As Spring Training begins in earnest, two of the better players of the past two decades announced their retirement: Jim Edmonds and Gary Sheffield. My previous posts indicate how underappreciated I think Edmonds has been throughout his career, but a comparison between the two might reveal similarities not first noticed.
Known then as the nephew of reigning Cy Young winner Dwight Gooden, Sheffield was the 6th pick overall in 1986 (following Matt Williams, Kevin Brown and Kent Mercker in order) and progressed quickly. Sheffield broke into the majors as a shortstop with the Brewers in 1988 (when the Brewers still roamed the American League), and quickly converted to third base, where he spent 4 seasons before being traded to San Diego. Sheffield burst upon the scene winning a batting title in San Diego in 1992, but in 93 the Pads moved Sheff to the Marlins in exchange for (among others) Trevor Hoffman. In Florida, Sheffield languished for a few years before finally emerging as a top notch slugger in 1996. From 1996-2003, Sheffield hit 306/426/560, never posted a season OBP below .400, averaged 33 HRs and posted 41 WAR in spite of very poor defense. For the all important stat-counting crowd, Sheffield finished out his playing days with stints in Detroit and New York (the Yankees and the Mets), and managed to crack the magical 500 HR barrier, finishing with 509 longballs. Sheff’s career OPS+ of 140 ties him with Larry Walker, Duke Snider and Ryan Howard, and his 65 WAR place him right behind Buddy Bell and Frank “Home Run Baker” and immediately in front of Kenny Lofton and Norm Cash on the list of career WAR.
Edmonds took a bit longer to reach the majors after his 7th round selection out of Fullerton in 1988, debuting with the (then) California Angels in 1993. Edmonds established himself as a starter in 1995 and quickly made a name both with the bat and with his acrobatic defense in CF (skip to the 1:47 mark – I agree with the announcer that it is simply the best catch I have ever seen). Edmonds battled injuries and ultimately the Angels shipped Edmonds to St Louis just before the start of the 2000 season, where he found a home. From 2000-2005 Edmonds hit 292/406/584 and with his outstanding defense, Edmonds produced 41 WAR, good for 4th during that period (trailing Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Todd Helton). Edmonds wrapped up his career playing for Milwaukee, Chicago and Cincinnati, finishing with 393 HRs and a career 284/376/527 line in 2011 games, good for 68.1 WAR – on the list of career WAR, playing him immediately behind Roberto Alomar, Hank Greenberg and Mike Piazza, and immediate in front of Tony Gwynn.
Sheffield will almost certainly garner more attention during his ride off to the sunset – whether because of his gaudy HR total, his famous uncle, or his often controversial comments. Sheffield won a batting title and chased a triple crown in 1992. Jim Edmonds never led the league in batting, HRs or RBIs – though he did win 8 gold gloves which appear more deserved than some GG winners. Jim Edmonds was every bit the player Sheffield is more qualified for the Hall than Sheff, and would likely be enshrined if injuries hadn’t cost him some 600 games early in his career.