Winter fast approaches and with winter comes the annual Hall of Fame debate. Which players are deemed worthy for induction to Cooperstown, and which will still need a ticket to visit? Only two players on this year’s ballot played part of their career for the Marlins: Gary Sheffield and Mark Buehrle.
As voting begins, I thought it would be fun to take a look at Sheffield and Buehrle to see how their chances look. We’ll examine not only their time in Miami, but also their careers overall, and if they have what it takes to make the Hall. Without further ado, I present the candidates:
Sheff enters his 9th year on the ballot, with only two more chances to make the Hall of Fame. Through 22 years of bat-waggling Sheffield put together a stellar career which consisted of 509 home runs, 1676 RBIs, an OBP of .393, and an OPS of .907. Sheffield spent meaningful time in New York, San Diego, Los Angeles, Atlanta and other cities, but it could be argued that the best year of his career came in Florida.
In 1996, Sheffield put together an All-Star season which symbolizes his entire career. He led the league in OBP, as well as OPS. He crushed 42 home runs with a .314 batting average. In other words he drove in runs while getting on base, something he did for two decades. It’s arguable that he should have been the National League MVP, or at least higher than sixth in the voting, nonetheless Sheffield put together a masterclass in ‘96.
He followed it up helping the franchise win its first World Series in 1997. Sheffield had a strong postseason, he played exceptionally well in the NLDS, while continuing to contribute in the NLCS and World Series. He was then jettisoned to Los Angeles in 1998, but Sheffield still left his imprint on the tapestry Marlins’ history.
All that said, how do Sheffield’s chances look? Not great. In eight years on the ballot, Sheff has never received more than 40% of the vote. On top of that he has been stuck at 40% for the past two years; I don’t see much upward mobility.
If you compare Sheffield to other Hall of Famers, his numbers make noise. His offensive WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 80.7 ranks 6th all-time amongst right fielders. He ranks above Cooperstown residents like Al Kaline, Dave Winfield, Larry Walker, and Vlad Guerrero. The 509 home runs puts him at 7th best all-time for his position, and he has a better OBP than Tony Gwynn. Clearly Sheff’s numbers from the batter’s box are Hall of Fame worthy, so what is holding him back?
Well the knocks against Sheffield are two pronged. First of all, he may or may not have knowingly taken PEDs, performance enhancing drugs. Sheffield’s name is tainted by the infamous Mitchell Report, and he blames Barry Bonds for giving him “the cream” which Sheff claims he didn’t know were steroids. If you’re unconvinced by that story, then so are the voters. Many of the BBWAA, the voters who decide which players make it to Cooperstown, are skittish about steroids. They refused to elect Barry Bonds, and if the home run king doesn’t get a pass, then Sheffield won’t either. But even if Sheffield hadn’t been stained by the steroid scourge, his fielding leaves much to be desired. His defensive WAR of -27.7 would be the lowest by any HOF right fielder ever. Not to mention Sheffield bounced around teams and the voters hate that for some reason.
Most likely Sheffield will end up with right around 40 % of the vote once again. Unless the voters forgive his steroid connection, and deem his offensive numbers overwhelming compared to his defensive figures, then Sheffield will be forced to endure another year in HOF purgatory. I’d vote for Gary, but that may not mean much to Sheff. He’ll always have the coolest batting stance.