ESPN Network: | | | ABCSports | EXPN | FANTASY

Outside the Lines: Contract Killers?

Here's the transcript from Show 49 of Outside The Lines - Contract Killers?

Host: Bob Ley, ESPN.
Story reported by -Mark Schwarz, ESPN.
Interview: Peter Gammons' exclusive interview with Gary Sheffield, Los Angeles Dodgers
Guest: Scott Sanderson, former major league pitcher, and former agent for Frank Thomas.
Coordinating producer: Jonathan Ebinger, ESPN.

Bob Ley, host - It's the unwritten part of the box score. Through the years, the salaries and digits have ballooned to the point that demands now may actually be embarrassing.

Mark McGwire, Cardinals first baseman - The sad thing that we're coming down to in sport today, it's all about money.

Gary Sheffield, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder - Money is important. I'm not fooling anyone. But stability is most important.

Pedro Martinez, Red Sox pitcher - I would not criticize him for trying to get more money because when it's time for you to go, the first one to kick you in the rear end will be the owner of the team, the GMs, and the teams.

Ley - Today on Outside The Lines, have huge guaranteed deals turned players into contract killers?

Announcer - Outside The Lines is presented by State Farm Insurance. Joining us from ESPN Studios, Bob Ley.

Ley - This is what happens when the laws of economics intersect the laws of human behavior when with one stroke of a pen, the pay scale for Major League baseball superstars is vaporized, putting extraordinary players behind the salary curve.

It's not the fault of Alex Rodriguez. And it's not really the fault of the Texas Rangers. But the spring training focus is on the discontent spawned by that landmark contract and what it's revealing among Major League baseball players.

The Mets' Mike Piazza is amused by the credit he is receiving just by living up to his contract. But Gary Sheffield and Frank Thomas are not amused by where they are left by A-Rod's contract, even though Thomas, who is early in his already renegotiated contract, and Sheffield halfway through his deal, will each earn nearly $10 million this year.

Piazza's comment was simply the leading edge of the reaction in a sport that has just repaired the damage self-inflicted by the labor war of six winters ago and faces another negotiation after this season. In a week that saw the invocation of that infamous phrase "it's not about the money," and the unlikely site of an agent severing ties with a player, the issue for many was reduced to the almost point question, what is the signature on the bottom of a contract worth?

Mark Schwarz examines this battle between market forces and public relations.

Mark Schwarz, ESPN correspondent - Historically, whenever the game's elite players break the bank to sign milestone mega-deals, their fellow superstars do cartwheels knowing that they are likely to be next. But Alex Rodriguez's 10-year $252 million deal has so obliterated baseball salary's structure that it seems this week to have ignited an ugly outbreak of greenbacks' envy.

Frank Thomas, Gary Sheffield, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa are among the afflicted. None is satisfied with his contract situation. And one even felt obligated to publicly apologize for his stance.

Frank Thomas, White Sox first baseman - I do look like a poster boy of greed over the last weekend. But that is not the case. I've never been greedy.

McGwire - It constantly amazes me that players that make that amount of money would complain that someone else is making more than that. If that doesn't say it's ego, I don't know what it means.

Schwarz - Mark McGwire signed a two-year, $30 million extension this week. Yes, Big Mac agreed to a contract that averages $10.2 million per year less than A-Rod's. And McGwire chose to negotiate the deal himself.

McGwire - If somebody is going to complain about making $15 million, I mean, there's something wrong with them, or $10 million or $20 million, whatever it is. I mean, it's just the sad thing that we're coming down to in sport today, it's all about money.

Thomas - The pay scale is out of whack right now. The bar has been set. There are going to be a lot of players that are going to fulfill or try to get close to that area now, big names coming up.

McGwire - Now you know why athletes have a bad name. It's sad. It's really sad. You know, the only time you can really say that you want to negotiate an extension is when you're in the last year of your contract. Period.

I think Barry Bonds is probably going to be in the same position as Sammy Sosa. But if you have three, four years left on your contract, there's no complaining.

