New York 500 Club: Gary Sheffield
As Alex Rodriguez chases 600 home runs -- and beyond -- ESPNNewYork.com looks back at the seven sluggers in the 500 Home Run Club most associated with the Big Apple, either because they played their prime years with New York teams or hit No. 500 in a local uniform.
Gary Sheffield is a Major League Baseball player who is currently a free agent. He spent the 2009 season with the New York Mets and has played for 8 different teams in his 22-season MLB career. Sheffield, who came up as a shortstop, has spent the majority of his career as an outfielder. In 2009, he became the 25th member of the 500 Home Run Club, and the first player in MLB history to hit his 500th career home run while playing for the Mets.
Gary Antonian Sheffield was born on November 18, 1968 in Tampa, Florida. He grew up playing baseball with his uncle Dwight Gooden, who was just four years older than Sheffield. As a youngster, Sheffield was part of a talented Belmont Heights Little League team. They reached the Little League World Series final in 1980, where they lost to Taiwan. Sheffield went on to play high school baseball at Hillsborough High, where he was a pitcher and third baseman. He was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year in 1986 after hitting .500 with 15 home runs as a senior.
At the age of 17, Sheffield was drafted sixth overall in the 1986 MLB Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. He was slotted as a shortstop, where he struggled in the field, but had plenty of success at the plate. He hit .365 with 15 HR in 57 games in his first season of professional baseball. In 1987, he spent the entire season with Stockton, a Single-A team, where he hit .277 with 17 HR, but continued to struggle in the field. In 1988, he started the season with AA El Paso, and was promoted to AAA after hitting .314 with 19 HR in 77 games. He hit .344 for Denver. Despite the fact that he had 30 errors in 122 games in the minors in 1988, Sheffield earned a September call-up with the Brewers.
Milwaukee Brewers (1988-1991)
Sheffield made his major league debut on September 3, 1988, coming in as a defensive replacement for an injured Dale Sveum. He was the Brewers starting shortstop for the remainder of the 1988 season, finishing the year with a .238 BA, 4 HR, 12 RBI and 3 errors in 24 games. Sheffield opened the 1989 season, but switched back and forth between shortstop and third base earlier in the year. Sheffield was batting just .248 with 4 HR when he was sent down to Denver in mid-July. While in the minors, it was discovered that Sheffield had a fractured bone in his right foot, and he was placed on the DL. When he returned to Milwaukee, Sheffield was moved to third base, while Bill Spiers remained at shortstop. Sheffield remained at third base for the 1990 season, when he hit .294 with 10 HR in 125 games. His complaints about playing third continued through an injury plagued 1991 season when he was limited to 50 games of action, hitting just .194 with 2 HR. After the season, Brewers management tired of Sheffield's complaints and his lack of power, and traded him to the San Diego Padres along with Geoff Kellogg in exchange for Rickey Bones, Matt Mieske and Jose Valentin.
San Diego Padres (1992-1993)
In San Diego, Sheffield experienced a breakout season. He spent the majority of the season within striking distance of the NL Triple Crown, earning an All-Star selection for the first time in his career. He finished the year batting a league-leading .330 (the only time in Padres history someone other than Tony Gwynn won a league batting title), while finishing just 2 HR behind teammate Fred McGriff and 9 RBI behind league leader Darren Daulton. He finished third in the NL MVP voting, behind Barry Bonds and Terry Pendleton.
In 1993, Sheffield was batting .295 with 10 HR when he was traded to the expansion Florida Marlins in a cost-cutting move. The Padres sent Sheffield (and his $3.11M salary) and Rich Rodriguez to the Florida Marlins in exchange for Andres Berumen, Jose Martinez and Trevor Hoffman, who was the only one of the trio with Major League experience at the time.
Florida Marlins (1993-1998)
Sheffield wasn't happy being traded to an expansion team, but he made the best of his situation, hitting .292 with 10 HR in 72 games over the remainder of the 1993 season. He also was named the starting third baseman for the NL All-Star Team. After the season, Sheffield re-signed with the Marlins, inking a four-year contract worth $22.45M and prepared for a move to the outfield. That same offseason, he was arrested on charges of drunk driving and reckless driving. The move to the outfield resulted in a .970 fielding percentage, then the best of Sheffield's career. He also hit 27 home runs and drove in 78 runs, as the Marlins won 51 games in the strike-shortened season. The following season, Sheffield missed more than two-and-a-half months with a torn thumb ligament. He still managed to hit .324, with 16 HR and 46 RBI in 63 games.
Following the 1995 season, Sheffield was shot in an attempted robbery in Tampa. He was treated for a gunshot wound in his left shoulder, but recovered in time for Spring Training. In 1996, Sheffield played a career-high 161 games, batting .314 with 42 HR and 120 RBI. He made his third career All-Star appearance and finished 6th in the NL MVP voting. His 42 home runs are still a Marlins single-season record. In 1997, Sheffield's individual stats suffered, but the Marlins earned the NL Wild Card, marking the first postseason appearance in Sheffield's career. He hit .556 in the NLDS against the Giants. He struggled against the Braves in the NLCS, but hit .292 with 5 RBI in the Marlins 7-game win over the Indians in the 1997 World Series.
The Marlins traded away many of their World Series stars following the 1997 season, but held on to Sheffield. They eventually traded him early in the 1998 season, sending him to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a seven-player deal that also included Bobby Bonilla, Charles Johnson and Mike Piazza.
