There are many ways to present the case Gary Sheffield has for the Hall of Fame. My personal favorite is the Harmon Killebrew Approach.
No one seriously entertains the idea that Killebrew wasn't a Hall of Famer. Huge slugger, eight 40-homer seasons, 573 in total. A Hall of Famer, no doubt about it. So if Sheffield has a comparable case to Killebrew, it isn't a least-common-denominator sort of argument. He's well on the inside.
And frankly, Sheffield has virtually the identical case.
Let's start with WAR (wins above replacement)- Killebrew checks in at 61.1 for his career, good for 101st all-time. Sheffield logged 63.3, good for 87th all-time.
Or we can go by OPS+, which is adjusted for park and era. Killebrew's career OPS+ is 143, Sheffield's 140. But Sheffield did it in 10,947 plate appearances, Killebrew in 9,831. In other words, Sheffield was roughly as valuable, and in roughly 11 percent more time than Killebrew.
Neither one provided anything spectacular on defense, but Sheffield at least held down a premium defensive position, right field, in 1,160 of his 2,218 games in the field, along with another 562 combined at third base and shortstop (468 of those at third base, to be fair). Killebrew played the most games at first base-969 of 2,241-another 791 at third base, then 471 in left field, 11 at second base (!) and one in right field. Put another way, more than 64 percent of the time, he was in left field or at first base- neither one a valuable defensive position.
As for the other arguments against Sheffield- steroids and his mouth- neither one would keep me from voting for him. The former represents his bad luck to have been named in the Mitchell Report, while untold legions of other steroid users weren't. I simply don't see a useful standard for keeping the era's players straight by steroid use, and don't intend to try.
As for his mouth, yes it kept him on the move. But let's not mistake him for a player who prevented his team from winning. Sheffield played for the 1997 World Series champion Florida Marlins, then made five straight postseasons with Atlanta and New York from 2002-2006. For all his decency, Killebrew played with just three postseason teams. Now, blaming Killebrew for this is silly. But keeping Sheffield out of the Hall of Fame for a negative effect on his teams makes even less sense, given the record.
Look, Sheffield may not make it. Jeff Bagwell missed the cut this past year, and the only crime he's been proven guilty of is Felony Playing Baseball While Muscular. But if Sheffield isn't in, Killebrew should be out. And that would be a shame; Harmon is obviously a Hall of Famer, and an awfully nice guy.