Monday, July 9, 2007

.296/.398/.523, 458 HRs, 1,512 RBI, 225 SB

Undoubtedly one of the most feared hitters of his era, Sheffield’s signature bat waggle and violent swing produced some very nice career numbers. But has the man with some of the quickest wrists in baseball history done enough? He finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting six times, but never won. He is a nine-time all-star and flirted with the Triple Crown in 1992.

He has plenty of off-field issues to consider. It is not that he’s played for six teams, it is how he left most of them — on poor terms. He also admitted to using BALCO products, though he claimed ignorance about the legality of the substance. Our panel was split on Sheffield, but the off-field stuff is enough of a negative to influence his borderline on-field resume.

IN: 2 OUT: 5


MARK ZUCKERMAN: Based strictly on numbers, he’s already a borderline candidate: 458 homers ain’t what they used to be, no MVPs, one World Series appearance. Throw in his non-statistical attributes, highlighted by hard evidence he took steroids obtained through BALCO, and his already-weak case goes down the drain. Remember: three of the Hall’s six criteria are “integrity,” “sportsmanship” and “character.” Sheffield falls far short on those counts.

LACY LUSK: With 500 homers as the new 400, he doesn’t make the cut. One batting title, one OPS title, one OBP title and one total bases title just don’t pass the black-ink test.

PATRICK STEVENS: Meet the new Jim Rice. Years from now, Sheffield will be recalled as one of the most feared hitters of his day, a bat-waggling magician who pitchers trembled at the sight of when he stepped into the box. That, of course, is unquantifiable, and the exact argument Rice supporters make for his flailing Hall candidacy. What can be established is Sheffield was one of the most durable, consistent sluggers from 1996 to 2005 and finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting five times in that span. What’s the real reason Rice isn’t in the Hall? He didn’t have a gradual decline to pad his career numbers, instead tumbling down a steep skills gradient that rendered him a useless player after age 35. Sheffield is a bit older (38) but also has the murkiness of playing in a steroid-fueled era to contend with. A couple more strong seasons would probably put him over the top; if not, maybe he can get Rice’s advice on how to handle falling 15 to 20 percent short in the balloting every January.

COREY MASISAK: Gary Sheffield has probably done enough on the field to gain entrance into Cooperstown. He is nearly a .300/.400/.500 guy who has had eight truly great seasons and two (1994, 1995) that were cut short by injury and compounded by the labor issues. The home run total is not a sure-fire bet for election, but he spent many years hitting in pitcher’s parks. Still, there are the off-field issues to consider. Many former teammates swear by him, but his constant turbulent relationships with the front office, like this for example, could not have helped the teams he played for. And there is the BALCO stuff of course. Getting into the hall should be about statistics first and foremost. The other stuff isn’t a problem for sure-fire guys, but for a borderline resume like Sheffield’s, it is an issue.

JOHN TAYLOR: I always have loved watching this guy hit — in fact, he could rank as one of the top five on my list of fun at-bats to watch. But there is just so much baggage that comes with Sheffield. He is playing with his seventh team this year — not typical of a Hall of Famer. He has spectacular late-career hitting numbers (power, RBI and average), but that comes tainted, courtesy of BALCO. Even his world championship is tarnished it came for the renegade Florida Marlins in 1997, which immediately went in to fire sale mode as soon as that World Series trophy hit the shelf. And for what it’s worth, Sheffield isn’t exactly Mr. October; he’s batted over .250 in just four of his nine postseason series, and his career postseason batting average is .248. And he can’t stay on the field; in nine of his 20 seasons, he played in 140 games or fewer. Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa have been on the field more than Sheffield, and that’s saying something.


KEVIN BREWER: From age 21 to age 28, Gary Sheffield was among the top five players in the league twice — in 1992 and 1996. But much of his youth was undone by injuries and immaturity. In the second half of his career, Sheffield has remained healthy (until last season) and brilliant, boasting a beautifully violent swing complete with an intimidating bat waggle.

Beginning in 1998, Sheffield has been among the top 10 players in his league in six times — 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2005, giving him eight such seasons in all. Six times in his career, he was among the top five players in the league. In 2004, Sheffield finished second to Vladimir Guerrero in the AL MVP voting but was equally as deserving. In two more seasons (1999 and 2002), he played at an All-Star level. Sheffield hit .300 with 30 home runs and 100 RBI in six seasons. He hit .300 with a .400 on-base and .500 slugging in seven seasons.

One more thing: Playing for the San Diego Padres, Florida Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees, every one of Sheffield’s significant seasons was in a pitcher’s park.

Sheffield is overqualified for the Hall of Fame. He shouldn’t be penalized because he changed teams a few times (he was involved in two fire sales with the Padres and Marlins) or because he hasn’t reached 500 home runs or other Hall-clinching milestones.

TIM LEMKE: If Gary Sheffield ever found a way to stay put, he’d have a much stronger argument for induction into the Hall of Fame. But despite his nomadic tendencies, he does belong in Cooperstown because he’s generally spent the last two decades as one of the more feared hitters in baseball. He’s just simply never had a bad year. None of his individual seasons are jaw-dropping, but he’s been among the top vote getters for Most Valuable Player a half-dozen times and is a nine-time All-Star. Sheffield will be known as a power hitter, but he’s never struck out more than 83 times in a season. He’s also topped 10 steals in a season on 15 occasions. There are 10 players with more homeruns who aren’t in the Hall, and the only one who isn’t either still active or linked to steroids (or both) is Fred McGriff, whose resume is inferior to Sheffield’s in many other ways.

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