Gary Sheffield saw what his friend, former teammate and fellow Tampa native, Fred McGriff, went through in spending 10 years on the ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame without getting elected. And he also shared in the joy four years later when McGriff was voted in by members of the era committee.
Now Sheffield, after falling 43 votes shy of election Tuesday in his 10th and final year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot, hopes he can follow a similar path as the ultimate reward for his stellar 22-year career that included 509 home runs.
“It doesn’t matter how you get in, as long as you get in,” Sheffield told the Tampa Bay Times from his Tampa home. “I did what I could do on the baseball field. It’s not like I can go back and do any more or hit any more home runs. So the thing is, is that what I left out there for 22 years is more than enough.
“I had to live that with Fred. Not only that he got to live it, I got to live it with him because my heart ached for him as well. Because I know what kind of person he was, and the player he was. Every day and every year that he didn’t get voted in, I felt the pain just as much as he felt it because I just wanted to see him do it, being a homegrown guy from Tampa. You just want to always recognize greatness.”
Three players did receive that honor on Tuesday: Adrian Beltre, who hit homers and played third base for the Dodgers, Mariners, Red Sox and Rangers; Todd Helton, who racked up offensive numbers during 17 years playing first base for the Rockies; and Joe Mauer, who passed on an offer to be an FSU quarterback to play for his hometown Twins, where he spent his whole career, much of it behind the plate.
Beltre, who posted 3,166 hits, 477 home runs and five Gold Glove Awards, led the way with 366 votes of the 385 cast, 95.1% of the vote in his first year on the ballot. Helton, who had two seasons with 400-plus total bases and overcame some writer bias about playing in Coors Field, got 307 votes, for 79.7%. Mauer, who won the 2009 American League MVP Award and three batting titles, just made it in his first try, his 293 votes just four over the 289 cutoff for the 75% required.
Adrian Beltre tips his cap as he walks off the field during 2018 game. He is a first-ballot baseball Hall of Fame third baseman. [ TED S. WARREN | AP ]
Closer Billy Wagner finished just short at 284 (73.8%) in his ninth year of eligibility. Sheffield was next with 246 votes (63.9%), followed by Andruw Jones (237, 61.6) and Carlos Beltran (220, 57.1). Three former Rays were on the ballot: Manny Ramirez got 125 votes in his eighth year; Jose Bautista got six and James Shields none in their one-and-done appearances.
Sheffield, 55, said he hadn’t been making too much of the annual election announcement, even as he climbed over the last five years from 13.6 to 55% of the vote. But this year was different, between a series of interview requests and being included in the group of candidates that got information from Hall officials on how Tuesday night could unfold if elected, which gave him some hope.
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“This year was different than any other year,” he said. “They instruct you to do certain things and be in certain places just in case you get the call or whatever. So I did that. I was going to respect the process and get as much information as I could.
“One thing we talk about as a family is to just let things play out. Don’t have no feelings one way or another. And I think I did a good job of that, just letting my family know. My kids, they’re disappointed. They want to see their dad in the Hall of Fame. They want to congratulate me on things that I accomplished in my career. It’s just going to have to wait. It’s not God’s plan yet.”
Sheffield said he was happy for the three who got elected. Particularly Beltre, as they were Dodgers teammates at the beginning of what now is a Hall of Fame career. “I’m very proud of him,” Sheffield said. “He’s one of the guys that I was looking forward to getting in there with.
“I kind of helped raise him when he came to the Dodgers. His first game he let a ball go through his legs, and he had his head down in the locker. I went over to console him and just told him, ‘This is the beginning, it gets better. So get your head up and let’s get them tomorrow.’ And he did that.”
Sheffield was known for being brutally honest in his eight-team career that was marked by some conflict and controversy, and ties — which he has strongly and repeatedly denied — to performance-enhancing drugs.
As disappointing as Tuesday was for Sheffield, his wife and seven kids, including two sons playing baseball at Jesuit High, he took the news relatively well, latching on to his chances with the contemporary era committee, which votes every three years, next in December 2025.
“There’s nothing more that I can do,” he said. “I did all I can do on the field.”
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