Sheffield, Gary 1968–
Gary Sheffield 1968–
Professional baseball player
The batter who leads his league in batting average, home runs (HRs) and runs batted in (RBIs)—all in the same year—wins the “Triple Crown” of baseball, an extremely rare feat, last performed by Carl Yastremski of the Boston Red Sox in 1967. The Florida Marlins’ star outfielder, Gary Sheffield, is one who could win the Triple Crown. In 1992, while playing for the San Diego Padres, he tapped some of his Triple Crown potential when he led the National League with a .330 average, adding 33 HRs and 100 RBIs. One of the most feared, game-breaking hitters in baseball today, Sheffield is now, in 1997, being issued a free pass to first base at a near record pace, almost one base on balls per game. (The Major League record is 170 walks for a full 154-game season, set by Babe Ruth in 1923.)
Yet 1992 was the only year in the last nine that Gary has not been injured, suspended, traded, shot at, stalked by women, accused of drug-dealing and AIDS-carrying, or hauled into court—by women who fear for their life or want more of his money. With such accidents, antics, and attitudes on and off the field, there are many who wonder if Sheffield will ever realize his vast potential. To know where Sheffield’s problems come from is to trace the big money he has earned—both the things money can buy and the people who use him for his money. Money has not made him happy, either, as he has been robbed, hustled, or stalked by others for that same money. A millionaire at age 22, a 28-year-old Sheffield inked a new contract extension worth $61 million in April of 1997, which made him the highest paid baseball player at that time.
Now that he finally had the salary to match his enormous talent, Sheffield moved from living with his stepparents, out of a tri-level apartment in downtown Miami, into a $3 million customized home he had built in St. Petersburg. Completed in August of 1997, the “dream house” has enough runway space to accommodate his 250 pairs of shoes all shined and lined up in military fashion. His new home comes equipped with a motorized dry cleaners-type clothing rack, making a ton of fashion-wear instantly accessible. There is also a weight room, a movie theater, tennis courts, a gymnasium—all surrounded
At a Glance…
Born Gary Antonian Sheffield, on November 18, 1968, in Tampa, FL; son of Betty Jones and stepdad Harold Jones (who worked in the Tampa shipyards); never married; children: Ebony, Carissa and Gary Jr. Education: Hillsborough Hill, Tampa.
Career: Professional baseball player, thirdbaseman for Milwaukee Brewers, 1988-91; outfielder for San Diego Padres, 1992-93; outfielder for Florida Marlins, 1993-
Awards: National League Batting Champion, 1992.
Addresses: Home—Tampa-St. Petersburg, FL; Office —Florida Marlins Baseball Club, 2267 N.W. 199th Street, Miami, FL 33056. Agent—Jim Neadek; Publicist —Marvet Britto 314 W. 53 rd Street, Suite 115, New York, New York, 10019.
by a wall of concrete and high-tech security. This dream house is so self-contained that Sheffield hardly has to venture out except to play baseball.
Sheffield’s other weakness—besides shoes, clothes, and a need for privacy—is women! Ask his mother, Betty Jones, and she will blame most of Gary’s past problems on his poor judgment of women. They seem to want the never-married Sheffield only for his money. “They see that side of him and take advantage of it,” Betty told Sports Illustrated. “All they want is to sleep, eat out, drive a nice car, and get jewelry.” she added.
She might have also added, “and have babies!” Three of those women are the mothers of his three children: Gary Jr. lives with his mother in Phoenix; Carissa and Ebony live with their mothers in Tampa. Battles for custody and child support, as well as fending off a civil lawsuit from one fearful mother, have turned this “Sheffield of Dreams” into a nightmarish battle. Yet Father Gary persists because those kids are what he now lives for.
Sheffield admits to having serious problems with the wrong women, and he prays to God to send him the right one. But his friends will tell you that Sheffield’s obviously tormented life has more to do with the “hood” in Tampa-St. Petersburg, where he grew up and continued to frequent throughout his star-studded baseball career. Due to his impoverished roots, his early success, flamboyant appearance, and scandalous innuendoes that float around his old ghetto hang-outs, something was always haunting Sheffield in his attempts to live a “normal” life.
