During seven seasons with the Rays and six more elsewhere, James Shields was known not only for his pitching prowess but the good example he set through hard work, determination and a positive attitude.
Those contributions were acknowledged Monday when he was announced as one of the 26 candidates on the ballot for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Shields was one of 12 newcomers, along with former Rays slugger Jose Bautista, who — in a good trivia/bar bet answer — had a 12-game cameo during his 2004 rookie season.
“That’s awesome, man,” Shields said from his California home. “I’m pretty stoked. To be in the same category as a lot of those guys, especially the guys who have been been hanging on to the ballot for a long time trying to get in, I think it’s pretty amazing.”
The 14 holdover candidates include Tampa’s Gary Sheffield who, with 509 home runs, is in his 10th and final year of eligibility for consideration by voting veteran members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Results will announced Jan. 23.
Shields, 41, has little chance to be elected, given a 145-139 record with the Rays, Royals, Padres and White Sox, and a 4.01 ERA that would be highest in the Hall. Just getting the requisite 5% of the vote to remain on the ballot for the next year may be a challenge.
But being chosen among the 26 candidates is something of an accomplishment, as a Hall screening committee considers those who played 10 or more seasons and are retired for at least five.
Shields, nicknamed “Big Game James,” had his best season in 2011 with the Rays, going 16-12, 2.82 with a majors-most 11 complete games, making his only All-Star team and finishing third in Cy Young voting.
Most impressively, he threw 200-plus innings in nine straight seasons. In 11 postseason starts for the Rays and Royals, he was 3-6, 5.46 and won the first World Series game in Tampa Bay franchise history.
“I look back at my career and I don’t really realize some of the things that I did and how long I played and some of the numbers that I put up,” Shields said. “Being in the American League East most of my career, I think it didn’t really sink in that much that I was doing something crazy, but it’s definitely an honor to be be with those guys. ... It’s pretty special, just to be even mentioned on that list.”
He was chosen to throw out the first pitch on opening day of this past season, ceremonially retired as a Ray and is a likely candidate for future induction into the team Hall of Fame that launched this year.
Most notable among the ballot newcomers are Adrian Beltre, Joe Mauer and Chase Utley. Also added were Bartolo Colon, Adrián González, Matt Holliday, Victor Martinez, Brandon Phillips, José Reyes and David Wright.
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Of the returnees, Todd Helton came closest to the requisite 75% of the votes for election, falling shy of the needed 292 at 72.2%. Others who got more than 50% of the vote were Billy Wagner (68.1), Andruw Jones (58.1) and Sheffield (55).
Also returning are, in order of votes last year: Carlos Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, ex-Ray Manny Ramirez, Omar Vizquel, Andy Pettitte, Bobby Abreu, Jimmy Rollins, Mark Buehrle, Francisco Rodriguez, Torii Hunter.
Sheffield gained 15% from 2022 to 2023 voting, but will need to pick up roughly 50 more votes to be elected.
The Hillsborough High product played for eight teams during his 22-year career, making nine All-Star teams and finishing in the top 10 for league MVP voting six times. He earned a reputation as one of the most feared hitters. He had career highs of 43 homers (Dodgers, 2000) and 132 RBIs (Braves, 2003), and posted a .292 career average and .907 OPS. During a six-year run from 1999-2005, he averaged 35 homers and 110 RBIs with a .307 average and .966 OPS.
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