2009 Analysis: Gary Sheffield
Entering the 2009 season, the Mets were one slugger short of a championship lineup. They didn’t bother acquiring one during the winter because Daniel Murphy was going to hit like Wade Boggs and the Fernando Tatis – Ryan Church in right field was going to be the best seen in Flushing since the days of Ron Swoboda and Art Shamsky.
But when Gary Sheffield was released outright by the Detroit Tigers, the Mets snapped him up — much to the chagrin of nearly every fan, blogger, radio personality, journalist, and pundit within earshot of Citi Field (note I said “nearly“).
After all, Gary Sheffield was a loafing, selfish, evil, degenerate senior citizen who was going to cause a major disruption in the delicate Mets’ clubhouse and poison the minds of the precocious young ballplayers. There were also fears that he would steal everyone’s wallets, molest the players’ wives, put a cap in David Wright’s head, eat the Wilpons’ babies, and otherwise completely disgrace the Mets’
brand image — all while confined to a body cast and wheelchair resulting from his first attempt to walk up the dugout steps and onto the field.
As it turned out, Sheffield was a model citizen, perfect teammate, productive player, and didn’t pull a gun on anyone for five months! He was the only power threat in the lineup from May through August, and played through injuries while others dropped from the roster like flies.
Then he made the egregious gesture of discussing a contract extension.
His overture was flatly denied by the Mets front office, who preferred to table the discussion until a later date — maybe sometime in November (or maybe the way it spilled out of Omar Minaya’s mouth it sounded like “sometime in never”). Sheffield, being an emotional human being, was upset with that decision, and had the bad luck of being seen by a member of the press (or someone who leaked the tantrum to the press) while in that ill mood. Almost immediately, the Sheffield detractors came out of the woodwork, only too happy to jump on the “Sheffield is the devil” bandwagon and beat the drum that had been kept within arm’s length of their keyboards and microphones for the previous five months. The “I told you so’s” that came pouring out were pathetic, as the shock jocks and columnists completely dismissed the contribution and otherwise stellar behavior exhibited by Sheffield in a Met uniform.
(BTW, good luck to the Mets in finding players who WANT to play in Flushing circus next year.)
After “the incident”, we didn’t see much of Sheff. Suddenly the nagging leg and back issues were keeping him on the bench. The Mets need to take “extended looks” at people like Cory Sullivan and Fernando Tatis. In a few weeks, he faded from memory.
Which is too bad. The vanishing of Sheffield in September surely was a combination of the disagreement between Mets management and Sheffield, and Sheff’s physical ailments. But he did prove, through it all, that he could still hit. It’s doubtful he’ll ever again be an everyday player, but the bat speed is there, and the behavioral problems are an overblown fallacy. If Sheff wants to play in 2010, he will, and he’ll be productive. Not the superstar he once was, but productive.
The shame of it is, just before “the incident”, Sheffield received a custom-made first baseman’s glove (as part of an endorsement deal). He knew the outfield was getting to be too much for his old bones, and that Daniel Murphy would need a platoon partner. But since he never had the chance to show what he could do at the position, we’ll never know if he and Murphy would’ve been a good tandem.
Of course, if the Mets acquire a big-time first baseman and/or send Murphy packing, this point is moot. In fact, the whole argument is moot because “the incident” effectively eliminated Sheff’s tenure as a Met.
For five months though, Gary Sheffield was fun to watch and a big reason the Mets had any hope at all.