Keep Our City Clean: Leave Sheffield in LA
By Steve Hofstetter
What do you get when you cross a malcontent outfielder with an organization that has a propensity for overpaying to finish second?
Today, Gary Sheffield plays the part of the malcontent outfielder, and in the role of the team that has a propensity for overpaying to finish second, we have the Los Angeles Dodgers. Somewhere in the middle, you have a contract that is being ignored, a responsibility to the truth that is being ignored, and several million angry fans who, well, are being ignored.
According to last week's edition of USA Today Baseball Weekly, Sheffield doesn't like the way he's being treated by the Dodgers and said that if he doesn't get a contract extension, he wants to be traded. Allegedly, Sheffield met with Dodgers chairman Bob Daly and team president Bob Graziano and asked for a contract extension. Daly reportedly told Sheffield at their meeting that the Dodgers lost $25 million last season and therefore couldn't afford a contract extension. So Sheffield did what any malcontent outfielder would do - he blasted his overpaid teammates to the media.
"They just gave (Darren) Dreifort $55 million when he's only won 39 games in his career and had arm surgery,â€ Sheffield said. â€œAnd how about Carlos Perez - paying him $6 million a year? And you talk about risk, that I'm a risk? That's an insult. ... I'm getting less than Dreifort? I'm getting just $3 million more than Carlos Perez? It's not my fault they signed Perez to that stupid contract. It's not my fault they gave Eric Karros a no-trade clause when he's got no value."
But Sheffield wasnâ€™t done. Two days later, he spoke to ESPNâ€™s Peter Gammons.
"I never demanded a trade," Sheffield told Gammons. "I never asked to renegotiate my contract. I told them back on November 30th that I wanted to be a lifetime Dodger, and now almost three months later they're using the media to portray me as a greedy ballplayer."
You read that correctly. The same Sheffield who just used the media to demand a trade accused his team of using the media. And yes, Sheffield did demand a trade. He admitted that a few days after he spoke with Gammons. But not just any trade - a trade to one of only three teams. Sheffield said that if he is traded to anyone but the New York Yankees, New York Mets, or Atlanta Braves, heâ€™ll play out his contract and find a new city to alienate. Heâ€™s already done such a good job of that in Los Angeles.
But does Sheffield care? No. He never has.
Sheffield admitted that he made errors while in Milwaukee so that the Brewers would trade him. Then while with the Marlins, he volunteered to stay home if the team was willing to pay him to do so. And as a Dodger, he sat out the last few games of the 1999 season because the games did not affect his teamâ€™s place in the standings.
But according to Sheffield, the Dodgers donâ€™t want to take the long-term risk on him because of his race. Sheffield, who is black, told a white Peter Gammons that the Dodgers have never had a black ballplayer spend his entire career with the team, and thatâ€™s why the organization is trying to trade him.
Aside from a lesson in what the legal definition of a contract is, Sheffield could also use a lesson in the history of segregation in America, where he might just learn that the Dodgers are the good guys. The Dodgers, who broke the color barrier in 1947 with Jackie Robinson. The Dodgers, who were the first organization to have a black player on a world championship team. The Dodgers, who became the first team that fielded a starting lineup with a majority of black players. Yes - Sheffield says that those same racist Dodgers want to trade him because he is black.
The Dodgers do care about three colors right now, but none of them are black. The boys in Los Angeles are way too preoccupied with the $14 million outfielder Shawn Green, the $15 million pitcher Kevin Brown, and the Dodger Blue of the thousands of empty seats per game. Frankly, Sheffield is ridiculous to think that he, let alone his skin color, was one of the Dodgersâ€™ main concerns before he started this whole mess.
But in case Sheffield wasnâ€™t a central theme in the Dodgersâ€™ problems, the outfielder has put himself there. And in case Los Angeles refuses to trade the slugger, Sheffield has announced that the problem will just get worse.
"I've got something that's going on Tuesday, it's not something that's going to damage this organization," Sheffield said. "I won't say anything negative, I'm just going to speak the truth.
"Let's put it this way - they won't be able to hide behind the paper and pen anymore. The longer it goes, my stand is just getting tougher. As far as Tuesday, something's going to give. I'm going to tell it like it is."
So we all wait for Tuesday. We wait for Sheffield to use the media to try to finagle his way out of an â€œinsultingâ€ contract that will pay him $9.5 million for each of the next two seasons and $11 million for 2003. And in case he can not find his way to a different team, the soon-to-be-out-fielder has threatened to play badly until the trade goes through.
â€œI'm not 100 percent mentally here,â€ Sheffield said, possibly reminiscing about his days in Milwaukee. â€œWho knows what you're going to get?â€
I do. Whoever trades for Sheffield--and someone will-will get a top-notch performer for about two years, until something happens to upset him. Then heâ€™ll show up to camp a week late and call his team â€œThe Bad News Bearsâ€ (see Florida Marlins). Then heâ€™ll probably complain about his poor reputation, start a brawl with an opposing player, and claim that his team is so bad that he would retire if it werenâ€™t for his honor (see Los Angeles Dodgers). And finally, he will demand a trade, possibly using a contract extension as a veil to try to keep the fans on his side (see Milwaukee Brewers, San Diego Padres, Florida Marlins, and Los Angeles Dodgers).
But Gary, the fans are no longer on your side. The law is not even on your side. It would be interesting to see the Dodgers keep Sheffield and sue him for not holding up his end of the contract for playing beneath his abilities.
But that wonâ€™t happen, because someone else will eventually take a chance on Sheffield. Seven different teams employed Rickey Henderson, a player of a similar disposition, and one of those teams employed him on four separate occasions. No matter how often Henderson complained, he still found a home. Apropriately, he is still booed in New York, Oakland, Toronto, and Anaheim. This season, he will probably be booed in Seattle too. And Sheffield will probably be booed everywhere. Especially in Los Angeles.
â€œYou're supposed to honor things that you agree to, and that's what I'm trying to do, but it's hard," Sheffield said in March of 1999, when he was mulling retirement because his team was not playing well. The previous April, Sheffield also said, â€œI'll quit and go home, if they just send the checks to my house. I'll quit if they pay me.â€
The two statements are the two sides of Sheffieldâ€™s personality; he agrees to things up to which he does not live, and he does not live up to things to which he agrees.
In short, Gary Sheffield has a problem with the spelling of the word â€œteam.â€ And his problem is less that there is no â€œIâ€ in the word, and more that â€œteamâ€ is not spelled with a dollar sign.
Itâ€™s upsetting that two of the teams Sheffield wants to play for are in New York. As much as Iâ€™d like to have the Dodgers back in Gotham, this is one of them that Iâ€™m happier without.