As he told the Sporting News, “I don’t understand it. You reach the top and people want to bring you down. There’s nothing wrong with me. People keep trying to find stuff, but they haven’t found a damn thing. If you listen to people, they think I’m a criminal or something. I just want to play baseball... and to be left alone.”
Being left alone was not an option. Gary has given his team, his family, his doctors, his fans, and baseball security people everywhere something to think about besides his tremendous talents on the baseball diamond. They worry for his safety—and with good reason. Besides a few stalkers and robbery attempts, Gary has had to face down the barrel of a gun. The incident involved a drive-by shooting on October 30, 1995, which inflicted no lasting injuries, and appeared to be the random act of a carjacker. But it could also be part of something more sinister.
The all-star pitcher Dwight Gooden thinks so. Gooden is Gary’s uncle and long-time mentor. As he told the Sporting News, “I worry about Gary, worry all the time. I love the guy... he’s a really sweet kid, a sensitive kid, he really is, even though he comes off as tough sometimes. But there are constantly things going on with him. And it really concerns me. Like the shooting. Now l don’t know what that was, but I don’t think it was a carjacking. That definitely didn’t sound like a carjacking to me. I’m [wondering], ‘What part is Gary playing in all this?’ because, you know, it’s been like a constant build-up over the years. It’s been a pattern with him.”
Gooden knows about self-destructive patterns. The all-star pitcher of the 1980s fell from grace in the 1990s due to alcohol and a cocaine habit. Sheffield’s association with Gooden was not all blessing and mentoring; some guilt was imputed by association with a known cocaine addict, which subjected Gary to more rounds of “random” drug tests.
The police never got to the bottom of the shooting incident, but it hooked Gary’s rage for revenge and may have turned around his life. If Gary could have found his own gun in time, he could have tracked down and killed the guy that night. That highly-publicized incident landed him on the psychologist’s couch, as well as on “suspicion” and “hit” lists, for months to come. He has had to face, at one time or another, accusations and tests for spreading the AIDS virus, cocaine trafficking, driving while under the influence, aggravated battery, domestic abuse, mob or criminal connections—including a murder-for-hire plot against his mother. He has been cleared or acquitted of all charges and suspicions, except the driving while under the influence charges in 1986 and 1993, the latter was dropped to a charge of “reckless driving.”
It seems the Florida Marlins’ star, whose potential has been compared with Ken Griffey, Barry Bonds, and Frank Thomas, has always been “cursed” with an abundance of talent and expectations, much of it unrealized due to injuries and antics on and off the field.
Gary Antonian Sheffield was born and raised in the Ponce de Leon housing project in the Belmont Heights section of Tampa. He was raised by his mom Betty Jones and his stepdad Harold Jones. Harold was stern with discipline, curfew, and chores, while Betty was the one who spoiled Gary. Yet Gary did not discover until age 11 that his biological father was someone other than Harold.
That discovery about his real father was so unsettling that Gary began acting out in bizarre and angry ways, joining a gang (the “Alleycats”), working his way “to the top,” and earning a reputation as quite the mischief-maker. Though many in that ghetto neighborhood predicted jail time in his future, Sheffield stayed out of major trouble by playing baseball under the tutoring, pitching, and bullying of Uncle Dwight.
Dwight Gooden was more like a big brother or a bully; being only four years his senior, Dwight paved the way of excellence for Gary through Hillsborough High. Gary is remembered as a “punch-hitting” skinny freshman who played secondbase, but ended up a 175-pound power-hitter. As recalled in the Sporting News, his high school coach, Billy Reed, remembers Sheffield for his trademark features: “huge thighs, blazing bat speed, cockiness, and a snapping temper.” Major League scout, John Young, recalls Sheffield was “the real deal” and “simply the best high school player in the country” according to the Sporting News.
Sheffield could have jumped into big leagues straight from high school if it were not for his emotional immaturity. As it was, he went sixth overall in the 1986 draft to the Milwaukee Brewers’ organization. Those attitude problems and distractions surfaced when he cracked the majors at age 19. With their whole “franchise” riding on this talent-laden but well-publicized malcontent, the fans loved him, but management did not. Plagued by injuries and his bad-boy image, Gary produced very little of his Triple Crown potential for the Brewers. All he produced was a meager .259 batting average, 31 HRs, and 133 RBIs in four partial years, 1988-91.
