fiercest hitters in baseball into the Hall.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Baseball Hall of Fame: Gary Sheffield sees increase in votes