Thursday, March 23, 2006

Gary Sheffield: Malcontent

by Scott Silversten

Here is one quick question about a story that does not deserve more than a few seconds of attention...does everyone realize that Terrell Owens will actually make MORE money next season in Dallas than he would have made in Philadelphia with the Eagles?

I guess it really proves that the more talented you are, the more you can get away with. A perfect case in point is Gary Sheffield. As the clock ticks toward the start of the baseball campaign, Sheffield is once again proving himself as a guy who just doesn't get it. In fact, in his 11 years at the helm of the New York Yankees, Joe Torre has really only dealt with these type of players on two prior occasions (more on those later). The difference this time is that Sheffield is actually a valuable member of a team favored to win the world championship.

It somehow seems ironic that on the day Al Leiter said goodbye to his on-field career, once again an off-the-field story broke concerning Sheffield. Leiter, from his early days with the Yankees to stops across town with the Mets and in Toronto and Florida, has always been one of the most likeable players in the game.

Sheffield, on the other hand, is an Owens-type player, somebody you can root for only if he is on your team. And even then it’s difficult. He purposely committed errors to get himself out of Milwaukee in his first major league stop, and years later criticized the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, essentially forcing a trade to the Atlanta Braves prior to the 2002 season.

Now comes spring training 2006, a time in which Sheffield can’t decide whether or not he is happy as a member of the Yankees. In one breath, he is telling reporters he wouldn’t be able to push himself outside of New York. In another, like Sunday, he's feeling disrespected because the Yankees have yet to pick up his 2007 option.

"I’ve really never got comfortable,” Sheffield told several Florida reporters on Saturday. "I’m not comfortable. I’m not allowed to be comfortable. That's the reality of my situation. I always play with my back against the wall."

Sheffield’s back has only ever been against the wall while playing the outfield. And if he is truly still not comfortable in New York, maybe that’s his own fault. While stars such as Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi and Roger Clemens attempted to fit into the Yankees’ approach in recent years, it seems Sheffield is the only big-name acquisition who has gone out of his way to cause trouble.

In a memorable New York Magazine article a year ago, Sheffield famously said, "I know who this team feeds off. I know who the opposing team comes in knowing they have to defend to stop the Yankees. I know this. The people don’t know. Why? The media don’t want them to know. They want to promote two players in a positive light, and everyone else is garbage."

It didn't take much deductive reasoning to conclude that he was talking about Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. And while Sheffield hasn't caused the clubhouse dissension that Owens did in Philadelphia, that’s probably a credit to Torre, who seems more adept than most at putting out locker room brush fires.

Since Torre took over the Yankees, only two players prior to Sheffield had trouble adjusting to the "team" concept. The first was Ruben Sierra, whose continued rips of Torre got him shipped to Detroit at the trading deadline in 1996. On his way out the door, Sierra proclaimed, "I don’t like the Yankees. All they care about is winning."

Obviously Sierra was right, because that deal landed Cecil Fielder, a key component in that fall's World Series win over Atlanta.

In another ironic twist, Sierra learned from his mistakes and to returned to the Yankees only to become involved in another bizarre situation when he was sent in to pinch hit for Raul Mondesi in a July 2003 game against the Boston Red Sox. Upset at being yanked from the game, Mondesi stormed off the field, changed and showered and left the clubhouse. He traveled to the next series in Anaheim on his own and within two days was traded to Arizona.

The selfishness in Sheffield has become apparent in recent years, but the difference is that, unlike expendable spare parts in Sierra and Mondesi, the Yankees need their right fielder. They need another 30 homers and 120 RBI this season to help their offense overcome a shaky and aging pitching staff.

The Yankees won't be dealing Sheffield this season, simply because he's too valuable to their chances of winning the World Series. Instead, they must say goodbye to Leiter, whose valiant efforts after re-joining the team last summer helped produce an eighth straight American League East Division title.

"I have only wept two times," Leiter said on Sunday following his final appearance in a major league uniform. "Today, when I walked off the mound and Game Five (of the 2000 World Series) when I was taken off the mound."

All Yankees fans should shed a tear as well for Leiter, because teammates like him don't come around too often.

Scott Silversten's column appears every Thursday


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sheffield has basically gotten a free pass from the NY media on his frequent lack of hustle on defense, which appears to unsettle Yankee pitchers at times.

Sunday, March 26, 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home

"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
- Carl Erskine