Schwarz - Thomas has six years remaining on a nine-year, $85 million deal. He chose security rather than the opportunity to have owners bid against themselves every few years for his extraordinary skills.

His recent public protest over his deal is not universally shared by all ballplayers.

Martinez - If you already signed, you agreed to it. You were happy at the time you signed that contract because you were well paid. Stick to it.

Don't get me wrong. Don't get mad at me for saying this. It's just being honest.

Thomas - I'm not angry at anyone for making comments because it did sound greedy for a guy with a 10-year contract to be having gripes about it. There is no positive way of publicly talking about money at this level of money.

Nothing good is going to come out of this, nothing at all. It's a black eye. Everyone knows that.

But I've never been greedy. And I will never be greedy.

Schwarz - Martinez recognizes contract negotiation is a two-way street.

Martinez - I don't want the owner of Texas later on saying, "Oh, we need to get a salary cap in negotiations because the market blew up." Oh, really? You agreed to take Alex Rodriguez. He's the best player in the game.

You pay your dues. Don't whine later. And don't be crying about, "Oh, the salaries are going too high."

Schwarz - Rodriguez doesn't exactly apologize for a contract worth the annual gross domestic product of the Pacific Island nation of Tonga, though he admits that even last year, he thought he was overpaid.

Alex Rodriguez, Rangers shortstop - I never dreamed in my wildest dreams that I would be making this type of money. And like I said, it's almost embarrassing to talk about it because I don't know if Michael Jordan or Bill Gates or Alexander the Great, I don't think anyone is worth this type of money, obviously. But that's the market that we're in today.

Schwarz - When Rodriguez signed with Texas, teammate Raphael Palmero gushed that the Rangers were paying not only for the player but for what he could do for a community. What Rodriguez' quarter-billion-dollar contract has done to the baseball community lately is probably not the type of impact Palmero was talking about.

For Outside The Lines, I'm Mark Schwarz.

Ley - Ahead this morning, I'll be talking with Frank Thomas' former agent. But next, Peter Gammons' exclusive interview with the Dodgers' Gary Sheffield.

Ley - The Los Angeles Dodgers are actively trying to trade Gary Sheffield, who has asked out of Los Angeles. Sheffield, who has three years and $30 million remaining on his original six-year contract, recently asked the club for a contract extension. He was turned down.

Sheffield was recently quoted in "Baseball Weekly" citing Dodger deals with teammates Kevin Brown, Darren Dreiford, and Sean Green calling his own nearly $10 million salary an insult. Yesterday, Sheffield explained his current thinking in an exclusive interview with Peter Gammons.

Peter Gammons, ESPN correspondent - Now I think what people have perceived in all this is that you went to them because of the Alex Rodriguez contracts and wanted more money.

Sheffield - No.

Gammons - Tell me what you asked them for.

Sheffield - This was before the A-Rod thing, they even signed. I went to them November 30 and told them I wanted to be a lifetime Dodger. I asked them to make me a lifetime Dodger.

I wanted to play under my existing contract. But then after those three years were up, I wanted them to extend that deal. And I was willing to do for half of that money and also defer the money that I'm already guaranteed to be on a winning ball club because I really looked at the Mark situation.

And I asked myself, and I asked the Dodgers, how many black athletes ever wore this uniform that came to the Dodgers and retired a Dodger? And the answer is zero.

And I wanted to make history in this uniform and say I retired a Dodger. And they didn't want that to happen. So that's when we got to this point.

Gammons - If you're asking for the -- I mean, if you're saying that part of that money was deferred, are you telling me that in some ways you really asked for less money in this contract?

Sheffield - Absolutely. I even told my agent, which he found it bizarre at first. But then once we sat down and talked about it, he understood exactly where I was coming from. I wanted to play the $8 million salary slot.

That way, if the labor agreement or what have you affected the Dodgers in any kind of way, I did my part as a player, and I made a stand to say that I'm trying to work with the owners to make the situation work here. And I don't know why they took offense to that.

Gammons - What did they leak?

Sheffield - They went, and they talked about that Gary Sheffield either asked to be traded or either you give me a deal. I asked for the deal. And they asked me what was more important to me, money or stability?

