Sheffield is a prima donna
Though the Los Angeles Dodgers have treated Gary Sheffield well since he became a Dodger in May, 1998, Sheffield feels the Dodgers have shown him disrespect. Jason Reid’s article in The Los Angeles Times shocked nearly all Dodger fans when they learned Sheffield demanded a contract extension or a trade. Sheffield has meant a lot to the Dodgers. The Dodgers planned to rely on him heavily this year to anchor their offense. They wanted to have a calm spring training, but Gary Sheffield had other plans. During this spring training the new Dodger manager Jim Tracy has preached and plans to preach about being unselfish. Now this selfish act by Sheffield might have damaged the Dodger chances of reaching the playoffs.
Disrespect? What is Gary Sheffield talking about? Since he came to the Dodgers in May, 1998, for Mike Piazza, Dodger broadcasters, Vin Scully, Ross Porter, and Rick Monday, have sung his praises. Sometimes the Dodger management had asked for Sheffield’s opinion about trades or signing free agents. This is a sign of respect. Sheffield was outspoken when Davey Johnson was fixing to be fired. Although Sheffield thought Johnson was a good manager, the Dodgers needed a change and a manager who could coexist with Kevin Malone. Sheffield wanted Rick Down, the Dodgers’ batting coach from 1999 to 2000, as the new manager. However, Bob Daly and Malone thought Jim Tracy would be better for the Dodgers. No player can choose his manager. Even the newspaper reporters have been kind to him. I have written uncomplimentary things about him, but I meant no disrespect. I was just stating my opinions.
Trade rumors? Sheffield said, “Every year I hear my name mentioned with some trade for some other star player.” Sheffield does not seem to understand when any team asks the Dodgers if Sheffield is available, that is a trade rumor. Most major leaguers have to put up with yearly trade rumors. They must learn to deal with trade rumors. As a Dodger Sheffield has not had as frequent trade rumors as some players do. He will not get any sympathy from his teammate Eric Karros. From 1997 to last year, he was a subject of constant trade rumors. Karros never demanded a trade. However, he did say if the Dodgers wanted to trade him, he wished they would do it If Sheffield cannot handle a few trade rumors, he should find another career.
Why does Sheffield need a contract extension? Most people think the only reason that Sheffield wants a contract extension is greed. He has a contract through 2003 with a club option for 2004. Over this period, he will be paid about $30 million, and if his team exercises his option for 2004, he will get $11 million more. To most baseball fans, Sheffield’s asking for an extension now seems ridiculous. This winter many teams spent too much money for star players, but the Dodgers did not. Sheffield is not one of the highest paid baseball players around. As most people do, Sheffield sees baseball must control its spending to survive, and he wants to get as much as possible before it does. However, his demand fuels the owners’ case.
Sheffield, 32, wants a lifetime extension. Most baseball players’ statistics fall after a player turns 35. The rare player plays past forty, and that is only eight years from now. Only two years ago he said he wished he could retire. With his history of injuries any team would be out of their mind to give Sheffield an extension beyond 2003.
Though Sheffield has performed better for the Dodgers than any other team that he has played for, he claims he cannot reach his full potential as a Dodger. What is holding him back? If he performs better, the Dodgers would have a better chance of reaching the playoffs. Dodger Stadium does favor the pitchers, so it would be understandable if his home runs might be less than in other stadiums. In 2000 he established a personal best and a Los Angeles Dodger franchise record when he hit 43 home runs.
Since Sheffield became a Dodger in May, 1998, he has been an integral part in the Dodgers’ limited success. He always has batted .300 or over. He has provided home runs and RBI. He is the only Dodger in their history to have a .300 batting average, 30 home runs, 100 RBI, 100 runs scored, and 100 walks twice. In 2000 he led in almost every offensive category with a .325 batting average, 43 home runs, and 109 RBI, so many people viewed him as a candidate for the National League’s Most Valuable Player award.
Since he came to the Dodgers, he has been a team leader. Sheffield has earned his teammates’ respect. Though he has made unflattering comments in the newspapers questioning his teammates’ desire to win, mostly his teammates forgave him. They understood that he was frustrated about the team’s performance and lashing out at anything he could. While in Los Angeles, he has helped less fortunate children. Though he has not captured the imaginations of Dodger fans as some players do, he is popular with most Dodger fans. When Sheffield came to the Dodgers, he had a bad reputation, but the Dodgers had not seen any evidence of that until now.
The last thing that the Dodgers needed to start spring training with was controversy. Bob Daly describes the Sheffield situation as “a kiss and a slap.” Sheffield has threatened to not report to Dodgertown on February 27, the mandatory reporting date for all major leaguers. If he does not report by then, Kevin Malone, the Dodger general manager, has said the situation will be resolved then.
The loss of Gary Sheffield will hurt the Dodgers chances in making the playoffs. If the Dodgers were destined to go to the playoffs in 2001, they will go with or without Sheffield. As everyone knows, one player does not make or break a team. There is a slim possibility that Sheffield will change his mind. He might apologize to the Dodgers, their management, and their fans and return to the Dodgers for 2001. As Jesse Orosco, a 21-year veteran, eloquently said, “How would you feel if you lose 43 home runs and 109 RBI from your lineup? And if he does come back, you have to wonder as a teammate, ‘Is he going to have the same fire that he had last year?’”