Gary Sheffield is one of the more forgotten Yankee stars of our lifetime. Despite slugging .291/.383/.515 with the Yankees, he is rarely ever mentioned among modern Yankee stars. Why is this?
Gary Sheffield was a dominant player, but was he just a Yankee at the wrong time? Sheff came into the fold at the start of the 2004 season, right after the Aaron Boone heroics of 2003. He was here for three seasons, and here’s how they went:
2004-Lost in ALCS to Red Sox
2005- Lost in ALDS to Angels
2006- Lost in ALDS to Tigers
This three year stretch had no signature moments like 2001 or 2003 before it, or like 2009 after it. These Yankee teams essentially won 100 games each year and then immediately folded in the playoffs. They were a hybrid mix of the old guard Yankees with some free agent stars mixed in, and the group never seemed to gel. The lack of success during this time could be one of the reasons that Sheffield isn’t appreciated much in Yankee land.
An Alternative Option
Despite being a premium middle of the order bat, Sheffield wasn’t even the best available player at his position during his free agent class. That honor would belong to Vladimir Guerrero, who had slugged .330/.426/.586 going into free agency. Guerrero was seven years younger than Sheff and a superior defender. He even went on to win the MVP in his first year with the Angels in 2004.
Rumor has it that Joe Torre and Brian Cashman both preferred Vlad, but big Stein overruled them both and signed Sheffield instead. Guerrero ending up being a first ballot hall of famer and a force to be reckoned with, but that shouldn’t take anything away from Sheffield. Sheffield put up very similar numbers to Guerrero in 2004 and 2005. In fact, he finished second in the MVP voting to Vlad in 2004-not too shabby!
Sure, the Yankees sucked in the playoffs during Sheff’s tenure, but he was mostly productive.
2004 ALDS: .223/.333/.444
2004 ALCS: .333/.444/.533
2005 ALDS: .286/.318/.286
Not hall of fame numbers, but he wasn’t the reason for the losses.
*Note: Sheffield tried to play through a torn ligament in his left wrist in the 2006 ALDS. I excluded those numbers because he was a shell of his normal self.
When examining Sheffield’s Yankee career, the wrist injury has to be mentioned. He tore a ligament in his left wrist in late May of 2006, and he was essentially done as a Yankee. Sheffield played in just 39 games that season. Despite the limited action, he still produced when he was on the field. Sheffield slashed .298/.355/.450 during those 39 games. When he was on the field as a Yankee, all he did was hit.
In his two healthy years as a Yankee, Sheffield was nothing short of dominant. In 2004, he slashed a ridiculous .290/.393/.534. He crushed 36 bombs and knocked in 121 runs. Remember, Rodriguez and Jeter struggled mightily in 2004. Sheffield was the most consistent Yankee hitter by far, and he helped to stabilize the lineup while those two struggled.
In 2005, Sheffield didn’t miss a beat. He slashed .291/.379/.512 and socked 34 homers with 123 RBI. During these two seasons, Sheffield put up MVP level numbers while playing in 154 games each season.
Maybe it’s because the team under achieved as a whole, or maybe it’s because fans regret not being able to land Vladimir Guerrero. But for whatever reason, Gary Sheffield remains a very under appreciated and underrated Yankee.