I said money is important. I'm not fooling anyone. But stability is most important.

And when I told them that, they said, "OK, well, Gary asked did he want out or did he want the deal?" And no, I didn't ask to be out like that. I asked that -- I said that you have an unhappy Dodger if we don't get this deal done because all that's transpired is that the trade rumors about me being traded for this guy and that guy.

And the insecurities came about my future as a Dodger. And I said, "Well, if I'm going to be a Dodger, make me a Dodger. If I'm going to be traded, trade me now."

Gammons - When did you actually say that you wanted to be traded?

Sheffield - Actually like two days before camp started. I called my agent. And once he got to the media and everybody turned on me in LA as far as the media is concerned, I knew in the back of my mind when I put on this uniform, replacing a future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza, that I never would be accepted here anyway, no matter what kind of numbers I put up. And I've 'only' hit .300 since I've worn this uniform.

And when I looked at that, I said, I told my wife, I said, "I'm one bad interview or having one bad day on the field and coming off the wrong way for people to just change the way they think about me."

Gammons - What kind of year do you think you'd have if you stick here with the Dodgers?

Sheffield - Typical year. Nothing would change. I'm used to playing under these situations. They're just another thing to motivate me.

When you talk about me, you talk down to me, you talk bad about me, you wish bad things, that's when I step to the plate. That's when I'm really focused because I know you're against me. And when I know you're against me, I'm going to really, really concentrate. And I'm going to really, really make sure I get it done.

Gammons - Is there anyone in between whether it's Kevin Malone, Jim Tracy, some of the other players? Is there any way that this could be worked out?

Sheffield - No. No. Not here. No. Not here. The only thing the Dodgers can do in the best interest of the Dodgers and myself is just move me because you've got to look at things with an open mind.

I already have. I looked at it when I asked for the contract. I came in with an open mind. They would possibly do it. There's a possibility they won't do it. So I already knew. My mind was open to that. So I said, if they don't do it, I will have to beat the ball up a little bit more and hopefully they will do it.

Gammons - Your situation is very different from Frank Thomas' situation...

Sheffield - Right.

Gammons - ... which is very different from Barry Bonds' situation. But does it scare you a little bit that the media and the fans now perceive that all of a sudden all these players are being very selfish and greedy?

Sheffield - Well, see, that's where the fans are going to have to -- they're going to draw their own conclusion to anything. But they have to listen to the words that come out of my mouth.

I didn't ask for more money. I asked to play at a lesser salary. Less mean you're not greedy.

You know, I'm already taken care of -- I've already made over $100 million in my career. I don't need to sit here and say, "Pay me, pay me, pay me." All I need is rings on my fingers. Wins and losses, that's the only thing that matters to me.

And when I step on the field, that's why I play hurt. I play however you want me to play. But I never 'x' out of the lineup. I play as hard as I can at any given day if it's a day, night game, whatever, I'm out there.

Ley - And Peter Gammons joins us now live from Braveton, Florida.

Peter, it's a very rational and calm explanation by Gary Sheffield, very much at odds with the quotes in "Baseball Weekly" about a week-and-a-half, two weeks ago which he talked about the insult.

How much of what you got from him yesterday was spin control and damage control?

Gammons - I don't think a great deal, Bob, because I've been hearing this from him for three or four weeks. I mean, one of the elements in this is that he and his wife would like to start a family. Well, when they do that, they would like his mother and stepfather and her parents to move into the same neighborhood in Bel Air or wherever they happen to live so they can have the three generations together.

In his mind, they can't do that unless they know they're going to stay there. In fact, I know his mother won't move to Los Angeles unless she knows he's going to retire there. And I think that that is really at the heart of a lot of this. And I think some of the irrationality that's come out is the cause of a very emotional response.

Ley - Now, of course, his demand, or request at least, for a contract extension and now the trade demand has sparked along with the Frank Thomas situation and the others that you mentioned exasperation and embarrassment from players around the majors. It's been a rather remarkable reaction.

