Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Gary Sheffield's 500 home runs is merely a number, and not a very special one

The Mets’ Gary Sheffield, right, celebrating with his teammates after hitting his 500th career home run on Friday, is the ninth player this decade to reach the milestone.

Associated Press

The Mets’ Gary Sheffield, right, celebrating with his teammates after hitting his 500th career home run on Friday, is the ninth player this decade to reach the milestone.

As numbers go in baseball, it is hard to beat 500.

It is large, it is round and it is historic. For as long as there have been home runs and legends, 500 was the spot where the elite all gathered. It was the dividing line between the great and the merely good.

As numbers go in baseball, it is easy to ignore 493.

It is impressive but somehow feels incomplete. As if you got most of the way through a race, only to run out of gas on the final lap. There are no ovations, and no club for 493 members.

•••

You may have heard Gary Sheffield hit his 500th home run the other day, becoming the 25th member of that exclusive clique. And you may know he passed Fred McGriff at 493 sometime last season, becoming the greatest home run hitter to ever come out of Tampa.

It is usually not wise to argue against facts, but occasionally numbers do deceive. And so, just as we discovered last year that sometimes 9=8, I believe, in this case, 493 is greater than 500.

It has to do with timing. It has to do with circumstances. And, yes, it has to do with steroids.

McGriff's best home run seasons were from 1988-94, when the major-league leader in home runs averaged around 45 a season. Sheffield's best home run seasons were from 1999-2005, when the home run champ averaged nearly 56. In other words, Sheffield benefitted from playing in an era when home runs were far more prevalent.

You could blame smaller ballparks for some of the discrepancy. You might make an argument for changes in equipment. But it would be naive to assume performance-enhancing drugs were not a major factor as well.

Twenty years ago, it would have been a historic moment when Sheffield cleared the wall for home run No. 500. Ten years ago, it would have been cause for a much grander celebration. Today? It is merely a number. And not even a very special one.

This is not a moral judgment against steroids. It is not an indictment of the players involved. It is simply an acknowledgement of the changing perspective. Other scandals have come and gone, but only steroids has created a lasting impact on baseball's record books.

To witness a 500th home run used to be a feat as rare as a perfect game. Today, it is almost an annual occurrence. For 99 years, baseball added just 15 players to the 500 club. Now, in less than 11 years, the club has swelled by 10 more.

Coincidence or not — and I think not — a good number of the most recent members have been implicated in steroid cases. Barry Bonds? Yup. Mark McGwire? Yup. Sammy Sosa? Alex Rodriguez? Rafael Palmeiro? Yup, yup, yup.

And now comes Sheffield.

He has denied ever knowingly using steroids but has acknowledged receiving supplements from BALCO and working with Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson. He told a grand jury he used cream from BALCO but was not aware it was a steroid.

None of which means Sheffield is a product of performance-enhancing drugs. He was one of the game's most feared hitters long before his name was ever linked to Bonds or BALCO. And, truth be told, he was a better overall hitter in his prime than McGriff.

Still, there is a great temptation to lump Sheffield in with others of his era. And, when it comes to home runs, I have little doubt that Sheffield enjoyed benefits that McGriff never had.

It is, in a way, the saddest impact of recent seasons. That a century's worth of baseball numbers could be skewed because drugs changed the playing field so completely beginning in the late 1990s.

Once, like a schoolboy reciting a poem, I could name every member of the 500 home run club and the exact numbers etched beside their names. I knew Mel Ott and Eddie Mathews barely made it, and I knew Stan Musial and Lou Gehrig narrowly missed.

Today, the list grows and the prestige dwindles. It was Manny Ramirez last season, it was Sheffield this season and it could be Carlos Delgado next season. It still means something to hit 500 home runs, I'm just not sure what.

For now, I'll take the old guys.

For now, I'll take 493.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com

Gary Sheffield's 500 home runs is merely a number, and not a very special one 04/21/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 22, 2009 6:44am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Alex Faedo, Florida advance to face LSU in College World Series finals

    College

    OMAHA, Neb. — Alex Faedo pitched three-hit ball for 71/3 innings in a second straight strong performance against TCU, and Florida moved to the College World Series finals with a 3-0 win Saturday night.

    Florida’s Austin Langworthy scores on a single by Mike Rivera in the second inning during a 3-0 victory over TCU.
  2. Jones: Bucs need success to get national respect

    Bucs

    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the world of sports.

    No respect

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  3. Rays journal: Jumbo Diaz falters after getting within a strike of ending rally

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday's game got away starting with a leadoff walk in the seventh inning by Rays LHP Jose Alvarado, who was brought in exclusively to face Baltimore's lefty-swinging Seth Smith.

    Rays reliever Jumbo Diaz wipes his face as he walks off the mound after the Orioles score four during the seventh inning to give them a 7-3 lead. Diaz was one strike away from working out of the jam before he allowed a two-run double and a two-run homer on back-to-back pitches.
  4. Rookie Jake Faria dissatisfied with performance in Rays' loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The rookie pitcher walked to his locker Saturday after tossing the fourth quality start in as many tries to begin his career. He held the potent Orioles bats to three runs and for six innings gave his team a chance to win.

    Orioles third baseman Manny Machado tags out the Rays’ Mallex Smith at third after a rundown in the first inning.
  5. Roger Mooney's takeaways from Saturday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    It was refreshing to see RHP Jacob Faria take the blame after the loss even though he gave the Rays a chance to win. Too often young pitchers are encouraged by what they did and not necessarily the outcome, but Faria, making just his fourth big-league start, came to the Trop to win, didn't, and pointed the finger …