Gary Sheffield rattles off names that have become familiar in light of recent developments — George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor – and tells the harrowing story of how close he came to becoming part of the list.
The veteran of 22 Major League Baseball seasons wrote an essay for The Players Tribune telling the story of a brutal beating he says police inflicted one night when he was out with his uncle, New York Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden.
Gary Sheffield had a long, solid MLB career
Something doesn’t compute when cross-referencing Gary Sheffield’s career statistics and the support – or lack thereof — that he receives for induction into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Sheffield reached the majors in 1988 with the Milwaukee Brewers and played 2,576 games in 22 seasons. In that time, he piled up 2,689 hits, 509 home runs, and a .292 batting average. He also walked 1,475 times while striking out a relatively paltry 1,171 times.
It can be argued that Sheffield’s numbers are the result of the quantity of seasons rather than the quality. He never led the majors in a significant statistical category or win a Most Valuable Player award, and Sheffield was only a .248 hitter in 44 postseason games.
Still, it seems astonishing that Sheffield’s name showed up on only 11.1 to 13.6% of ballots in his first five years of eligibility for the Hall of Fame. Support started to pop in the 2020 balloting when 30.5% of the Baseball Writers Association of America voters put him on their ballots. But that’s a long way from the necessary 75%, and Sheffield isn’t going to be adding to his home run total.
On the other hand, Sheffield tells a chilling story of how close he came to not hitting any major-league homers at all.
Gary Sheffield: ‘Do you believe me now?’
In his essay for The Players Tribune, Gary Sheffield tells of a night out with uncle Dwight Gooden and some friends that went horribly wrong when Sheffield was 18 years old and on his way to the majors.
The group was leaving a University of South Florida basketball game in three cars when they were all pulled over by police. Sheffield says the officers handcuffed Gooden and “slammed him face-first to the ground.
“At that moment, I didn’t see police officers — I saw men in uniform illegally harassing and assaulting my uncle.”
Sheffield says he tried to intervene. But he, too, was taken down.
“They proceeded to beat all of us unmercifully — beat us with flashlights. Not satisfied, they then loaded us into their cars and took us to the dog track — which was deserted — where they proceeded to assault us again until we were black, blue and swollen. Only then did they arrest us.”
Sheffield and Gooden were sentenced to probation, and he wrote that nothing happened to the police officers.
‘It isn’t the time for superficial comments’
Gary Sheffield acknowledges that his being labeled outspoken and controversial is probably accurate. In fact, he calls the labels “a badge of honor.” He’s adamant about the need to call out racism and unjust treatment.
“It isn’t the time for superficial comments and empty statements. This is our moment to turn tragedy into triumph. It is our opportunity to put a stop to years of systemic racism, oppression and discrimination.”
All statistics are from Baseball-Reference.com.