Gammons - Well, it has been. And I think there are a lot more players with integrity than not. I mean, I think a matter of fact it's about 95 to five percent.

What's interesting with the Dodgers and Gary Sheffield's situation is most of those players that were mentioned in the "Baseball Weekly" story -- Kevin Brown, Darren Dreifert, Shawn Green -- have come to his defense with the Dodgers. In fact, Brown was in there with Marquis Grissom and Kevin Malone when they tried to have a meeting on Friday and tried to get things worked out, a meeting that blew up because of the conflict between Bob Daley and Gary Sheffield.

Ley - What do you make of the fact though that Sheffield in proposing this extension to the Dodgers said, "You know, I'll take $8 million. Let's defer some money because you might be facing a new luxury tax basically because of the new player contract."

He's proposing something based on his union coming out with a loss in the next negotiation.

Gammons - Well, he is. I mean, I think he was trying to make it workable for both sides. I'm not sure I understand. What we don't know is this dynamic between the player and the club president.

That right now is the irrational part of this. I mean, I really -- even though he said things are irreparable, I don't believe that. I think that somehow if Daley and Sheffield ever got together and they agreed upon things, I think it could be worked out because the Dodgers are not going to get Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Mike Piazza, Jermaine Guy.

They're going to have to accept Jay Payton and a minor league outfielder like Escabar from the Mets. So they're going to have to take a Mark Quinn from Kansas City on a three-way deal. The Dodgers cannot get what they want. And since they say they won't just give them away to me, it's still up to them to work it out.

Ley - And in one sentence, the vitriol in the media has been remarkable, hasn't it?

Gammons - It really has. And I understand. I think people across this country are tired of hearing people who make $8 million to $15 million whining about their contracts. I think the fans have every right. When ticket prices in a lot cities, like my city in Boston, have gone up 250 percent in three years, there's a reason for complaining.

Ley - We'll point out you buy those season tickets certainly at Fenway. Thanks, Peter, great deal.

Gammons - OK, Bob.

Ley - Next I'll be speaking with former Major League pitcher and current sports agent Scott Sanderson, who until this week was representing Frank Thomas.

Ley - Scott Sanderson pitched 19 Major League seasons from the third year of free agency in the '70s to the dawn of $10 million salary. He's now a sports agent, and until last Wednesday briefly represented White Sox slugger Frank Thomas. He joins us from Haynes City, Florida.

Scott, welcome. Explain to us how you no longer represent Frank Thomas.

Scott Sanderson, baseball agent - Well, just briefly, we concluded that we just have different views on principles that we believe are fundamental in the representation of our clients.

But Frank has come out and made an apology. He understands that he made a mistake in taking his situation very public. And he's apologized for it and is back playing baseball where he belongs.

Ley - What's been the reaction in the baseball community to your decision to sever ties with Frank?

Sanderson - Well, again, a lot of people don't understand the details. We're still good friends with Frank. We care very much about him. And he appreciates our beliefs.

But I think the overall opinion is much like you heard Pedro and Mark McGwire say that people expect others to live up to their word and honor their contract.

Ley - Well, what do you make of that reaction among players? You've got the Sheffield situation. You've got the media lumping in Bonds, who is in the last year of his contract, Sosa, who has been negotiating for some time with the Cubs.

But now players are outspoken. I can't recall anything like this in the past.

Sanderson - Well, I think whether you're an accountant or a professional baseball player or a plumber, the basic principle that we all like to live by is when someone gives their word, they honor their word. It's a matter of integrity.

Ley - So you have to sit down with a client and advise him how to approach a negotiation. You can go for a long-term deal -- six, seven, eight, nine, 10 years -- or you can go short-term and hope to reap new money. How do you reach a balance in that discussion with a client?

Sanderson - Well, my partner Mike Moi and I, we both believe that we give great advice to our clients and hope that they'll follow it. And our advice is that they honor their contract.

And again, a majority of the players, a large majority, over 99 percent of the players, do just exactly that. A few times when players decide to take some of these issues public, then it can get a little messy.

