Friday, November 18, 2005

November 18th, 1968

Gary Sheffield Born

Now with the Yankees, after stops in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Florida, San Diego and Milwaukee, Gary Sheffied is a still controversial player. However, perhaps never more so than with regards to his play as a shortstop in Milwaukee. After he left the city, Sheffield told the Los Angeles Times’ Bob Nightengale that his time in Milwaukee “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.” Now leaving aside the fact that being in Milwaukee could bring out the hate in anyone, it’s a pretty serious claim. Making errors intentionally is a bad thing; many stories claim that Sheffield did it to force the Brewers to trade him but the original quote seems to suggest it was revenge as the motive more than anything else.

But did he really do it? Sheffield has obviously downplayed the story, asking “why would a player purposely make mistakes? I’d never do anything to hurt the team. You get paid to play.” A response like that could be expected. Under Sheffield’s version of events, he would have had to make at least two errors in a game, the non-intentional one, and the “Screw You” error. Luckily for us, there are resources to check this kind of thing out. has daily logs of every game Sheffield played for the Brewers, the 1988 through 1991 seasons. In those four seasons, Sheffield made two errors in a game just four times. Let’s look at them one-by-one, along with a brief opinion of if it seems like the second error was intentional:

April 23rd, 1989, Tigers at Brewers: In the top of the second, Tiger right fielder Chet Lemon reached on an error by Sheffield. In the fifth, Matt Nokes hit an infield single to Sheffield but he threw the ball away, allowing Alan Trammel to score.
Unlikely. While it does fit the pattern Sheffield described (air-mailing a throw) this was April of Sheffield’s rookie year, it's doubtful he was already so angry with the Brewers that he was making intentional errors.

June 20th, 1989, Royals at Brewers: With the Brewers leading 1-0 in the seventh, Bill Buckner and Bob Boone singled. With Bill Pecota running for Buckner, Frank White singled to left-field. Sheffield was the cut-off man, and the AP report for the game describes it thusly: “Boone was caught off second on the throw from the outfield after White's single but returned to the base safely when Gary Sheffield's throw hit him in the back.” The error was charged to Sheffield. In the tenth inning, with the game tied at two, Sheffield allowed Kevin Seitzer to reach base leading off the inning.
Maybe. Again the relative newness of Sheffield to the Brewers is a factor. Sheffield might have had a complaint with the umpire regarding a possible interference call. Without an interference call, the official scorer had little choice but to give him an error. It's possible Sheffield was sufficiently angered by this to make an intentional error, but given that it was he who had driven in the run to tie the game at two, it seems unlikely he would have intentionally let the leadoff hitter reach base in the tenth.

May 15th, 1990, Angels at Brewers: In the second inning, Sheffield made an error that allowed Johnny Ray to reach first. In the eighth, Sheffield again made an error that allowed Ray to reach first, which eventually lead to a three-run Angels rally, putting a formerly close game out of reach for the Brewers.
Maybe. AP reports don’t describe either error, and it fits the pattern Sheffield describes in the quote. In his defense, Sheffield was playing out of position (at third base, instead of shortstop) and the weather was terrible, forty-six degrees at game time and in a fog so thick the outfield could not be seen from the press box. This also works against Sheffield however, in that he could have believed his first error to be weather related and then made the second out of spite.

April 8th, 1991, Brewers at Rangers: On Opening Day, in the third inning, Sheffield made an error that allowed Jack Daugherty to reach first. In the bottom of the ninth, with the Brewers leading five to four Sheffield made an error that allowed Mike Stanley to reach first base, but he was stranded and the Brewers won.
Almost certainly not. For one thing, the game was not at County Stadium, so Sheffield couldn’t feel the Brewers’ official scorer was trying to make him look bad. The second error occurred at a key moment in the game, the Brewers clinging to a one run lead. Most importantly though, Sheffield handled a chance cleanly in the fifth, throwing out Julio Franco, meaning that the error would be out of the pattern Sheffield himself laid out.

So was Gary Sheffield making intentional errors or was he just later all talk? We may never truly know, but from where I sit, it looks like all talk.

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