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Sheffield mess getting worse
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Dodgers GM Kevin Malone tried to get the Gary Sheffield thing worked out Friday. He went to Marquis Grissom to be an emissary, then got Sheffield to come into the general manager's office to talk. Then in walked Dodgers team president Bob Daly.
"Are you prepared to listen?" Sheffield asked Daly, who said he was. But in a few minutes Daly was pointing his finger and, according to Sheffield, pounding Malone's desk and the deal Sheffield, Malone, Grissom and most of the players thought could be done was undone when Sheffield got up and walked out of the office.
This has become a personality war. Daly is a brilliant, successful man who believes that no player should be demanding an apology from him. Sheffield is one of the best hitters in the game and feels that Daly has waged a war of character assassination -- yes, Saturday morning there was the perfunctory Tommy Lasorda bashing of Sheffield -- and personal affronts.
"He told the media that I have personal problems," says Sheffield. "What I told him is that there are personal issues in my request for a lifetime contract, and that we have a personality conflict. Those aren't 'personal problems,' and all the guy at home reads into that. But I'm used to that stuff by now."
Malone and Daly say they are not going to "give" Sheffield away. They told him that they want either Chipper or Andruw Jones from the Braves, and we all know that they asked for Jermaine Dye, Mike Piazza and Edgardo Alfonzo already.
And while Sheffield says "it's time for me to go," when asked what he will do if he is not traded, he says, "play the way I have the last few years and do the best I can. I owe that to my teammates, especially now, because once guys like Kevin Brown, Darren Dreifort, Shawn Green and guys like that knew what I'm asking for, they've been on my side."
Sheffield reiterated Saturday that what he asked for is what amounts to a three-year extension on his present contract, which still has three years and an option remaining on it. He even reiterated, "I never asked for more money. I told them that I would take $2 million off my present deal ($10M) each year and defer it if it would help them sign Chan Ho Park and a free agent who could help us get a ring. Daly told me that he's worried about the labor situatuon next year; I told him he could do whatever he wanted with next year's contract. As for the extension, I told him he could defer whatever he wanted. If they have luxury tax problems, cut my present contract and defer it to whenever. I have enough money. I know where I'm from. I haven't forgotten. But I have very good reasons for wanting to settle on L.A. as a place where I finish my career."
One reason is his wife, whose singing career is important to a man who says "I have to respect her profession." Her record company is in Atlanta, her agency is out of New York. But if Sheffield knew he were going to finish in L.A., he'd build a recording studio on his property in Bel Air.
In fact, a lot of this battle stems from family, and anyone who has been to the complex of houses where the Goodens and Sheffields have lived for 12 years on the far tip of St. Peterburg, Fla. looking across the water to the Skyway Bridge knows how important family is to the 32-year-old.
"We want to start a family, but my wife is worried about having kids and not having family around," says Sheffield. When told that Mike Hampton's decision to play in Colorado was based on both sets of parents being willing to move to that area so that the Hampton children could grow up with three generations of family as Mike did, Sheffield said, "That's exactly what's really at the heart of this matter. We want to move both our sets of parents out to our neighborhood (Dave Winfield lives in the same Bel Air neighborhood) and raise our children with their grandparents there. But if I'm going to be traded after a year, they're not going to move. They're not moving from Florida and Atlanta unless they know we're going to stay there. That's obvious."
Everyone knows that sometimes Sheffield lets things pour out of his heart, and sometimes -- like when he said he might retire -- the stream of consciousness comes out wrong. But Daly should go to the Hillsborough neighborhood where Sheffield was raised, and he would understand that he is dealing with a very tough man. Few escape those bad streets of that section of Tampa, Fla. Uncle Doc Gooden had his problems. Vance Lovelace, Kiki Jones, Floyd Youmans, Derek Pedro -- the list of athletes who could never leave the 'hood is long, and tragic, for Doc, Lovelace and most of them are good people who couldn't get off the tracks.
Oh, Sheffield got into a scrape when he was about 20 when he was riding with Doc. Otherwise, check the record. No drugs. No arrests. He moved out when he was 20.
"People used to say, 'Gary Sheffield's forgotten where he comes from,' " he says. "No, I remember where I came from and where I want to be. I don't want to be putting something up my nose. I worked hard to escape, and I'm not going back."
He remembers when he was a teenager in the Brewers' system and Gooden had his first bout with drugs. "They used to pull a name out of a hat each week to determine who'd have to pee in a cup," says Sheffield. "Once that happened to Doc, my name came out of that hat every week. I wasn't going to let that ruin my career or my dreams. I have some dreams now, and I'm not going to lose out on them.
"What I don't understand is what's so bad about six or seven years with me at $10M, really less. Chipper Jones would be $16M a year through 2008, and if the Braves were dumb enough to do the deal -- which they're not -- he could demand a trade after next season."
Sheffield has a list of 12 teams to whom he cannot be traded. "If it weren't the Mets, Yankees or Braves, if I didn't like where I was going, I might exercise my right to demand a trade again at the end of the season," he says. "That remains to be seen."
When Reds GM Jim Bowden called, he was told Sheffield wouldn't waive his no-trade clause to Cincinnati. "If they want to trade for me and do the extension, I'd do it in a second and defer what they need. I'd love to hit behind Junior (Griffey) the rest of my career."
The general managers who are interested in Gary Sheffield still believe that Malone will have no choice but to move his star outfielder, and for less than the "equal value" he's been asking for. Malone, however, has to try to win this year for his own sake, and if they take Sheffield out of the lineup --especially with serious concerns about Adrian Beltre's readiness for the early part of the season -- the combination of a mediocre offense and defense could severely undermine their pitching.
The Mets keep talking, and have offered Jay Payton, Alex Escobar, Dennis Cook and Rich Rodriguez, and while Malone could turn Escobar around and get Greg Vaughn or Mark Quinn, some think Malone will eventually do business with the Braves for Brian Jordan and a couple of lesser pitchers (Braves GM John Schuerholz insists that he will not give up any of his prime pitchers).
The question remains: can the Dodgers live with a family feud?Maybe, but probably not.
News and notes
Speaking of Cincinnati's young pitchers, besides Rob Bell, they think that Chris Reitsma -- the big right-hander who once suffered a broken arm pitching in the Boston system -- might be a sleeper for their rotation. Knuckleballer Jared Fernandez could be as well. "With our defense and our bullpen, we don't have to ask as much of our young pitchers as some teams," says GM Jim Bowden.
Lofton came back early last year because of his contract option for 2001 that was hanging over his head, and wasn't right until late August. "When Kenny is healthy, hitting and running, we are a different team," says Robby Alomar. Amazingly, their eighth hitter this season will be Russell Branyan. "This can be a pretty good team," says manager Charlie Manuel.
Because of their infield defense, which is the best in the American League, and if they remain healthy, the Indians may have the best everyday club in the league. Manuel is allowing Steve Karsay to start this spring and compete with Charlie Nagy, Steve Woodard and Jaret Wright (who may not begin the season on time) for the last two spots in the rotation. If Karsay starts, that will create a hole in the bullpen in front of Bob Wickman and Paul Shuey. And while Sean DePaula is a strong candidate now that he is healthy, the Karsay void might require a trade until C.C. Sabathia, Danys Baez, Jake Westbrook and other kids are ready.
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