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Thursday, March 8, 2001
Updated: September 13, 6:34 PM ET
One question: What you talkin' 'bout, Sheff?

By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

For all his supposed mastery of hoopology, Road Dog can't make it out of March without bringing up big-league baseball, and getting me all het up. Hooks me, reels me in, guts me, every time. Happens like this. He says "baseball." I start to preach. He points out the hypocrisy of my preaching -- then sells out himself.

Dog's a Met fan. But not really. He's a jilted Dodger fan who became a Met fan.

There's a difference.

Dog's old enough to hear stories about and, I'd say, actually experience withdrawal pain from the Dodgers' move from Brooklyn to L.A. This was eons ago. Most of us regard it as not needing further violin music.

When did the Brooklyn Sell Out happen, the '50s? Who admits to being born then? Now, all we know are franchises, players, coaches, moving in a fluid circular motion, all around us, like vultures, or pickpockets.

So, Met fans like Dog are fans scorned. Anytime they can stick it to the Dodgers while improving the Mets, even while standing pat, hell, even while damaging the Mets, they'll do it, and consider it an opportunity.

When the Mets got Mike Piazza off the Dodgers by way of Miami, no one was happier than Dog's kind of Met fan. Ultimately, Dog and his crew and the Dodgers all have bigger fish to fry. They all want to beat the Yankees. In baseball, the problem of the 21st century is the problem of keeping up with the Yankees. So fans like Dog, and teams like the Dodgers and Mets and Whoever, are why Gary Sheffield and ballplayer banality are, like, vogueing. They are why he has a place to go, a runway ramp to come down preening while trying to look deadpan. He'd go over big in Milan. Otherwise, he's radioactive.

My own position, the way I'm seeing it now -- ain't nobody coming to the ballpark to see no Sheff.

"No one wants that good of a clubhouse lawyer," I said to Dog, after we sat there and tried to figure out what Sheff was saying to Peter Gammons in that ESPN featured interview. Peter Gamer did what he could. Me, I kept waiting for Gary Coleman to jump out from behind the bushes and yell in that goofball voice:

WHAT YOU TALKIN' BOUT, SHEFF?

"I mean, have you ever heard such a bunch of arcane smothering wraparound dislocated self-justifying b.s. in your life? Sheff wants a contract extension, or trade him, or he'll be "an unhappy Dodger." What is he now, one of the lovable Von Trapps in 'The Sound of Music'? What's Sheff making, 10 mil per? And what's he mean by using me and you like that, Dog, saying no black player ever started and finished as a Dodger or whatever he was trying to say, like him being black kept him from getting 10 mil a year.

Wake the flock up, Sheff. Don't you look at SportsCenter, or read the paper, or at least pay somebody to do it for you? There's dudes out here pawning Heisman Trophies to get by, Sheff. Albert Belle got no hip. Gone.
R-Dub

"He needs to look around at some of these dudes who really have to put up with crap, like Lenny Webster, solid catcher with the Twinks, Baltimore, Montreal, trying to get his time in, producing when they put him out there, if they do; or Tom Howard, decent lefty bat, now in Pittsburgh, or Lenny Harris, same m.o., Mets, or a starter with a flaw, like the Marlins' Preston "Punch-Out" Wilson, who might strike out an inordinate amount, but who has as much pop as Sheff, and who actually seems to put his brain in gear before he opens his flapping jib.

"Or Ray Lankford, who has as much pop as Sheff, only Sheff makes the more consistent contact by maybe 40 percentage points. Ain't like Sheff is Babe Ruth or Jackie Robinson or Mays. Or McGwire. He's Sheff. Ten million a year, base? Wake the flock up, Sheff. Don't you look at SportsCenter, or read the paper, or at least pay somebody to do it for you? There's dudes out here pawning Heisman Trophies to get by, Sheff. Albert Belle got no hip. Gone.

"Sheff ain't gonna get love from men and security guards watching ESPN, because that's all they got, they don't feel like they can afford a game anymore, don't feel connected by time or tradition with the strangers and ingrates in the beloved colors of their relocated dislocated teams. I know all that ain't Sheff's fault, Dog. But they don't know it, and they don't want to know it, either.

"Bob Hayes produced more records with the Dallas Cowboys than Sheff did with the Dodgers, Marlins and Brewers combined. Didn't keep cancer off Bob. Sheff wants understanding? OK. Understand this. Play ball. Let that speak. Sheff's more convincing with a bat than a microphone. It ain't like he's playing for free."

