Gary Sheffield; The Ultimate Journeyman Slugger Raps Out 500 Home Runs Playing For Eight Different Franchises
As he has throughout his playing career, Gary Sheffield became the 25th member of The 500 Home Run Club® on Friday, April 17, 2009 by defying convention and playing by his own rules. Signed just days before the start of the 2009 season to play in the New York Mets beautiful new Citi Field, “The Iron Sheff” didn’t care if he started in right field or came of the bench as a pinch hitter when the game was on the line for The Mets…as long as he got his cuts at the plate.
“I realize I am at a point in my career that I am not the marquee guy to demand a position. I want to win a championship. If its coming off the bench, I am willing to do that,” Sheffield said.
The nine-time All-Star hit a full-count pitch off of Milwaukee Brewers’ reliever Mitch Stetter an estimated 385 feet for his first hit and homer of the season for the New York Mets after being cut by the Detroit Tigers the last week of spring training.
Aside from helping his new team The Mets beat the Brewers 5-4 Sheffield was most excited about joining another new “team” of baseball’s greatest all-time sluggers. “Just to join that 500 Home Run Club, you know. Now I can say I'm in the club and, you know, it's like getting your degree. Nobody can never take that away from you," Sheffield said.
Sheffield was 0-for-4 with three walks for the Mets before the homer, his second as a pitch-hitter, tied the score at 4-4. He made his first start of the season Wednesday after signing with New York on April 4.
Everything happens for a reason," Sheffield said after his pinch-hit, game-tying homer in the seventh inning helped the Mets beat the Brewers 5-4. "There's a reason why I hit 19 home runs instead of 20 last year," Sheffield said. "I could have hit it then [with Detroit], but there was a reason why they had me get released and come here and do it on the biggest stage.
The ball was hit out in typical Sheffield fashion - a bullet to the left field seats at beautiful new Citi Field. Sheff pumped both arms in the air as he approached first and rounded the bases as cameras flashed all over the ballpark. He touched home plate and pointed to the sky with both arms after the pinch-hit shot then hugged on-deck batter Jose Reyes.
At 40 years, 143 days, Sheffield is the fourth-oldest player to hit 500 behind Willie McCovey (40 years, 171 days), Eddie Murray (40, 194) and (Ted Williams 41, 291). It’s been less than a year since the 24th member Manny Ramirez joined The 500 Home Run Club®, and three others Jim Thome, Alex Rodriguez and Frank Thomas have passed the 500 dinger plateau in the past two season, a flurry never before seen in MLB history.
Sheffield dealt with the pressure of hitting #500 by preparing himself to play in Citi Field’s quirky outfield, which is full of diagonal outfield walls and funky angles that range from 330 feet down the line to 415 feet in right-center corner. “I've never seen anything like that (Citi Field’s outfield) in my life,” Sheffield said. “When the ball gets hit over your head, you're not sure which way it's going to ricochet. You've got strong wind a lot of times out there. I look at the flags, and it looks like it's blowing in. But then the ball carries over your head. You have to be careful out there."
After signing with The Mets, he also had to adjust from being a full-time designated hitter as he had been for the past three seasons with The Tigers. "I've dropped 6 pounds, so far. I wanted to lose weight, so I would be able to run around out there. I prepared in the off-season to DH, so I didn't have to worry about my weight. But when you go in the outfield, you have to be able to get to balls."
And you have to be able to knock balls over the outfield wall, which “Shef” has now done 500 times and counting.
Next Up For Sheff:
# 512: Ernie Banks, Cubs
# 512: Eddie Mathews
# 511: Mel Ott
# 504: Eddie Murray
Players chasing 500
# 472: Carlos Delgado, Mets
# 409: Chipper Jones, Braves
# 396: Jason Giambi, A's
# 393: Vladimir Guerrero, Angels