Wednesday, Baseball Writers’ Association Of America named three new inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Houston Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell pulled in over 86 percent of votes, Montreal Expos great Tim Raines finally got inducted in his 10th year of eligibility, and durable Rangers (and other teams) backstop Iván Rodríguez earned enshrinement in his first year on the ballot.
That ballot also included four players who suited up for the Brewers. Closer Trevor Hoffman narrowly missed the 75 percent of votes needed to qualify for the Hall. Both Mike Cameron and Matt Stairs saw their chances come and go, as neither received a vote in their first and only year on the ballot. With the 16th most votes (59 total, accounting for 13.3 percent) and buried somewhere in the middle of the pack this year was the most detested Milwaukee Brewers player in the team’s near-50-year history. For the third straight year, Gary Sheffield failed to earn a place in professional baseball’s most esteemed club. It’s safe to expect a similar result for his seven remaining years of eligibility until Sheffield is finally, officially, justly, and permanently eliminated from Hall Of Fame consideration forever.
Some forget that the notable 22-year professional career of a man who clubbed 509 home runs, stole more than 250 bases, appeared in nine All-Star Games, claimed five Silver Slugger Awards, and won a World Series actually started in Milwaukee. While most fans outside the state are more likely to recall Sheff’s work with the Marlins, Dodgers, Braves, Yankees, Tigers, and his swan song with the Mets (when he hit his 500th home run off Brewers reliever Mitch Stetter), it was his tumultuous four partial seasons with the Brewers that set the tone for a body of work mired in conflict, clouded with controversy, and shrouded by an incomparable level of selfishness that will ultimately find him going down in history as nothing more than a good player that’s sure to be a shoe-in for baseball’s Hall Of Infamy, but little else.
Not long after the Milwaukee Brewers selected Sheffield with the sixth overall pick in the 1986 draft, the fiery (then) infielder started to get the attention of his parent club with his power-hitting abilities, as well as his abysmal attitude. After a dispute with his A-ball manager, teammates and scouting reports allege Sheffield intentionally made fielding errors. Even so, his 17 homers, 103 RBI, 25 steals, and 81 walks (to just 48 strikeouts) in 1987 found him quickly climbing the affiliate ladder en route to Milwaukee. Near the end of the 1988, he was promoted to Brewers—who were well aware of his minor league behavior—where he butted heads with teammates and coaches. He’d miss significant time to injury. Once healthy, he’d claim the team had forced him back too quickly and that the front office was intentionally benching him in favor of a white counterpart. He’s on record claiming he asked Brewers owner Bud Selig for a trade every day. Of course, Sheffield’s .259 batting average and career-low .695 OPS played no part in his limited playing time.
After an abysmal and injury-shortened 1991 season, Sheffield’s time in Milwaukee—or as he called it, “Hell”—was over. Sheffield finally got his way. The Brewers counted their losses and accepted the (now laughable) return of Ricky Bones, Jose Valentin, and Matt Mieske in a trade that sent the high-ceiling headache to San Diego. In 1992, the new Padres employee hit 33 home runs, drove in 100, had a .330 batting average, was an All-Star, and won the National League batting title. That caught the attention of the expansion Florida Marlins, who made him the centerpiece of the new organization in a trade.
As Sheffield’s star grew and his stats ballooned, so did his list of enemies and his reputation as a malcontent. He criticized teammates who got more attention or who earned more money than he did. He hated baseball media, and the feeling seemed to be mutual. Of the course of his career, he fired all three of his agents before finally deciding to represent himself. He reportedly needed a contractual obligation written into his Marlins deal so he’d do charitable work. Through it all, he had the support of fans who accepted the embattled outfielder—warts and all—during each of his many stops around the league because, for a time, what he could do with his wildly-waving bat was worth the baggage. And even when he’d inevitably burn each and every bridge, Gary Sheffield always had the support of his biggest fan: Gary Sheffield.
In a 2012 Sports On Earth profile, Sheffield claimed he was a multi-MVP Award-winning athlete, despite never being awarded even one officially. “In my mind, I know I won five MVPs. I was a better player most times than most of the MVPs were. I was player of the year five times.”
That slanted logic also extended to his thoughts regarding his Baseball Hall of Fame candidacy. Also from that Sports On Earth profile:
“Yeah, I think I will make the Hall of Fame,” Sheffield says. “The work I put in justifies that I should make the Hall of Fame. If I don’t, there’s no true Hall of Fame. I’m talking about someone who dominated for three decades. Numbers don’t lie. People do.”
Gary Sheffield is lying to himself. With strong ties to performance enhancing drugs, including more than a few cameos in The Mitchell Report, and with three middling HOF finishes in the years of eligibility in which he was still fresh in the minds of voters, he’s essentially finished. Not to mention the fact that those voters consist entirely of members of the media he so despises.
Even outside of drug speculation and media preferences, Sheffield simply doesn’t deserve a spot in the Hall. Eleven of the players who finished with more votes this time around will also appear on next year’s ballot. Newcomers to that ballot will include surefire HOFers Chipper Jones—likely a first ballot inductee—and Jim Thome, as well as debatable (but more deserving than Sheffield) likes of Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones, and Omar Vizquel. The 2019 ballot will boast Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, and Todd Helton. In 2020, Derek Jeter is sure to get his turn. Frankly, there’s no shortage of players who are more likeable and who had better careers. Hell, even if PED perception drastically changes among writers in the next seven years, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Manny Ramirez would get selected well before Sheff.
At the end of the day, Sheffield sustained a career any player would trade theirs to have. Well, almost any player. With more than 500 homers, over $168 million in career earnings, a World Series ring, and 22 seasons worth of cheers and boos from fans who paid to watch him play a game, Gary Sheffield is a winner. He’d tell you that himself, and you’d have little reason to disagree. However, as the results come in each January, scorned supporters of the team where it all started—those of us who didn’t beg and sabotage our way out of “Hell”—can enjoy the sweet schadenfreude of knowing the biggest jerk in Milwaukee Brewers history will never be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.