Tag: Gary Sheffield

My Obligatory HOF Post

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. And I don’t mean the Christmas season (and I definitely mean this sarcastically):

That’s right, folks. It’s Baseball Hall of Fame season, the most tedious, pedantic time of the baseball year. And I can’t help but at least partially love it. I’ve been Extremely Online about baseball since about 2005 and a good portion of that time has been spent thinking about and discussing players making or not making the Baseball Hall of Fame. This style of writing and argument helped me get into thinking about the game in a more analytical, numbers-driven way, and for that, I’ll always be appreciative. My first statistical deep dives, way back when, were dissecting Craig Biggio’s career in my ‘he’s actually kind of overrated’ argument (before I got into/understood WAR. I still think there’s a touch of overrated there, but that’s a story for another day), then spilling a lot of digital ink over Bert Blyleven’s and Mike Mussina’s deserving HOF cases (and against those of Jack Morris, Jim Rice, etc.). For a long while, I was pretty passionate about it. Over the last few years, though, I’ve started to care less about it, but I can’t fully quit it.

To be honest, this discourse matters less and less as we move on in the baseball world. In this information/technology age, it’s much easier to find out who actually were the best players in a given time than before, making us much less reliant on the BBWAA’s interpretation (or whatever other committees are voting now) or the Hall of Fame’s plaques. Regardless, it’s obviously important and meaningful to both the players and the writers and I’m a sucker for that, so I can’t fully quit this stuff.

Before I reveal my hypothetical ballot, some thoughts on the voting process:

  1. I hate the ten-player limit. It’s less of a concern now that the logjam of the last ten years or so has cleared up, but there should be no limit.
  2. I don’t like that there’s some arbitrary eligibility standard to get on the ballot. If a player has played ten years and been retired for five, he should be on the ballot and stay on until his time’s up. The 5% barrier is fine, I suppose, but I think it should be expanded beyond one year.
  3. I hate blank ballots. Hate them. Absolutely hate them. Allow me to reproduce what I said on Twitter on Friday, prompted by this tweet from Jared Diamond: No, the reasoning is bad. There is at least one person on this ballot who is surely HOF worthy with no “baggage” or whatever. To act otherwise is foolish, or shows a complete lack of understanding of baseball beyond, like, 1993. There are going to be years when no one gets in; we experienced that recently. But there is almost never going to be a year when no one is worthy of a vote, by most any standard. Writers who turn in blank ballots are seeking attention above all else, whether directly or indirectly, so they can make some point informed by an incredibly narrow and (most often) outdated understanding of baseball. It also smacks wildly and loudly of the almost unrivaled self-seriousness of baseball writers, which I cannot stand.

Now on to my fake ballot, without paragraph upon paragraph of explanation because most of these are pretty self-evident.

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Todd Helton, Jeff Kent (an offensive force at 2B when that wasn’t quite a thing yet), Andruw Jones (400+ homers; all time great CF), Manny Ramirez (PED suspensions or not, one of the top RHB ever), Scott Rolen (he crawled so Adrian Beltre could walk/run), Gary Sheffield (go look up his numbers if you haven’t lately), Sammy Sosa. I’m leaving Curt Schilling off, even if some of the guys on here are also bad. Craig Calcaterra does a nice job explaining why here, so I’m not going to drone on and on about it.

The only one I’m unsure about up there is Kent, but the rest are among the best hitters or pitchers in the game’s history, without whom the telling of the story of baseball is hard to do. Clearly, PED stuff doesn’t matter to me, either. If you want the HOF to put some PED acknowledgement on their plaques, go right ahead.

And that’s my HOF discourse for 2020-21 (don’t hold me to this; I’m sure I’ll offer a take or three when the results come in). Let’s do this again next year, shall we? Good luck to the candidates.

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More Thoughts on Baseball and Race

Remember last week when I said baseball is political? Well, it still is! And since there’s nothing else to talk about regarding baseball, we’re going to keep that discussion going. You know what, though? That last sentence…I don’t really like it. As I said last week, not talking about these things in baseball isn’t helpful. While I may prefer to be talking about actual on-field stuff in this space every week, it’s important to acknowledge these things as they come, rather than letting them boil over later on.

Former Yankee–and guy who should be in the Hall of Fame–Gary Sheffield wrote a piece for the Players’ Tribune, detailing a harrowing experience he and his uncle, Dwight Gooden, had with police in South Florida. The title of the piece–Do You Believe Me Now?–got me thinking about another racially-charged incident from Sheffield’s pace that involved the Yankees.

In http://2007, Sheff did an interview with Andrea Kremer for HBO in which he said Joe Torre treated black players differently than he treated other players.

Sheffield, who was traded to the Detroit Tigers during the offseason, claimed that black and white players in the Yankees clubhouse were treated differently, specifically how players Tony Womack and Kenny Lofton were handled by Torre. In the interview with HBO, Sheffield says the black players on the Yankees’ roster would be “called out” in the clubhouse by Torre, while the white players would be called into Torre’s office to discuss matters.