Considered bad karma for building team unity, Sheffield was traded by Milwaukee in the spring of 1992 to the San Diego Padres, where he went on to lead the league in hitting. At age 23, Sheffield was the youngest to win the batting championship in 30 years. But the cash-strapped Padres did not want to pay him what he was worth. So, halfway through the 1993 baseball season, they had a “fire sale” and traded the malcontent to the Florida Marlins, who gave him a big four-year contract worth $22.45 million. The Marlins extended that contract in April of 1997 for another six years for $61 million, making Sheffield their franchise player through the year 2003.
Perhaps the best move Sheffield made for himself was hiring Marvet Britto, a publicist from New York, who has helped clean up his image. At her urging, he started a charity, Sheff’s Kitchen, that has given away tickets and autographs to 25 underprivileged kids during half the Marlins’ home games. Through his financial donations, Sheffield has also revived the inner city baseball program in South Florida; and in 1996, he began picking up new endorsements, some from fashion designers, to help improve that bad-boy image.
However, as Sheffield told the Sporting News, “I’m not trying to go out and change my image because that’s what people want me to do. Helping kids to stay in school, that’s important to me. You can never say [your mistakes] are over, but you can learn from them.... Today I have more peace with myself.”
His aloof and enigmatic off-the-field demeanor does not allow many to know the real Gary Sheffield. Manager Rene Lachemann had this to say in defense of his star player, who got more than his share of bad press in 1996: “He’s made mistakes and he’ll be the first person to admit it. But a lot of the things that he’s been accused of doing are just not correct and it’s torn his image apart. It’s taken a lot of endorsements away from him,” he stated in USA Today’s Baseball Weekly.
However, In the two years since the 1995 shooting incident, some journalists have detected a more carefree attitude, as Sheffield tries to play within himself, ignoring both the “Most Valuable Player” hype and the negative press. At press time, The Florida Marlins were the 1997 National League Champs on their way to the World Series.
For a sense of peace and change of pace, Sheffield can thank his publicity agent, a new private home, a protective bodyguard—longtime friend and former big leaguer, Vance Lovelace, and even a new girl friend. But that peace may also be because Sheffield now reads the Bible regularly for guidance. Sheffield, who describes himself as “moderately religious,” told one reporter, “I go out and leave it in God’s hands. Go out, give my best and whatever happens, happens” according to USA Today’s Baseball Weekly
The other big influence in his life, according to the same reporter, is his mom and stepdad. “My dad is one of the strongest persons I’ve ever met, and my mother, too. They both got me through a lot of different things. They taught me how to be strong.” And vice versa, he’s made his parents stronger, especially when the media conveys the bad-boy image. He lived with these two parents as recently as 1994. Gary is especially close to his mom. According to Sports Illustrated, the two have been known to talk until the wee hours of the morning about finding the love and happiness that only God could provide. “You pray to God,” Betty Jones once told her son, “and he will send you someone.”
Baseball Weekly, USA Today, June 6, 1996 (no page count, pulled from I”nternet)
Sporting News, April 15, 1996, v. 1, p. 18; July 1, 1996, v. 6, p. 7; April 14, 1997, v. 1, p. 37.
Sports Illustrated, May 24, 1993, v. 1, p. 60; May 27, 1996, v. 4, p. 68; May 5, 1997, v. 2, p. 69.
Gruen, Dietrich. "Sheffield, Gary 1968–." Contemporary Black Biography. 1998. Encyclopedia.com. (July 24, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2871800060.html
Gruen, Dietrich. "Sheffield, Gary 1968–." Contemporary Black Biography. 1998. Retrieved July 24, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2871800060.html
American baseball player
One of the most feared sluggers in baseball, Gary Sheffield has had a controversial, up-and-down career. The nephew of Dwight Gooden, the once overpowering pitcher of the New York Mets, he overcame an upbringing in a rough neighborhood in Tampa and became the top high school player in the nation. Frequently traded and often injured, Sheffield has been quick to criticize management wherever he has played. When healthy and
happy, however, he is a consistent offensive force, combining a high batting average and on-base percentage with power. Sheffield, who at one time was the highest-paid player in the game, is a prime example of the modern baseball star: highly paid, self-protective, and more concerned about individual performance than team loyalty.
