I know all the swell things we typically pronounce about the coming of spring and the newness of everything, but I’ve always been a guy who’s kind of attached to the older things among us. I assume this world view plays a role in my affinity for old baseball cards and memorabilia; in any event it clearly plays a part in my relative lack of enthusiasm for rookies as opposed to aging veterans.
Thus when spring training ends and the players head north (or should we now say “east,” because of the massive migration of clubs to Arizona?) I have a tendency to watch the old guys looking for some final redemption, as opposed to some untested 20-year-old in search of his first million bucks.
With that backdrop, I watched as Gary Sheffield wound up with my Mets. Now there’s a guy I’ve tried really hard to warm up to over the years, in part because he’s Dwight Gooden’s cousin, and Gooden was may favorite player back in the 1980s and 1990s. He's also one homer short of 500, which is a handsome statistical curiosity likely to be met with a big hum-hum across the land.
But with Sheffield it was a little tougher to rev up to actual fandom, so I had to end up merely respecting his hitting skills and enjoying the debate about whether the cousin would wind up with a plaque in Cooperstown, since Dwight obviously didn’t.
I have my doubts, especially given the confluence of his best years during the steroid-soaked years, which is not to suggest any involvement but merely to note that the taint from that era is likely to affect – to varying degrees – virtually all who played during that span.
In Sheffield’s case, it also doesn’t help that he’s played with eight different teams. Ultimately, however, it’s likely to be his own words that will be held against him, regardless of the fact that some of that came when he was very, very young and might otherwise have been forgiven for making the odd, utterly stupid pronouncement. Like this one about his tempestuous, failed tenure as a Milwaukee Brewer:
“The Brewers brought out the hate in me. I was a crazy man. ... I hated everything about the place. If the official scorer gave me an error, I didn’t think was an error, I’d say, ‘OK, here’s a real error,’ and I’d throw the next ball into the stands on purpose.’ ”
Ouch! Try picturing those words etched into a plaque in Cooperstown.