Tampa Titan: Gary Sheffield
ARLINGTON — The jet is on standby. Uncle Dwight is waiting in the wings, and somewhere Fred McGriff probably is paying attention, too.
Tigers designated hitter Gary Sheffield needs three more home runs to join the 500 home run club and add to his legacy as the best home-run hitter to ever come out of Florida. The National Baseball Hall of Fame? That would be a nice honor, but don’t expect Sheffield to be upset if he is not inducted into Cooperstown one day.
“I don’t think like that,” Sheffield said. “My thing is that whatever my numbers are, I’ll let people decide that and judge it however they want to judge it. My thing is that I know what I brought to the game and I know what kind of player I was, and that’s pretty much all that matters to me.”
Sheffield said he accomplished a life-long goal earlier this month when he passed fellow Floridian McGriff (493) on the all-time home-run list. His 500th home run will be special — Dwight Gooden is scheduled to fly in when Sheffield reaches 498 homers — but Sheffield never dreamed of hitting 500, so it’s not like he has been looking forward to it his entire career.
“I knew [McGriff] would be the guy I would have to hit more home runs than because nobody was going to hit more home runs than Fred McGriff,” Sheffield said. “So whatever number he came up with, the day I put on my uniform to play with him is the day I made that goal. … It’s the strangest thing. It’s just one of those things of how much I admire him as a person, as a friend and as a baseball player. What he has meant to Tampa — when you talk about home runs in Tampa, you talk about Fred McGriff.”
Sheffield currently sits at No. 25 on the all-time list, seven home runs behind Eddie Murray for the 24th spot. He is 27th on the all-time RBIs list with 1,629, seven behind Ernie Banks for the 26th spot.
“Baseball is a family. Every time you pass somebody, it’s an honor,” Sheffield said. “I’m not downplaying that, disregarding that, but at the same time, these were not my goals. I only had one goal, and that was Fred McGriff, and I accomplished that. Really, anything I do now is a bonus. I’m just playing for the love of the game.”
Sheffield chuckles when he recalls the day he passed McGriff and the congratulatory conversation that followed.
“I don’t think he was happy about that,” Sheffield added with a laugh. “I know Fred, and he’s a real mild-mannered guy. He congratulated me, but it wasn’t like there was a whole lot of enthusiasm.”