Fearless and Promising
Gary Sheffield learned to be fearless at any early age. He grew up in the tough Belmont Heights section of Tampa, Florida. His mother, Betty, was 17 when he was born, and he never knew his father. For the first seven years of his life he lived with his stepfather, Harold Jones, his mother and his mother's younger brother, Gooden. By the time Gary was six years old, he was playing ball every day with Gooden, a future star for the New York Mets. Gooden already had a menacing fastball, and Sheffield learned to catch it and hit it. Hitting against Gooden helped him develop quick hands—the most important element in a batter's arsenal. Sheffield also often swung a broomstick in his front yard and tried to hit rocks his stepfather tossed at him.
Young Sheffield also developed a quick temper. He frequently got into fights at school, in the neighborhood, and on the ball field. On one occasion in Little League, Sheffield was benched for missing a practice and chased his coach around the field with a bat. He was suspended and had to miss the league championship game. Later, Sheffield appeared in the Little League World Series when his junior team lost to Taiwan, 4-3, in the 1980 championship game. Two years later, Sheffield pitched his senior Little League team to the 1982 world title.
At Hillsborough High School, Sheffield was a dominant force as a pitcher and third baseman and attracted so much attention from scouts that he was named the nation's top high school baseball player by USA Today. As a pitcher, he displayed a 90-mile-an-hour fastball, but his hitting overshadowed his pitching, with a .500 average, 15 home runs and no strikeouts in 62 at-bats. The Milwaukee Brewers selected him as the sixth pick over-all in the 1986 draft and gave him a $152,000 signing bonus. Off the field Sheffield had problems, already fathering two children by different mothers.
Sheffield rocketed through the Brewers' minor league system. In a rookie league, he batted .365 at Helena, Montana, playing mostly at shortstop, an unfamiliar position. After the season, he, Gooden and two others were arrested after a traffic stop in Tampa for fighting with a police officer and resisting arrest; Sheffield pleaded no contest and was given two years' probation.
The next season Sheffield knocked in 103 runs at Class A Stockton. In 1988 he hit a combined .327 with 28 home runs and 119 runs batted in at Class AA El Paso and Class AAA Denver. At Denver he was moved back to third base because he had made too many throwing errors at shortstop. He was named minor league coplayer of the year by the Sporting News and was called up to Milwaukee for his big-league debut. On September 3, 1988, he broke into the majors in dramatic fashion, hitting a game-tying home run in the ninth inning and driving in the winning run with a single in the 11th. When Milwaukee's regular shortstop, Dale Sveum, was injured, Sheffield was placed there and made several dazzling plays. Manager Tom Trebelhorn told him shortstop was his position to lose the next spring.
After such a promising beginning, things went swiftly downhill for Sheffield in Milwaukee. First, he became angry because he was shifted back to third base to make room for rookie Bill Spiers. Then Sheffield hurt his foot, but the team doctors found nothing wrong with it. He was accused of faking the injury and shipped back to Denver. Sheffield consulted his own doctor, who found a broken bone. After that, there was no trust between Brewers management and Sheffield. He often criticized his teammates, made errors at third base, and was frequently booed by fans. Sheffield crowded the plate and pitchers threw at him, and he complained that Brewers pitchers didn't retaliate. He later admitted that he sometimes purposely overthrew first base to show his disdain for the team.
During the 1990 season, Sheffield took an unauthorized leave from the team and ended up hospitalized with an unexplained illness. In spring training the next year, he was fined for refusing to run sprints. Sheffield hit .194 in 1991, playing in only 50 games because of injuries and turmoil. Finally, before the 1992 season, he was traded to the San Diego Padres, and Sheffield was overjoyed. "Everything you asked for in Milwaukee, you didn't get," he told Tim Kurkjian of Sports Illustrated. "Ask for good weather, you don't get it. Ask for a good playing surface, you don't get it. Ask for a first-class organization, you don't get it."
San Diego proved to be a much sunnier climate for Sheffield. Management let him alone, and Sheffield had his first injury-free season. It was a highly productive one: He batted .330, leading the National League, with 33 home runs and 100 RBI, nearly winning the Triple Crown, and the Sporting News named him Major League Player of the Year.
