Lost in the chaos surrounding the Miguel Cabrera arrest toady is the news that former Tiger Gary Sheffield has called it a career. Sheffield, a 22-year major leaguer, won a batting title at age 23 and wrapped things up with a .292 career average. He last played for the Mets in 2009 after the Tigers released him during Spring Training that year.
In total, Sheffield racked up over 2600 hits, 1600 RBI and 509 home runs. Sheffield was acquired by the Tigers prior to the 2007 season in a trade with the New York Yankees. That deal was supposed to be the final piece to the Tigers championship puzzle, but it never materialized that way. Sheffield got off to a strong start, but a shoulder injury cost him much of the second half and he was never the same player again. The Tigers stumbled out of the gate in 2008 and wound up in the basement of the Central division. In 2009, Sheffield Sheffield was poised for a return to his old form, but a poor showing during camp netted him a release of the final year of his contract.
In his two seasons in Detroit, Sheffield played 247 games with 44 home runs and 137 RBI.
In announcing his retirement, Sheffield told MLBNetwork that we should “check his stats” to determine whether or not he should go into the Hall of Fame. Jon Heyman, who works at the network and also writes for Sports Illustrated, tweeted his response, saying “I say: check the medicine cabinet/mitchell report” alluding to Sheffield’s ties to the BALCO investigation.
I find Heyman’s take troubling to say the least. On February 3, when Andy Pettitte announced his retirement, Heyman offered a quick take on the pitcher’s Hall chances. “Pettitte an interesting Hall call. My initial thought today: just short.” Heyman made no mention of the fact that Pettitte was also named in the Mitchell Report and beyond that, Pettitte later admitted to using PEDs during his career. Sheffield has not made the same admittance.
Why loose your venom on Sheff but not Pettitte, Heyman? My guess: Sheffield is arrogant and brash and brutally honest. Pettitte is less confrontational and more soft spoken. Heyman is using his personal view of each man to shape his thoughts on Hall of Fame voting. I know it’s human nature to do so, but when charged with determining the excellence of their respective careers, a writer must be better able to separate how he feels personally about the person in question from how the player’s career stacks up against the greatest of all-time.
I will say that I agree with Heyman that Pettitte’s career feels a bit short of Hall inclusion. But immediately dismissing Sheffield based on something that Pettitte also did, but not holding Pettitte to those same standards is not right. Sadly, Heyman won’t be the only writer to draw such erratic lines when discussion players from the Steroid Era.
So is Sheffield a Hall of Famer? Much of the argument made for Jim Rice getting in was that he was the most feared hitter in the league for a time. In Sheffield’s lengthy career, there were few hitters who were as feared as he was. I don’t know if that should be enough to put him in and his numbers, while excellent, aren’t better than many of the guys he played against. But when it comes time to cast the ballots, I hope that it’s those factors that are used to shape the candidacy of Sheffield and not the words printed in the Mitchell Report.