Gary Sheffield’s time with Padres was brief but spectacular

Credit: AP Photo

Gary Sheffield enters the final year of his time on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot. His brief time with the Padres gave us a glimpse of the Hall-of-Fame-worthy player he came to be.

Be honest; you’ve done it.

You’ve grabbed a bat (be it whiffle, wood, aluminum, or anything else), or even an empty wrapping paper tube, and did the Sheffield Waggle.

Gary Sheffield is on the BBWAA Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the 10th and final season. Last year, he earned 55% of the vote, needing 75 for induction. This year, he continues to trend upwards, but it might be too little, too late.

While he was never suspended, nor has he admitted guilt to ever using steroids, his name has been dragged through the mud in things like the infamous Mitchell Report and for being close to Barry Bonds‘ personal trainer.

That will likely be his undoing as he seeks immortality in Cooperstown.

Either way, no one can deny the talent and gravitas Sheffield brought to the many teams and lineups on which he appeared. He became one of the more feared power hitters during the peak “Steroid Era.” Even as counterparts like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds rose to higher heights, Sheffield was a constant presence atop the offensive leaderboards for more than a decade.

While he didn’t start his MLB career with the San Diego Padres, that fateful trade from the Brewers to the Padres ahead of the 1992 season and ensuing year kicked off a strong bid at Cooperstown.

The Florida native was drafted sixth overall in the 1986 amateur draft by the Milwaukee Brewers right out of high school. He reached the big leagues before turning 20 years old.

After several stops and starts with the Brewers over four seasons, which included a much-maligned position change and injuries, he was dealt to the Padres for Ricky Bones, Matt Mieske, and Jose Valentin before the start of the 1992 season.

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The Padres had found a gem.

San Diego immediately slotted him in as their everyday third baseman. After starting the season 1-for-15, he went on an all-time tear. He batted over .300 in five of the sixth months of the season. His month of August was one of the most prolific in Padres history, hitting ten homers with a 1.123 OPS in 25 games.

He was in contention for the NL Triple Crown for the majority of the season. He ended up winning the batting title with a .330 mark, with his teammate Tony Gwynn nipping at his heels at .317. Another teammate edged Sheffield out for the home run crown in Fred McGriff, who smacked 35 compared to Sheffield’s 33. Barry Bonds was sandwiched between the two at 34.

Sheffield fell nine RBI short as well. However, he remains one of the Padres’ strongest contenders in franchise history for any shot at the Triple Crown. He was named to his first of what would be nine All-Star appearances and earned his first of five Silver Sluggers.

Only six Padres have ever finished in the top three of NL MVP voting. Sheffield finished third in 1992, behind Terry Pendleton and winner Barry Bonds. It’s one of the most impressive single seasons in Padres history. The 7.0 oWAR he amounted is fifth-highest in franchise history. His 168 OPS+ ranks third-best in Padres history.

Not only did Sheffield mash for the Padres in 1992, but he started off in 1993 hot before becoming part of one of the most important trades in Padres’ history.

He was hitting .295 with 10 homers and a 116 OPS+ in 1993 for San Diego until he was dealt to a newly minted expansion team, the Florida Marlins.

The Marlins sent a host of players to the Padres in return in Andrés Berumen, Jose Martinez, and a failed-shortstop-prospect-turned-reliever named Trevor Hoffman.

While it’s fun to think about what Sheffield could have done with another five-plus years in San Diego, the trade netted the Padres one of the greatest closers in the history of baseball.

Sheffield may never reach the Hall of Fame due to being linked to steroids (but never proven), but his case is a strong one. He reached the coveted 500-homer plateau, finishing with 509. He was a big part of the 1997 Florida Marlins’ run to a World Series title. His career OPS+ of 140 equals that of Vladimir Guerrero and Alex Rodriguez.

Even with that time period being one mired by steroids and rumors of PEDs with ungodly power numbers abound, he clearly was one of the more feared sluggers of that time.

He also out-lasted guys like Sosa and McGwire, as they sharply declined physically. Sheffield even had an .823 OPS at age 40 with the Mets in 2009. He never played in the big leagues after that.

Sheffield’s career was impressive and Hall of Fame worthy, even with the attachment to steroids. Either way, his ride with the Padres is worth remembering.

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