But we believe when a player has an issue with a team that they discuss it. Players certainly, they have an opinion. And they have a right to have an opinion. But if you have issues with the teams, we suggest that they keep it private just between themselves and the team because we want to keep a product out there in baseball. We care very much about the game, and we want to keep a product on the field that the fans can love.

Ley - Mark McGwire signed a deal, agreed to a deal this past week, without benefit of an agent, a handshake 25-minute conversation. It's probably had he gone out into the free agent open market he could have seen a lot more money than the $30 million for two years. As a sports agent, what does that do to the marketplace when a marquis player signs for under market value?

Sanderson - Well, there's a lot of factors involved in Mark's decision. One of them was that he loves where he is. He wants to stay where he is. And he has a great working relationship with the team.

So it's about a whole lot more than just money. There's a lot of factors in this equation.

Ley - But it does affect the marketplace, doesn't it?

Sanderson - It can.

Ley - Now you have been in baseball since, what, 1978? You have seen stoppages in '80, '81, '85, '90, '94. It's been a litany of war between the owners and the players. They have to go back to the table and do it once again this year.

What do you think the publicity given what's happening this year in spring training is going to affect the perception of the players from the other side of the table, from the owners?

Sanderson - Well, again, I think fans need to realize that you have 750 Major League ballplayers. And there's not very many that make news in a negative way about their contracts. Most of them live up to what they said.

So again, there's a good product out there for fans to wrap their arms around and embrace. And it certainly seems like the climate between the players and the owners is pretty good right now. And there's ongoing discussion.

The Players Association does a great job of representing the players and informing them of the issues. The players I know from being on the negotiating committee for many years in these labor disputes, the players are well informed of what's going on. And as long as there is open and continuous dialogue between labor and management, things will get worked out.

Ley - But you know the perception is that the players' agents have a great deal of influence. That's the perception. It may or may not be true, you can tell me, a lot of influence on the Major League Baseball Association. And their deals are driven by getting the last dollar.

And certainly, the union has done an exceptional job over the decades of getting the last dollar. Is there some value in leaving a dollar or two on the table?

Sanderson - Well, yeah. I think there's a lot of give and take that goes on. And people who aren't privy to all the details, and all the very complicated details of this, don't realize that over the years, that's exactly what's happened. They haven't always pushed for absolutely the last dollars. There's been compromise in every single collective bargaining agreement.

Ley - Players you believe actually do understand and accept the public relations responsibility, especially over the last six years since the nuclear winter of 1994?

Sanderson - Well, I think they understand it. Some are better at embracing it than others.

Ley - Scott Sanderson, thanks a great deal for being with us. We appreciate it this morning, joining us from Haynes City, Florida.

Sanderson - All right. Thank you, Bob.

Ley - OK, as we continue on Outside The Lines, we'll tell you about the interactive OTL as we continue.

Ley - The interactive Outside The Lines at can be accessed with the keyword otlweekly. Type that on the ESPN front page. You'll then be able to access our full library of program transcripts and streaming video with enhancements coming shortly to the Outside The Lines online experience.

Your e-mail feedback always welcome at our address We look forward to hearing from you.

Ley - And a reminder that if you missed any portion of our look at the contract angst in baseball, our show is going to be re-airing today. Make a note of the time at noon Eastern. That is 9 a.m. Pacific, over on ESPN2.

Looking ahead here on ESPN. At noon Eastern after the upcoming 60-minute "SportsCenter," we've got NASCAR truck action from Homestead, Florida. And tonight, the Coyotes and the Avalanche. It is National Hockey Night. And that's tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern here on ESPN.

I'm Bob Ley. We will see you next Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Eastern Outside The Lines. Now, Mike Greenberg, Bob Stevens, and "SportsCenter" and a look back at the Ruis-Holyfield fight last night, a world championship fight. We'll see you next week.

Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories

weekly OTL logo

Weekly Outside the Lines

Send feedback to the weekly OTL show

Mission statement of weekly Outside the Lines show

2001: Transcripts, videos of weekly OTL show

Copyright ©2001 ESPN Internet Ventures. Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and Safety Information are applicable to this site. Employment opportunities at