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What to know about Gary Sheffield’s special career

Sheffield was even better for the Marlins than most people give him credit for.

Gary Antonian Sheffield was born on November 18, 1968, in Tampa, Florida. Sheffield was always considered a big talent as he was selected with the 6th pick of the 1986 MLB Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers.

After two quick years in the minors, Sheffield made his major league debut on September 3, 1988 against the Detroit Tigers when he was still a teenager. That was the beginning of a 4-season tenure on the Brewers during which time he played shortstop and third base, not quite living up to the hype. Sheffield played an average of only 90 games per season from 1989-1991. Even his solid 1990 campaign (.294 BA, .350 OBP, .421 SLG, .771 OPS, 10 HR, 67 RBI, 143 H) was ended early by an injury.

On March 26, 1992, Gary Sheffield and Geoff Kellogg were traded to the San Diego Padres and the Brewers received Ricky Bones, Jose Valentin, and Matt Mieske.

That’s where Sheffield broke out. During his first year in San Diego, he played 146 games and was named a National League All-Star. His combination of average (.330 BA) and power (33 HR) led to a 3rd-place finish in NL MVP voting.

Sheffield was traded once again in 1993, this time to the Florida Marlins in exchange for future Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman, Jose Martinez, and Andres Berumen. Sheffield did make the All-Star Game that season, but it was mainly in recognition of his 68 games with the Padres.

Sheffield’s offensive stats dipped a lot from 1992, but he would re-establish himself as a dynamic player in the coming years. In parts of 6 seasons with Florida, he set many new franchise single-season and career records, including some that still stand to this day. By 1996, he was definitely among the best players in the world.

Gary Sheffield’s Marlins batting stats (1993-1998)
Gary Sheffield’s Marlins batting stats (1993-1998)

Sheffield will be remembered for his 5 RBI in Game 3 of the 1997 World Series. The Marlins don’t win that championship ring without his bat. He also contributed with two key catches in right field against the Cleveland Indians.

1997 Postseason Stats: 16 G, .320 BA, .521 OBP, .540 SLG, 1.061 OPS, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 16 H

Sheffield’s Marlins tenure ended awkwardly. He wanted to stay, but the team wasn’t interested in paying him accordingly as they were entering a rebuild.

The Marlins traded Sheffield to the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 14, 1998. He was packaged with Manuel Barrios, Bobby Bonilla, Jim Eisenreich, and Charles Johnson in exchange for Mike Piazza and Todd Zeile (though Piazza stayed for only 5 games before being flipped to the New York Mets).

Sheffield’s Dodgers tenure was filled with continued individual success. He made two more All-Star appearances and received votes for MVP in 2000. He was a consistent run producer, and most importantly, avoided severe injuries (averaged 145 games annually from 1999-2001).

Next stop for Sheffield: the Atlanta Braves. His teams made the postseason in 2002 and 2003. Moving deeper into his 30s, Sheffield kept playing at a high level throughout both seasons.

As a free agent after the 2003 season, Sheffield signed with the New York Yankees. Being an older player, the move to the American League was important because it gave him the opportunity to occasionally rest in the designated hitter spot.

Sheffield made the All-Star team for the 8th and 9th time in 2004 and 2005, respectively. His long stretch of good health was interrupted in 2006 when he underwent wrist surgery. Those Yankees teams were always in the playoffs, but came up short of the AL pennant each time.

  • 2004 Regular Season (NYY): 154 G, .290 BA, .393 OBP, .534 SLG, .927 OPS, 36 HR, 121 RBI, 166 H
  • 2005 Regular Season (NYY): 154 G, .291 BA, .379 OBP, .512 SLG, .891 OPS, 34 HR, 123 RBI, 170 H

Sheffield also played with the Detroit Tigers and New York Mets. He retired after his age-40 season.

Gary Sheffield will be remembered by many as one of the greatest Marlins to ever play as well as a key piece of the team that clinched the franchise’s first-ever World Series title. Sheffield had a crazy .426 on-base percentage with the Marlins; next closest is Miguel Cabrera at .388.

For more about Sheffield’s Hall of Fame case, check out this piece by Louis Addeo-Weiss of Fish Stripes.

Who should be the next former Marlins player featured in my article series?