Danny Sheaffer is a fixture in minor league baseball He has been a coach, an instructor and a manager. He is currently the manager of the Princeton Rays, a Tampa Bay Single A affiliate in West Virginia.
He also once briefly gave Red Sox fans a glimmer of hope and later made me do a double take.
Sheaffer was the 20th pick overall in the January 1981 Draft by Boston. One of these days I will figure out how the hell that secondary draft worked.
Between 1981 and 1986, he worked his way up the Red Sox farm system, batting .340 in 280 plate appearances at Triple A Pawtucket in 1986.
After the 1986 season, Massachusetts native and 2 time All Star catcher Rich Gedman went into free agency. It was a rotten time to go to free agency because the owners were colluding. Everyone knew what was happening. It was as subtle as a volcano erupting.
And Gedman went unsigned and the Red Sox had a gigantic hole behind the plate, at least until May when Gedman could re-sign.
Marc Sullivan, son of the Red Sox GM Haywood Sullivan, was Gedman’s backup in 1986 and given a chance to start as the Red Sox defended their AL pennant. Lots of people cried nepotism. I was one of those people.
Sheaffer was also given a shot. On April 9, 1986, Sheaffer made his big league debut. He homered and got another hit and scored another run. The Red Sox lost the game but fans saw there was a homegrown catcher with power who WASN’T the son of the General Manager.
Despite the solid game, he didn’t play again for another week, with Sullivan getting the start. When he got to play another game, he went 2 for 4 with a double and a pair of RBI.
The job was now his and he started the rest of the month.
Over the next 10 games, he got 1 hit and no walks in his next 26 appearances. When Gedman returned in early May, Sheaffer was sent back to Pawtucket.
In July, he was recalled and got 1 hit in 23 plate appearances. His OPS that month was .091. He played in September and went 2 for 10, his debut home run a far memory.
He spent 1988 in the minors and then was non tendered. Between his debut in 1987 and 1993, he played 7 games total in the majors, all with the 1989 Indians. Sheaffer faded into Red Sox obscurity along with the Roger LaFrancois and Joel Finches of the world.
Then in 1993, the Colorado Rockies were formed. I remember watching their first game, which was played at Shea Stadium against the Mets. The team was introduced and lo and behold one of the players was a catcher named Danny Sheaffer. I did a double take.
“Wasn’t that the guy who homered in his Red Sox debut and for about an hour made Red Sox fans think they found Rich Gedman’s replacement?”
He had a decent year in 1993, starting 57 games for Colorado and batting .278. Later he wound up with the Cardinals and actually played in the 1996 NLCS. Soon afterwards his playing days were over and he began his long managerial and coaching part of his career.
But his debut homer with the Red Sox shows how valuable a first impression can be. He batted .121 with a slugging percentage of .182 with the 1987 Red Sox. He hit 2 extra base hits total. If he had hit a home run in a Red Sox loss in his 20th game instead of his first, there is no way I would remember it.
But because he hit the homer in his debut and Red Sox fans were so longing to have a solution at catcher that was not the son of the GM, it stuck.
I still remember it. It was hope. Maybe false hope, but hope nonetheless.