“They weren’t treated like everybody else. I got called out in a couple of meetings that I thought were unfair,” Sheffield told Kremer.

Sheffield later added: “He had a message to get across to the whole team, so he used me to get the message across.” Sheffield said Torre didn’t use the same method with white players.

“No … I’d see a lot of white players get called in the office and treated like a man. That’s the difference.”

When asked Saturday to respond to Sheffield’s comments, Lofton said: “All I can say is, Sheffield knows what he’s talking about. That’s all I’m going to say,” Lofton told the AP in the Texas Rangers’ dugout just before the team took batting practice.

Sheffield said he doesn’t consider Torre a racist. “No. I think it’s the way they do things around there,” he said. “Since I was there I just saw that they run their ship different.”

At that point, Kremer says to Sheffield that the Yankees most high-profile player is black. “Who?” Sheffield says.

Told Jeter, Sheffield says: “Derek Jeter is black and white.”

First, a question: If Sheffield–or any player with any manager–made these comments today, how much more weight would they carry? The answer is a lot. From what I remember back then, these comments were largely derided and swept away. They definitely disappeared as the 2007 season came and went, as did Torre’s tenure with the Yankees. But in our climate today, hell, even in the one just a few years after these comments, this would get a lot more attention. I’ll admit to brushing these comments off at the time, chalking them up to Sheffield’s attitude and the fact that Womack and Lofton didn’t do well with the Yankees and were frustrated. But is it possible that a lack of comfort led to them not performing well? Yes. It’s not necessarily the reason, but it’s worth mentioning. As Sheffield says, it’s not likely that Joe Torre is/was a racist, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t implicit, unconscious biases in his head–like there are in all of us–that influenced his decision making.

The comment about Derek Jeter, followed later by “[i]t’s just [Jeter] ain’t all the way black,” doesn’t feel great, but we also have to acknowledge that colorism is a thing and that Sheffield, Womack, and Lofton all having darker skin could play into the aforementioned implicit biases.

Gary Sheffield was one of my favorite players on the team in his brief time with the Yankees. Maybe he wore out his welcome–as he did in lots of places–but that doesn’t mean we should’ve so easily brushed off his comments about the Yankees and race. While he may have been a prickly dude, when a Black man speaks up about mistreatment because of his race, no matter how big or small, we should pay more attention and give it more respect than we did to Sheff in 2007.

Expanding on this discussion, let’s jump to the Boston Globe and Alex Speier’s article about biases in scouting. This relates to what Sheffield said about Torre. The scouts in here are likely not racists. That doesn’t mean, though, that there aren’t certain things that influence or leverage the way they talk about players or categorize players.

Public statements from MLB lately show they’re at least aware of the problem. And those statements talked about uncomfortable conversations, introspection, all that. So here are some questions for MLB that need answers in something beyond platitudes.

Why are there so few Black American/Canadian players in the game?

Why are there so few Black coaches and managers and executives?

Why are Black American/Canadian players being shut out of positions, almost entirely? From the article:

Moreover, Black players are drastically underrepresented as starting pitchers and catchers because of what Huntington and others see as the same sort of bias that for years limited opportunities for Black quarterbacks in the NFL.

That’s from Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington, and something Randy, Bobby, and I touched on during the last week’s podcast.

I used this article as a conversation-starter with some friends at work–all fellow white men who also love baseball. Their reaction was positive; they said it made them think in ways they hadn’t before, which is a step in the right direction. It also started two spinoff conversations, one about Brett Gardner and one about Gary Sanchez.

In the former, one colleague asked if Brett Gardner fits the term “grinder.” I said yes, but that’s really the default for short white guys. Were Gardner black, I posited, scouts and media probably would’ve focused on his speed. I brought up Dustin Pedroia (who I realize is one of my least favorite players ever) and how even he, unfairly, got the ‘grinder’ tag placed upon him. Pedroia was a second round pick from a NCAA baseball powerhouse, not some diamond in the rough. He was an immensely talented (if annoying) baseball player and compared to Gardner–a walk-on at his college–nothing like a grinder. I also mentioned that rare is the time when a black player is called a grinder.

The Gary Sanchez conversation started from a place it often does with Sanchez–at least from more ‘mainstream’ fans: Sanchez is lazy because he doesn’t run out ground balls. I retorted that Sanchez is just slow and that players like Jason Giambi and Mark Teixiera–also fellow piano-draggers, but very white–were never criticized for lack of hustle on grounders. What I forgot to say was, yes, there was a time when Sanchez not busting it down the line cost the Yankees a win in Tampa…but he was already playing through pain at that point and then injured himself later on while ‘hustling’ down the line. I did, however, remember to say that hustle down the line is often eyewash, etc. My colleague–a different one than the one who brought up Gardner/grinder–saw a brown player not hustling due to lack of speed, but chalked it up to laziness. He didn’t do the same thing for white players. Does this make him racist? No, but it showed a bias, even for just a moment. That bias is (part of) what baseball needs to reckon with.

