May 15, 1998 was a tumultuous day for all parties involved in a blockbuster trade between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Florida Marlins. Gary Sheffield, a key contributor to the Marlins’ World Series title in 1997, was a major component of that trade and was not happy to be on his way to to L.A.
Before that event shaped Sheffield’s career, a lot would be reflected on as the former outfielder wrote an autobiography for the Players’ Tribune. He grew up with pitcher Dwight Gooden, who would go on to be the ace of the New York Mets pitching staff in the 1980s.
Dodgers ownership flipped from the O’Malley family to Fox News Corporation on Sept. 5, 1997. Less than one year into owning the team, executives from the new party made a trade behind then-general manager Fred Claire’s back.
The trade involved star catcher Mike Piazza and infielder Todd Zeile for Sheffield and three of his teammates. Sheffield became angry at Marlins management.
In his Players Tribune piece, he reflected on his thoughts when the deal went down that sent him to L.A.
“Not long after we won the World Series, Marlins management started cleaning house. Ownership wanted a new stadium, so they began shedding salary any way they could. But I wasn’t worried. I had my blanket. I wasn’t going nowhere.
We were playing in Atlanta, and I was in the clubhouse when a news alert popped up on ESPN. Apparently, I had just been traded to the Dodgers for Mike Piazza. Bunch of players involved.
The anchors said it was a done deal. They were calling it a blockbuster. So I’m there looking at the TV like, Pffft! The hell I was traded. This s*** ain’t done.”
After conversing with traded teammates Charles Johnson and Jim Eisenreich on the matter, Sheffield boarded a plane to L.A. to meet with Dodgers brass. However, Sheffield wouldn’t sign the deal that would have his no-trade clause to the organization.
Excerpt from Players’ Tribune article:
“I said, “No. I came to hear what you guys are trying to do with this franchise before I join it.” They give me the usual, Well, we’re gonna get some players around you and some bulls***. I said, “Nah, that’s not good enough.”
Then I listed my demands.
I said, “First, you gotta write me a check for $6 million. Then, you gotta buy me a home worth $3 million. Then, you gotta pay my California taxes, up to $1 million. And then … I’ll sign that sheet of paper.”
That changed the mood in the room. They said, “Whoa, we never saw that coming.” And I said, “Well, I never saw this trade coming.”
After much deliberation in the Bermuda triangle of Sheffield, the Dodgers and the Marlins, all sides agreed to terms and Sheffield was a member of the Dodgers. He signed a three-year contract that added up to nearly $30 million.
Looking back on his career, Sheffield said he gave it his all when he wore the Dodgers uniform.
“And you know what? I played my ass off for Los Angeles, and I really loved it there and had some of the best years of my career. Batted over .300 and hit at least 34 home runs every year I wore Dodger blue.
I demanded to be paid what I was worth because I approached the game as a professional. I was as competitive when it came to negotiating my compensation as I was whenever I went up to bat.”
Sheffield played three and a half seasons with the Dodgers, totaling 129 home runs and 367 runs batted in. He finished his 22-year career with 509 home runs, one of only 27 players to complete the feat.
He retired in 2009 as a member of the New York Mets and played for nine different clubs throughout his career.
To read the full article on Sheffield’s career, check it out on Players’ Tribune.
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