Los Angeles Dodgers (1998-2001)
Sheffield hit .316 with 16 HR and 57 RBI over the last 90 games of the 1998 season with the Dodgers. He also stole 18 bases with the Dodgers, finishing the year with 22 stolen bases, giving him his first career 20-20 season. He followed that up with back-to-back .300-30-100 seasons in the next three years, including a career-best 43 home runs in 2000. He made two All-Star appearances in three full seasons with Los Angeles, though the Dodgers failed to qualify for the postseason each year.
Following the 2001 season, the Dodgers traded Sheffield to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Andrew Brown, Brian Jordan and Odalis Perez.
Atlanta Braves (2002-2003)
Sheffield continued to be one of baseball's more consistent run producers in Atlanta, hitting .307 with 25 HR and 84 RBI in 2002. He also returned to the postseason, but hit just .063 in Atlanta's five-game loss to the Giants in the 2002 NLDS, going hitless in his final 13 at-bats of the series. In 2003, Sheffield returned to all-star form, finishing the year with a .330 BA, 39 HR and a career-high 132 RBI. He finished 3rd in the NL MVP voting, but once again struggled in the postseason. Sheffield was 2-of-14 at the plate as the Braves lost to the Cubs in four games in the NLDS.
New York Yankees (2004-2006)
As a free agent for the first time following the 2003 season, Sheffield signed a three-year/$39M contract with a $13M option for a fourth year. Sheffield got off to a slow start with the yankees but finished the 2004 season hitting .290 with 36 HR and 121 RBI, finishing second to Vladimir Guerrero in the AL MVP voting. Sheffield hit only .222 in the ALDS against the Twins. He hit .333 in the ALCS against the Red Sox, the second-best average on the team, but the Yankees lost the series in 7 games, becoming the first team in MLB history to blow a 3-0 series lead. Sheffield earned his third consecutive All-Star appearance in 2005, finishing with a .291 BA, 34 HR and 123 RBI. He opened the next season strong, but suffered a serious wrist injury in a collision with Shea Hillenbrand at the end of April. At first he tried to play through the injury but eventually needed surgery. He remained out of the lineup until September. By the time he returned, the Yankees had acquired Bobby Abreu to play right field, so they tried using Sheffield at first base. Sheffield expressed dissatisfaction with the situation, and after the Yankees were eliminated by the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS, Sheffield was traded.
Detroit Tigers (2007-2008)
The Yankees picked up Sheffield's 2007 option and traded him to Humberto Sanchez, Kevin Whelan and Anthony Claggatt. Sheffield agreed to a two-year/$28M extension, and responded by hitting 25 HR and stealing 22 bases for the Tigers, his first 20-20 season in nearly a decade. Sheffield entered the 2008 season with 480 career home runs, and was on the verge of joining the 500 Home Run Club. He slumped for most of the season, and entered September with just 13 home runs. He had a power surge in the last month of the season, hitting 6 HR in 21 games, but went homerless in the final three games of the season, ending the year with 499 career home runs.
Despite being owed $14M for the 2009 season, Sheffield was released on March 31, 2009.
New York Mets (2009)
Four days after being released, Sheffield signed a contract with the New York Mets. He made his Mets debut on April 9, striking out as a pinch hitter. After going without a home run for his first five games as a Met, Sheffield hit his 500th career home run against the Milwaukee Brewers -- his original team -- on April 17, 2009. He became the 25th member of the 500 Home Run Club and the first to hit his 500th home run with the Mets. Sheffield was also just the second player in MLB history to hit his 500th career home run against his original team.
With the Mets, Sheffield shuffled in and out of the lineup, playing both left and right field while occasionally pinch-hitting. Reportedly, Sheffield approached the team about a contract extension in August, but was turned down. According to those reports, Sheffield then asked for his release, but was also denied. He was scratched from the lineup that night, but came in as a pinch hitter. Sheffield injured his back near the end of August and was limited to five pinch-hit appearances for the rest of the season. Sheffield was granted free agency following the season. He is currently a free agent.
During his time with the Brewers, Sheffield accused the team of racism, saying they preferred having the white Bill Spiers at shortstop instead of Sheffield, who was black.
In 2007, Sheffield caused controversy for his comments in an interview in GQ Magazine, saying baseball preferred Latino players over black players because they were easier to control. "What I said is that you're going to see more black faces, but there ain't no English going to be coming out. ... (It's about) being able to tell (Latino players) what to do - being able to control them," he said in the interview. "Where I'm from, you can't control us." He went on to elaborate, "They have more to lose than we do. You can send them back across the island. You can't send us back. We're already here."
Later that same summer, Sheffield said in an interview on HBO's Real Sports that Joe Torre treated black players differently than white players.
Sheffield was an offseason workout partner of Barry Bonds, and he testified before a grand jury that he unknowingly used a product -- later revealed to be "the cream" -- during a 2001 workout with Bonds. Sheffield said he broke ties with Bonds after it was revealed that "the cream" and "the clear" were designer steroids, and he never knowingly used any performance enhancing drugs. Sheffield was one of the players named in 2007's Mitchell Report as someone who had obtained and used steroids.
Sheffield has three children with his wife DeLeon, as well as four children from previous relationships.