Baseball alone is not going to cure the ills of racism in American society. It’s too deeply ingrained in our systems to be undone by one relatively frivolous (in the grand scheme of things) business/whatever baseball is or is supposed to be. But it still has a responsibility to be the best it can be. I’m glad baseball is starting to reckon with this, even in a surface-level way. Hopefully they start coming up with answers to the tough questions.

Which Yankees will follow Derek Jeter to Cooperstown?

Sabathia. (Arturo Pardavilla III – CC BY 2.0)

Official announcement of Derek Jeter’s induction to the Hall of Fame will occur later today. It’ll be the second straight year featuring a Yankee, with Mariano Rivera entering Cooperstown last summer. But after these two prominent Yankees, who’s next?

Returning to the ballot for 2021

There are a number of ex-Yankees already on the ballot that will return for the next round of voting. Some are more notable than others.

On numbers alone, Roger Clemens belongs in the Hall. The Rocket spent six of his 24 seasons with the Yankees, though his best seasons were elsewhere. But more important than performance, his case is marred by allegations of statutory rape of a minor and PED usage.

Andy Pettitte will return to the ballot for a third time, but will likely fall short again. He received a respectable 9.9 percent of the votes last year; we’ll see how that shifts this season. Pettitte was a great Yankee, but falls short of Hall-worthiness statistically speaking. His link to PEDs won’t help his case anyway.

Gary Sheffield spent three seasons in pinstripes but absolutely raked while doing so (135 OPS+). He hasn’t received any higher than 13.6 percent of the vote and next year will be his seventh try. Again, PED allegations hinder his electability in spite of 509 career homer runs.

As long as they get 5 percent of the vote, Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu will return to the ballot for a second time next year. Giambi won’t make it, but he was fun to watch hit in the Bronx from 2002 through 2008. Similarly, Abreu is going to fall short.

Ballot newcomers

Here are some notable names coming to the ballot in future years:

YearPlayers
2021AJ Burnett, Nick Swisher
2022Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira
2023Carlos Beltrán

This is a pretty interesting group upcoming. Burnett, Swisher, and Teixeira all fall short by the numbers, though of that trio, Teix seemed to be on the track at one point. The switch-hitting first baseman really fell off after 2011, his age-31 season. Through that point, he had 314 homers, a 132 OPS+, and 44.1 bWAR. But he only rebounded for one more big season — 2015 — before he retired after his age-36 season a year later. Teixeira finished with 409 homers and just under 52 WAR. A very good career, no doubt, but he just didn’t have the longevity.

Things get much more intriguing when you consider A-Rod and Beltrán. The former’s lifetime numbers are historically great: he swatted 696 homers, recorded 3,115 hits, and accumulated 117.8 WAR. However, and this is a big one: he served a season-long PED suspension in 2014. And that wasn’t the first time he used PEDs, either. In 2009, he admitted to using back when he was with the Rangers. So, even though the numbers would make him a slam dunk, the drug usage almost assuredly will keep him out of Cooperstown.

Then there’s Beltrán. Before the recent news that has dominated the baseball world, I figured Beltrán would enter the Hall eventually. He’s got the sabermetric case with just under 70 WAR, though I’m not certain people thought of him as a shoe-in. Anyway, the decision to elect him may not be so difficult after all. His transgressions in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal will undoubtedly adversely affect his candidacy. He was explicitly called out in the Commissioner’s report which will do quite a bit of damage.

The next inductee: CC Sabathia

Bobby already wrote about why Sabathia belongs in Cooperstown, so no need to rehash here. We just have to play the waiting game now. Sabathia will be eligible in five years and hopefully will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. After Jeter, he’s clearly the next individual in line to don a Yankees cap in the Hall of Fame.

Down the road

Looking forward to being 50 years-old in 2040 when Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, and Gerrit Cole (among others) go into the Hall as Yankees, you guys. Anyway, for fun, allow me to power rank the top five current Yankees most likely to get a plaque:

  1. Gleyber Torres
  2. Giancarlo Stanton
  3. Gerrit Cole
  4. Aaron Judge
  5. Aroldis Chapman

Time for some rapid-fire thoughts on this. I feel like picking Gleyber is bold given some of the accomplishments others on this list have, but I’ll do it no less. Stanton already has 309 homers and is just 31 years-old. Cole has a chance to cement himself as the best pitcher of his generation. Judge has Hall of Fame talent but will need a strong late career considering he didn’t start until he was 25 and has missed time because of injuries. Lastly, Chapman could end his career with the highest strikeout rate of all-time and very high up on the all-time saves list. That said, his domestic violence suspension should give voters pause.

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