It’s retro-Monday here at Marlin Maniac, and today we’re looking back at the time Gary Sheffield roamed the outfield at Joe Robbie Stadium.
Gary Antonian Sheffield was a 5’11”, 190 lb. third baseman when drafted in the first round by the Milwaukee Brewers with the sixth overall choice in the 1986 draft. Born 51 years ago today, Sheffield would go on to appear on 11 all star teams, win five Silver Slugger Awards, and help the Florida Marlins to their first World Series Championship in 1997.
Sheffield made his way up through the Brewers minor league affiliate feeder system in short order, making his major league debut with the parent club in 1988. Still just 19-years-old at the time, Sheffield never did quite find his stride with the Crew, slashing .259/.319/.376 in four seasons in Wisconsin, with only 21 homers in 1244 plate appearances. Prior to the 1992 season, the Brewers traded Sheffield with Geoff Kellogg to the San Diego Padres for Ricky Bones, Matt Mieske, and Jose Valentin.
That season would be Sheffield’s breakout, and would see him club 33 homers for the Padres while winning his first all-star nod and his first Silver Slugger while leading the National League with a .330 average and with 323 total bases. A month-and-a-half into the 1993 season, the brand-new Florida Marlins traded for him and Rich Rodriguez, for Andres Beruman, Trevor Hoffman, and Jose Martinez.
Sheffield continued his hot hitting with the Marlins, slashing out a .292/.378/.479 line in 69 games as the team gutted its way to a 64-98 record. He also made his second appearance in the all-star game, joining Bryan Harvey as the first ever Marlins to thus represent.
The lockout-shortened 1994 season would see Sheffield rank seventh in the N.L. with 27 home runs in only 87 games, while hitting .276/.380/.584. At 51-64, the Marlins were lucky to have Sheffield and his 2.1 WAR get even that far. Jeff Conine (2.9) and Jerry Browne (2.4) were the only other players on the team to clear 2.0 WAR.
At 67-76 in 1995, the Marlins were still learning how to win on a more consistent basis, but for a large portion of the campaign, had to do it without Sheffield. The star outfielder tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb. According to the UPI archives:
"I thought I broke it right away, I heard it pop, I put it right back in place, but it was still hanging there. -Sheffield"
He rejoined the team when the rosters expanded, and closed the season with a .324/.467/.587 line, along with 16 homers and 19 stolen bases. After the season, Sheffield was shot while stopped at a traffic light. David O’Brien of the Sun-Sentinel reported:
"There doesn’t seem to be any reason at all. According to Mr. Sheffield, he was just sitting at the light with his window up and someone came up and just shot him through the vehicle. – Officer Diane Coles"
Sheffield did his part with the 1996 Marlins, leading the team to steady bottom-line improvement and an 80-82 record. He made his third all-star squad while leading the Marlins with 161 games played. Sheffield slashed .314/.465/.624, drawing 142 walks against only 66 strikeouts and hitting 42 homers with 120 RBI. He won the N.L. Silver Slugger Award in right field, and played well enough to finish sixth in the season-ending N.L. MVP Award vote.
In 1997, Sheffield failed to make the all-star squad, but that version of the Marlins are very well known for having gotten the job done with a balanced attack. In 135 games, Sheffield hit .250/.424/.446 with 21 homers and 71 RBI.
Quick aside here: For contrasts sake, the 1997 World Champion Marlins hit 136 homers, which ranked 19 below the NL average. The 2019 Marlins hit 10 more, but were dead last in the majors, nearly 80 shots below average.
So yeah, the ’97 Marlins were pretty good despite a down-year from our hero, and Sheffield was solid in the playoffs. He hit .320/.514/.540 in the postseason, including an incredible 20 walks versus just eight whiffs.
Sheff played through 40 games for the 1998 Marlins in the middle of the first of many documented fire sales through the franchise history before getting dealt himself. The Marlins sent him with Manuel Barrios, Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich, and Charles Johnson to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Todd Zeile and Mike Piazza.
Sheffield played three-and-a-half seasons for the Dodgers, then later starred for the Atlanta Braves, the New York Yankees, the Detroit Tigers, and the New York Mets before hanging it up at the age of 40. In 2,576 career games, he hit 509 home runs, which ranks him 26th on the all-time list. Despite that, he has yet to gain as much as 14 percent on the Hall of Fame balloting. With 10 years of eligibility remaining, it’s possible he could enjoy a swell of support over the next decade. Especially considering they recently enshrined Harold Baines with nowhere close to Sheffield’s credentials. Sheff hit three points higher and clubbed 125 more homers in 300 fewer games.
I’m all for voting this guy in. In the meantime, I’ll content myself by wishing Sheffield a Happy 51st Birthday. In the annals of Marlins baseball, Sheffield’s 20.2 oWAR ranks fifth. He’s also ranks seventh with 122 home runs, ninth with 380 RBI, 10th with 74 stolen bases, and third with 424 walks. His .426 OBP with the team is the highest mark in franchise history of players with over 150 plate appearances, while his .288 batting average is 10th of players with over 1000 PA and his .543 SLG trails only Giancarlo Stanton from amongst the same demographic.
Other Marlins Birthdays
Maximo Rodriguez (46)
Minor league catcher Rodriguez hit .226 over parts of five seasons in the Marlins system from 1993 through 1997.
Jon Heinrichs (45)
Left fielder Heinrichs was Miami’s ninth round pick in 1997. He played in parts of three seasons between the Cougars, the Manatees, and the Sea Dogs, hitting .265 with 22 taters.
Darrell Whitmore (51)
Whitmore’s major league career consists of 112 appearances over three seasons with the Marlins from 1993 through 1995. He hit .203/.254/.294 with seven homers.
Earl Agnoly (44)
A first baseman and outfielder, Agnoly played from 1995 through 1997 between the GCL Marlins and the Cougars, hitting .250 in 152 games.
Aneurys Solano (31)
A pitcher out of the Dominican Republic, Solano spent all but five of his 58 career professional contests at the rookie level over five seasons from 2007 through 2011. He was 4-8 with a 6.24 ERA.
Eliezer Cuello (23)
Another Dominican pitcher, Cuello pitched in 28 games over parts of three seasons at the rookie level for the Marlins between 2014 and 2017. He closed his career at 3-6 with a 3.06 ERA.
Harrison White (25)
After hitting .291 as a four year starter at Yale, White was chosen in the 31st round of the 2017 draft by the Marlins. In 43 games as an outfielder with the Muckdogs, he hit .259.
A 5’11”, 160 lb. catcher, Chinchilla has played in 55 games over the last two seasons with the DSL Marlins, hitting .193/.288/.229.
A 6′, 200 lb. catcher, Banfield is considerably further along in his career. A second-rounder in 2018, you can look for him with the Jupiter Hammerheads in 2020.