The Padres, however, faced a financial crisis and shipped Sheffield to Florida during the 1993 season to save on salary. The Marlins moved him from third base to the outfield, where he worked on his notoriously poor defense and began to cut down on his errors. Sheffield also dramatically increased his walk totals.
|1980||Plays in Little League World Series|
|1982||Pitches on team that wins Senior Little League World Series|
|1986||Drafted by Milwaukee Brewers with sixth pick overall|
|1988||Gets winning hit in major league debut for Milwaukee Brewers|
|1991||Traded to San Diego Padres|
|1992||Wins National League batting championship|
|1992-93, 1996, 1998-2000||National League All-Star team|
|1993||Traded to Florida Marlins|
|1997||Leads Marlins to World Series victory|
|1998||Traded to Los Angeles Dodgers|
|2002||Traded to Atlanta Braves|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1986||USA Today's Top High School Baseball Player|
|1988||Sporting News Minor League Co-player of the Year|
|1992||Sporting News Major Legue Player of the Year|
|1992||Wins National League batting championship|
|1996||Leads National League in on-base percentage|
Sheffield's return to his home state landed him in plenty of off-field trouble. He was accused of threatening his son's mother. A complaint of aggravated battery was lodged against him. Sheffield's mother was the target of a murder plot. He was stalked by a female fan, was convicted of drunk driving, had an ex-girlfriend file a lawsuit against him, and he fathered a third child out of wedlock. One night, while sitting at a traffic light in Tampa, Sheffield was shot, but luckily the bullet only grazed him. When Gooden ran into well-publicized troubles with a cocaine addiction, Sheffield was frequently searched and tested for drugs. With all these distractions, he had another bout of injuries and his playing time shrank in 1994 and 1995. At one point, though, Sheffield had eight consecutive hits during the 1995 season.
In 1996, Sheffield hired a public relations agent, started his own charity, took lessons in public speaking, posed for a fashion magazine, and moved to Miami. All these efforts at repairing his image and avoiding off-field trouble paid off on the field, as well, with his second excellent season. He hit .314 with 42 home runs and 120 runs batted in.
At the start of the 1997 season, Sheffield became the richest player in baseball by signing a six-year, $61 million contract extension. Pitchers decided to pitch around him, and Sheffield, notorious for his frequent strikeouts, decided to stop swinging at bad pitches. He slumped to.250, but he had 121 walks, 21 home runs and 71 RBI. For the rest of his career Sheffield always enjoyed high on-base percentages. He was frequently on base during the 1997 playoffs and World Series, which the Marlins won in their first and only post-season appearance, hitting .320 for the post-season with a remarkable .514 on-base percentage.
After the Marlins won the World Series, owner Wayne Huizenga sold the team and the new owners unloaded their high-priced players. Sheffield was sent to Los Angeles in a blockbuster trade. Through the 2001 season Sheffield was a fixture in the Dodgers' lineup. Playing left field for Los Angeles, Sheffield continued to bat over.300 with power and plenty of walks. In 2000 he had 43 home runs and 109 RBI while batting .325 with a .438 on-base percentage and a .643 slugging percentage. In 2001 he became the first player in major league history to win three 1-0 games in a season with home runs.
Yet, after three solid seasons, Sheffield demanded to be traded, saying he was unhappy in Los Angeles. In 2002, he went to the Atlanta Braves, his fourth major league team, in a trade for Brian Jordan, Odalis Perez and a minor-league pitcher. In Atlanta, Sheffield was overjoyed to be playing for Bobby Cox, a manager he'd liked ever since Cox batted him third in the National League All-Star team lineup in 1993. Sheffield seemed relaxed as he helped the Braves to a National League Eastern Division title with another outstanding season.
|ATL: Atlanta Braves; FLA: Florida Marlins; LA: Los Angeles Dodgers; MIL: Milwaukee Brewers; SD: San Diego Padres.|
Sheffield's accomplishments might have given him a shot at the Hall of Fame, had he not missed so much playing time early in his career with injuries. In baseball he is widely known as one of the top offensive threats, but he has failed to achieve the superstardom once predicted for him.
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Sketch by Michael Betzold
Betzold, Michael. "Sheffield, Gary." Notable Sports Figures. 2004. Encyclopedia.com. (July 24, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3407900514.html
Betzold, Michael. "Sheffield, Gary." Notable Sports Figures. 2004. Retrieved July 24, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3407900514.html