Gary Sheffield is the best bet to make a major leap up the Hall of Fame ballot in 2023 voting.
That leap won’t be enough to win him election, but it is likely to improve on his vote percentage by as much as 20 points.
The reason has nothing to do with Sheffield and everything to do with the elimination of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens from the 2023 ballot.
Gary Sheffield getting closer to Hall of Fame
When Bonds and Clemens, the two most famous products of the game’s steroid era, maxed out their 10th and final year of eligibility for the writers’ ballot last January, it opened literally hundreds of slots on ballots of voters not inclined to automatically reject steroid users for enshrinement.
Based on early voting trends, it looks like many of those votes will go to candidates such as Sheffield whose plausibly Hall-worthy careers were also marred by steroid admissions.
In both the 2021 and 2022 elections, he topped out at 40.6 percent of the vote, obviously well short of the 75 percent required for enshrinement.
In his eighth season of Hall eligibility, Sheffield is doing much better so far. Ryan Thibodeaux’s Hall of Fame vote tracker credits Sheffield with a 58.9 percent share of the 52 ballots made publicly available at the time of this writing.
Here’s the interesting sidelight: Sheffield has already added the support of eight voters who did not vote for him last year, but who did vote for Bonds and/or Clemens.
With no Bonds or Clemens to support this year and no compunction against supporting the candidacies of players linked to steroids, those eight voters all gravitated toward Sheffield.
Given Sheffield’s numbers, there’s no particular reason to expect that other erstwhile Bonds-Clemens voters won’t also throw their weight behind Sheffield this year and probably also in his final two seasons of Hall eligibility in 2024 and 2025.
As Bonds and Clemens proved, the ranks of those willing to overlook evidence of steroid use are not large enough to actually get a guy elected. In the case of Sheffield, that evidence is clear. In a 2004 article and on subsequent occasions, he admitted to using a steroid-based substance called ‘The Cream’ to help him recover from injuries in 2002.
The substance was among those linked to Bonds via the baseball-notorious San Francisco-based Balco Lab. Sheffield said he did not at the time know that the product was a steroid. During his career, which ended in 2009, he did not fail a drug test.
Aside from his ties to a steroid, the Hall case for Sheffield is a strong one. Over a 22-season career he batted .292 with 509 home runs and 1,475 RBIs. Sheffield played on only one World Series winner, the 1997 Florida Marlins, but he backed up his counting numbers with SABR-friendly stats. Those included a lifetime 140 OPS+ — meaning he was 40 percent above average as an offensive player – and 60.5 WAR.
Among the 10 players identified by Baseball-reference as having the closest similarity scores to Gary Sheffield, only Carlos Beltran is not a Hall of Famer.