Last night I got the chance to sit front row behind the home dugout at Citi Field. Needless to say the game between the Mets and Cardinals was stunning. I saw Johan being Johan, Albert being Albert, and K-Rod being Joe Borowski.
But mostly I saw Gary Sheffield.
I’ve been fascinated by Gary Sheffield since his tumultuous stint with my Dodgers. He was awful off the field in LA. He bitched about his teammates in the media, he fought with management, and he whined and whined and whined. But goodness gracious did he hit.
No matter where he’s gone Gary Sheffield has always been that guy. He’s never been your favorite player, but he’s often been your favorite team’s best player. He’s never been enough of a problem off the field, or enough of a superstar on the field to elicit romantic baseball love or fanatic baseball hatred from fans. Gary Sheffield is meant to confuse, meant to muddle, and meant to be pondered. In my mind he is a first ballot Hall-of-Famer.
The thing about Gary Sheffield is that he’s very serious. I saw it yesterday. He emerged from the dugout for the National Anthem with a distant look on his face. As other players sang, blew bubbles, and grinned their way through the song, Sheffield stood focused. He was solemn and somber. I wondered for a moment if I had discounted him. Perhaps the brooding Sheffield was more complex than I had ever given him credit for. Perhaps he was a humble patriot doing his American thing for these few quiet moments before the game.
But his expression stayed that way. Over the nine innings, Sheffield’s face remained distant, sullen. It was as if he carried some burden, understood some troubling reality that we in the stands could never appreciate. Indeed, it was not the Anthem, it was just Gary. It was just Gary playing baseball. And when Gary plays baseball he is more than just immune to his surroundings – he appears oblivious to them. It’s as if he doesn’t even see his own teammates on the bench.
The game, it seems, happens around Gary. He simply is. The Sheff abides. He doesn’t put on a uniform, but rather the uniforms seem to put themselves on him. He doesn’t come to the stadium either. The stadiums he plays in grow organically from the ground beneath where he happens to be standing, so as to leave him at ease in left field, the batters’ box, or the on-deck circle. These things happen by sheer momentum. They are just the way of the universe.
In a sense, there’s a Ricky Henderson-ness to Sheffield. Ricky played baseball like gravity. He was everywhere, and he was the same everywhere. Sheffield is like that too. He is serious and wise and silent and ubiquitous and eerily consistent. He’s only played for eight teams in his career, but it seems like so many more. He hasn’t hit 30 home runs in a season since 2005, but his violent pendulum of a batting stance still induces the fear of nature into opponents.
Sheffield went 2-4 yesterday, with a double and a pair of runs batted in. He jogged and took a couple awful, lazy angles in left field. On an exciting evening, a back and forth, high scoring, star-driven evening, Gary Sheffield was muddled, inhibited, himself.