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Gary Sheffield belongs in Cooperstown

Unproven narratives and a lack of popularity among certain media members affected Sheffield’s reputation and Hall of Fame case.

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Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

When I was a kid in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there were two baseball players whose swings I used to imitate: Ken Griffey Jr. (of course), and Gary Sheffield. I was a Yankees fan through and through, so when it was announced he would play in New York, I was ecstatic.

That bat waggle alone should be in Cooperstown. Much like me, thousands of kids around the world copied that. They looked up to Sheffield, and wanted to be like him.

This might sound irrelevant to you. You might think no one deserves immortality just because of a stance or a swing, and you are right. But that move became a staple in baseball and helped him become immensely popular. And if we combine that with top-notch performance and numbers, the case for Sheffield is even stronger.

Sheffield, after getting 63.9 percent of the votes in his 10th and last year in the ballot, won’t appear on it next year. It’s a shame, because you would think a player with 60.5 bWAR, 2,689 hits, 509 home runs, 1,676 RBI and 253 stolen bases deserves to be enshrined.

Sheffield, perhaps, wasn’t the most likeable player in the eyes of the media. That, and the fact that some of them firmly believe he knowingly used steroids, probably sealed his fate with the BBWAA. Even if he did, he played in an era without PED suspensions. It was almost like the league purposely looked the other way while half the league took them. Of course, they loved the home runs and the attention they were getting.

The man who allowed that to happen, Bud Selig, is in the Hall of Fame. Some sluggers linked to PED use are in the Hall of Fame. Sheffield’s name is in the ballot, so that means the league is OK with him being potentially elected. Why is he not in Cooperstown, then? It’s a mystery.

Unlike many others, the outfielder was upfront about steroids when confronted with it. During a training session with Barry Bonds in 2001, he was given “the cream” and used it because he was told it would be good for his knee: his post-surgery stitches busted open, and the cream was supposed to help stop the bleeding. He then kept using the cream to get the scar to heal, but he says it was “something totally different” from what he was given that time in the gym.

Sheffield also bought vitamins from BALCO, but as The Athletic writes, “never anything he knew was steroids.” The investigative report in Game of Shadows names him as appearing on a drug calendar from trainer Greg Anderson outlining the player’s use of human growth hormone and testosterone, but the player says it’s not true.

There are, regarding Sheffield, a lot of unproven narratives that have affected his reputation and his Hall of Fame chances. As we said, even if he did use steroids, it’s unfair to punish him or other players who did for something the league chose to ignore.

The Athletic also states an important point about Sheffield: “His willingness to explain his involvement alone differentiates him from many suspected users.” He has always been forthright about the matter, which gives him credibility.

Leaving him out for what he did on the field would be foolish and irresponsible. The man went to nine All-Star Games, won a World Series (with the Marlins, of all teams!), was already a top power hitter and run producer long before the steroids era, never struck out more than 90 times in a single season, took home five Silver Slugger awards, and won a batting title in 1992.

He retired with a 141 wRC+, an amazing number that shows his offensive prowess and consistency. And while he wasn’t good defensively, he did have a cannon of an arm and logged 108 outfield assists during his career. Wiser teams might have just used him as a DH anyway, but with Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz in Cooperstown for such roles, Sheffield shouldn’t be penalized for how he was deployed.

So Sheffield had the totals, the rate stats, the peak performance (it was more like a really long, productive peak), the consistency, the accolades (he didn’t win an MVP, but the nine All-Star berths help) and was very popular among the youth. He had style, he had swagger.

Why isn’t he in the Hall of Fame? It’s complicated.