Gary Sheffield is one of the greatest hitters in MLB history. Using his famous bat waggle, Sheffield managed to put up a .292/.393/.514 line in 22 seasons as a big leaguer. He also smacked 509 home runs while driving in 1676 runs over the course of his career–not too bad if you ask me. Sheffield, a Tampa Bay native, played for eight different franchises, winning a World Series with the Florida Marlins in 1997. On Wednesday afternoon, Rays Colored Glasses had the opportunity to talk to Sheffield to get some insight into his career and see what he has been doing since his retirement. Without further ado, here is part one of RCG’s interview with Sheffield.
Drew Jenkins: You began your career as a shortstop before shifting to third base and then the outfield, all the while trying to establish yourself as a potent hitter. How did you make sure that learning these new positions did not affect you at the plate?
Gary Sheffield: I worked as much as I could on the positions when I got the chance, but hitting was my priority. I was more of a natural shortstop, so I moved positions reluctantly. It wasn’t really my choice. When I did that, I was not as worried about defense as hitting. I felt that hitting was my calling card, so I focused on it more than defense.
DJ: You played with eight different teams in your career–the Milwaukee Brewers, the San Diego Padres, the Florida Marlins, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Atlanta Braves, the New York Yankees, the Detroit Tigers, and the New York Mets–and managed to deliver strong results everywhere you went. Which team was the most enjoyable to play for?
GS: I would say the Florida Marlins. All of them were enjoyable in their own right–I have no bad feelings about any place that I played. There were positives everywhere I played, but Florida was full of positives. I also really enjoyed playing with the Yankees and the Braves. I didn’t focus on who was coaching me, I played for my peers, and I shared what they went through. I enjoyed myself around the guys I was around and made many friends. The best thing for me was to play for so many teams because wherever I went I could enjoy myself and make friendships.
DJ: You have played for many different teams and under many different managers in your career, but one thing that has identified you the whole way is your famous bat waggle. How did it start and what advantages did it bring to your swing?
GS: It was more a timing thing–I was strong enough and had strong hands, forearms, and legs, so I could use my legs and spread out to create power. I could be aggressive at the plate because of it. The waggle started when I was at rookie ball. I was struggling with a wood bat the first few days. Just messing around, I went with the waggle in batting practice and hit nine homers in ten pitches. Then I took it into the game and hit a home run that day, and two the next day. It was my safe haven to stay on the breaking ball. I used to use it to trick pitchers. Sometimes I would waggle it real hard, which dared the pitcher to throw me inside. Other times I waggled real slow so that they wanted to throw me a breaking ball. I messed with it so that they would try to quick pitch/sneak pitch, and I would take advantage of that. I played games with the pitcher as much as they played games with me.
DJ: Throughout your career, you were regarded as a clutch player, and you finished your career with a .310 average with runners in scoring position compared to your .292 mark overall. What was it about high-pressure situations that helped you rise to the occasion day in and day out?
GS: I had a knack to slow the situation down and not worry about failing. I understood the failure of sports, especially baseball, and that really helped me out. I really was not concerned about failing–it just never crossed my mind. When I did fail, I was more surprised than anybody else. I put my all into it, and when you do that you have no worries.
DJ: Lately we have seen quite a few talented prospects, more notably Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, come up to the big leagues while they were still teenagers. You went through the same thing with the Brewers in 1988, but it was not until 1992 at age 23 that you finally emerged as a star. With your experience in mind, what advice would you give to a player like Harper who is extremely talented but has not gotten the results he was hoping for early on?
GS: I don’t know his [Harper’s] personal situation, and I know a lot of people had him as one of the best young players coming up. I feel like you are only as good as the people around you when you come up at that age. When you have a good supporting cast it makes it a lot easier. Being a teenager, it is difficult to walk into a room of men and feel at home. When I came up you really had to pay your dues. This generation is more accepting of kids coming in, so that does help them out. Having Pujols on your team for Trout, he is a born and bred leader. He can help Trout in the locker room tremendously. I know Harper hasn’t played up to the hype, but he has the ability. My son actually played with him when there were 11 years old, and I know he’s had talent ever since then. He’s a great kid, but he has to learn how to get through 162 games injury free before we see what he really can be.
DJ: You recently joined Pasco sports as a partial owner. Pasco is planning to build a huge complex in Wesley Chapel, Florida that includes 19 fields, a stadium, a player development center, on-site dormitories, and more. Tell me more about this project as well as what made you want to get involved in it.
GS: I already had my own plans of doing something on this level, but this was the best pitch. When I learned about this scenario, it intrigued me mainly because of the location and the amount of fields that we are getting ready to build. Wesley Chapel was an up and coming area, but when the economy crashed it was hurt. Bringing these facilities there is going to bring revenue and people back to Wesley Chapel. The destination is perfect, Disney and Tampa are close, and there is good weather. It is going to provide kids somewhere to go and play against the best talent in the world. We also have more major league players coming on board. This is the only complex that you may see a current or former major league ball player on a daily basis. This is where scouts are going to come and see talent. They will trust in our vision.
Thanks to Gary Sheffield for taking time out of his day to sit down with Rays Colored Glasses! The interview will continue with part 2 tomorrow afternoon, so be sure to come back and check it out.