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Sheffield: Dodgers created mess
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
All Gary Sheffield asked was to finish his career with the Dodgers. "I never demanded a trade," Sheffield said. "I never asked to renegotiate my contract. I told them back on November 30 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."
If Dodgers chairman Bob Daly changes his mind and accedes to Sheffield's request, the 32-year-old outfielder who hit 43 homers last season will retire in Los Angeles. Since general manager Kevin Malone, who didn't know about the strain between his star and upper management until the end of last week, indicated no trade is imminent with the 11 interested teams, Sheffield said he will report to Vero Beach, Fla. next Monday. "I'll honor the last three years of my existing contract," he said, although the Dodgers know that an unhappy East Coast player in the gentle confines of the West Coast clubhouse might spark some unwanted controversy.
There are a lot of bridges to be repaired between Sheffield and Daly, but the star slugger remains true to his offer. "I didn't ask for more money," he said. "What I actually suggested was to lower my payout from $10 million to $8 million so they can sign Chan Ho Park or go get someone else. I know I'm not going to be worth as much at 38 or 39 years old as I am now, so I told them in working the extension that I wasn't looking for the big, big bucks.
"As for the trade business," Sheffield continues, "when this thing all blew apart last week, it was Mr. Daly who said that he wanted me traded within 72 hours. It wasn't me. He brought up the trade."
Sheffield's relationship with the Dodgers has been eating at him since last fall. "I kept hearing my name in trade rumors, and I wanted to find out the truth," he said. "I'd hear things like, 'The Dodgers want to get rid of Sheffield's contract so they can sign A-Rod.' Then the first week of October, I'm at home watching SportsCenter and my picture pops up on the screen. It was a story about my being traded to the Indians for Roberto Alomar. I called Billy Geivett (Malone's former assistant), asked him what the story was and that I'd like to end my career with the Dodgers. He got back to me, said he talked to Kevin and I was staying."
The rumors periodically cropped up, always denied by Malone. According to Malone, the Dodgers never made a serious run at Alex Rodriguez. Then on Nov. 30, Sheffield and his agent Jim Neader met with Dodgers president Bob Graziano. "They wanted to discuss some marketing ideas," Sheffield said. "I was fine with that, but I wanted to insure that I was going to remain a Dodger. It's then that we proposed the lifetime deal. Graziano asked me, 'Is this about the money or is it about the security?'
" 'It's the security,' I told him, and then to prove it suggested I defer anything they wanted to defer and take less on my current contract to sign Park and anyone else. I didn't want it being said that my contract was keeping the Dodgers from winning."
Understand, there is a lot of history here. First, Sheffield had a no-trade clause in Florida when Wayne Huizenga pulled the plug in 1998. "Even though he was dismantling the team, I wanted to play it out and stay there," Sheffield said. "I liked it there. I'm a Florida person. But Charles Johnson begged me to go. He told me, 'This can get me my five-year deal.' They assured me that they would sign Charles and he'd stay." So the Marlins put up $2.5 million, the Dodgers $2.5 million and Sheffield waived the no-trade clause and took his six-year, $60 million contract to Los Angeles.
Even though many people around the Dodgers feel Sheffield has matured into a star whose East Coast edge brings a spark to the low-heeled blueblood, there has always been a Mike Piazza cloud over his head. Because of confused, stalled negotiations on the catcher's contract, the Dodgers made the deal with the Marlins that sent Piazza and Todd Zeile packing for Sheffield and Johnson. "I've read where Mr. Daly has said that that wouldn't have happened had he been with the Dodgers at that time," Sheffield said. "And to a lot of fans, no matter what I do, I'm not Piazza."
As the winter wore on, Sheffield felt this could be worked out. "I kept telling them that I did not want this in the media, I wanted it handled behind closed doors," Sheffield said. "I kept telling them my wife and I want to settle in one place, start a family and be a member of that community. To be honest, it would be great for her because of her singing career. I told them I would build a studio in my house and it would be perfect."
Finally, on February 2, Neader and the Dodgers began discussions, and when Sheffield went to Las Vegas on February 9 for the Big League Challenge, he believed this deal would get done. That day, Daly and Graziano told Neader they wanted to meet Sheffield, face-to-face. Sheffield asked that it be at his house, so they set up the meeting for when he returned from Vegas. "I told them again what I'd been telling them since the season ended," Sheffield said. "All I want is to find a way to be a lifetime Dodger and not hurt the club financially. I asked them, 'How many black players have come to the Dodgers and finished their careers with them?' The answer is none. I told them I wanted to work joint enterprises between the club and my work with RBI and Sheff's Kitchen.
"But on the 16th, Mr. Daly called my agent and said that they weren't going to do it. He said it wasn't a good business deal, that the club lost $35 million last year and that I'm a risk.
"I'm a risk? What about all the long-term contracts they've handed out to pitchers? I don't know what that means. Anyway, that day, the 16th, when I was asked what I'd be, I told them I'd probably be an unhappy Dodger. Mr. Daly then said he'd have me traded within 72 hours and everything was leaked to the media as if I had demanded to renegotiate my existing deal or I had to be traded. I stick by my offer. I don't want to tear up my existing contract. But I also told them that if they traded me to the Braves, Yankees or Mets that I would honor my existing contract as well."
Sheffield is a man who has grown immensely from his rookie days with the Brewers. He gives 10 percent of his earnings to his church. He wants to settle in one place and raise a family. But he's also "an East Coast guy" who grew up on the mean streets of Tampa and knows what it is to be tough. "I think the passion of New York and some of those East Coast cities would bring out the best in me," he said. "(Uncle) Doc (Dwight Gooden) thinks so, to. So we'll see."
There have been some back-door attempts to get Sheffield and Daly together. If the Dodgers chairman is adamant that he wants Sheffield out of town, sometime -- maybe the end of this week, maybe April 1 -- he will be traded.
"If I haven't been traded on April 1, I'll be a Dodger," Sheffield said. "I'm not walking away, or quitting, or refusing to honor my contract. But there's a lot more to this than people realize, and if they don't want me to stay a Dodger, maybe it's time for me to go."
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