"Don't be frontin' on Sheff, R-Dub."

"Dog, who died and made Sheff Curt Flood? And what was Frank Thomas's problem?"

"Dunno. And guess what? Don't care. Don't need him. Can't field da position anyways," Dog said, slipping comfortably into that unique version of a Brooklyn accent he affects anytime the subject turns to New York baseball.

"There, exactalicious, Dog. Don't Frank know anything? Lemme talk to him. Frank. Frankie. Baby. You're just a DH, Frank. You play in a rocking chair in the first place. Put you at first base in the National League and every Castillo in the league would be bunting it down your throat. You're making 9 mil a year plus to hit 40 big flies in 600 ABs? Ain't nobody gonna cry for you over this, Frank. You're one lucky stiff.

"So you can hit. You think you're underpaid? At least you're getting paid. Ask Josh Gibson what he got paid. Well, he's been dead, so you can't be asking him nothing. Ask Hank Aaron what he got paid. It's like this, Frank. A-Rod and his $250 million 10-year contract came along after you. You can't turn yourself into A-Rod, not by era, or frankly, by ability. Hey, Frank. Guess what? You ain't got it like that. You can hit. So what? Bob Horner could hit.

"Who's Bob Horner? Exactly. He could've hit 500, 600 home runs, could've been the white Reggie, or the second coming of Harmon Killebrew, if that was what he'd wanted and worked for. Instead he hit five dingers in one game, got everybody talking about what he might do one day, made money, for back in them days, late '70s and early '80s, then left baseball. Totally unmotivated. Here you are getting in the playoffs and playing small, getting pitched to; really, getting it stuck up your ..."

"Just lay off Sheff, R-Dub. We can use him ... crush-a-lot on Frank if ya want. But leave Sheff out."

"I ain't on Sheff's payroll. If I was, I'd be defending him, like you," I said. "What's your excuse, Dog?"

"Dub, ain't nothing wrong wit Sheff; not for why I need him," said a deadpan Dogster.

"You mean ain't nothing wrong with Sheff's swing; he can still get around on the cheese. He's hard, Dog, and you're sick. Man, you are one sick dude. Sheff drew a line of death in the sand, gave the Dodgers a self-imposed trade deadline, dared 'em not to cross the line by last Wednesday, March 7. Day came -- and went."

Don't Frank know anything? Lemme talk to him. Frank. Frankie. Baby. You're just a DH, Frank. You play in a rocking chair in the first place. Put you at first base in the National League and every Castillo in the league would be bunting it down your throat. You're making 9 mil a year plus to hit 40 big flies in 600 ABs? Ain't nobody gonna cry for you over this, Frank. You're one lucky stiff.
R-Dub

"We'll take Shef off 'em right now, Dubbini ..."

"On the Mets? Is you crazy? Met fans would rather lose with Ventura than win with Sheff ..."

"Not thoid base. On da Mets, we'd stick him in left. But speaking 'a thoid, there is a spot for him. Listen up and learn, Dub. What ya gotta realize is, since da Braves took Chip offa thoid, Sheff can be da best ..."

"Best what? Obfuscator?"

"... Told ya 'bout talkin' like that, Dub. Hate it when ya do dat. Don't nobody know what dat garbage mean! Eoith to Dub. Speakie English! Oscillator? Nah, I'll see YOU later. OK. Sheff ... can ... help ... us."

"Us? I'm confused. Thought you were a Met fan who was once a Dodger fan. Thought that was you, Dog."

"I convoit, when it's convenient. I mean da Yankee version of Us, us bein' Mets first, anything New York second. Left field. Or thoid base. Next ta Jeter."

"... You lost your mind? You want to infect Jeter, too? Jeet's too sweet to screw up. He's got enough cold jealousy and real life treachery come at him from A-Rod. Money. All it does is reveal 'em. Sheff'd flip out when he found out the sun don't revolve around his rump no more -- not in the Bronx. That's Jeet's world."

"Get off Sheff," said Dog. "We'll take him. Besides, there's a guy out here who's a much bigger dude in any All-About-Me-Itis-totin', front-runnin', spin-doctorin' Here's What's Wrong With Ball Sweepstakes."

"Yeah? Who?"

"Rick Pitino. But ya don't hear nobody in Louisville complaining 'bout him, do ya?"

And with that, an otherwise illiterate Dog had pretty much put me in check again. It happens every spring.

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."