Gary Sheffield officially retires, starts Hall of Fame debate

Gary Sheffield(notes) could've picked a better week to announce his retirement from baseball.

Between Albert Pujols(notes) and the St. Louis Cardinals failing to agree on a new contract and the Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera(notes) once again exhibiting extremely poor self-control and judgment with alcohol, Sheffield's decision won't receive the attention it should.

After all, for a player with 2,689 hits, 509 home runs and 1,676 RBIs, the official end of his major league career should be noted more widely.

Sheffield, 42, had already essentially retired, anyway, though baseball essentially made the decision for him after no team showed interest in employing his services for the 2010 season. He all but begged the Tampa Bay Rays for a shot this offseason, but his hometown team never made an offer.

With decent numbers for the New York Mets in 2009 (.276/.372/.451, 10 homers, 43 RBIs in 312 plate appearances), Sheff probably could've helped a team with his bat. But maybe not for the price Sheffield thought he was still worth.

Sheffield had a chance for a glorious last hurrah when the Tigers traded for him after the 2006 season, hoping he could be a run producer for a team that had just lost the World Series. But Sheff could never shake a shoulder injury suffered in an on-field collision, one which eventually required surgery.

That, along with an increasing refusal to play solely as a DH and decreasing productivity at the plate, made him too problematic to keep around and the Tigers released him in spring training despite still owing him $14 million in salary.

Considering that Sheffield had also managed to alienate himself from the Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Florida Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees because of dissatisfaction with his role or contract issues, this wasn't really a surprising end to his days as a substantial major league contributor.

With the end of a notable career comes the question of Hall of Fame worthiness. Does Sheffield make the grade? As you might expect, he has some thoughts on the matter.

From the New York Post:

"I am sure it will be mentioned and debated but from my standpoint I know who is in the Hall of Fame," Sheffield told The Post. "A lot of them don't belong in the Hall of Fame. If someone wants to debate me, check the stats."

Five hundred homers and 2,500 hits make quite a case for Sheffield. But being linked to steroid use in the BALCO investigation and the Mitchell Report is going to present a major problem with voters. Many have already passed judgment on players for suspicion of using performance-enhancing drugs. Sheffield was actually named as a user of such substances.

Plus, as Rob Neyer points out, Sheffield will be eligible for induction in 2014. He'll have to contend with other names on the ballot for the first time, like Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine(notes). And the line to get into Cooperstown will already be populated with the controversial likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza.

Sheffield's numbers may eventually get him in, but those are the two major obstacles he'll have to climb.

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