A Blessing for the Padres
When third baseman Gary Sheffield reported to the Padres after his trade from the Brewers on March 27, "he was smiling like the devil," says San Diego manager Greg Riddoch. "I told him, 'I've seen a lot of pictures of you, but I've never seen you smile." I told him that he didn't have to carry the team, that he should just do what he's capable of doing. He hasn't stopped smiling since."
After four years of scowling and snarling in Milwaukee, Sheffield, 23, finally seems comfortable and relaxed, and he's starting to display more of his vast ability. Through Sunday he was leading the National League with 12 RBIs and had matched his home run total of a year ago with two. Defensively, Sheffield has also played well, perhaps at last answering the Padres' prayers for someone to fill the hole at third that has troubled San Diego throughout its 23-year history.
Sheffield's unhappiness in Milwaukee, much of which he brought on himself, began when the Brewers drafted him out of Tampa's Hillsborough High as the sixth selection in the first round of the 1986 draft. "The day I was drafted, I didn't like the situation," says Sheffield. "I'm from the South, and I had to go to the Midwest. Everything you asked for in Milwaukee, you didn't get. 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."
Though Sheffield was drafted as a shortstop, he didn't play there much after Bill Spiers arrived in Milwaukee in 1989. Spiers was a better defensive player, so Sheffield was shifted to third. "Their mind was set," says Sheffield. "Spiers was up a couple days and the job was his. I always had to take a backseat."
Too often, however, Sheffield was the guy who created the seating chart. He refused to run sprints with his teammates after a game during spring training a year ago and was fined by former general manager Harry Dalton. His petulance alienated his teammates. "He had the worst attitude of any player I've ever seen," a former teammate said this spring.
Sheffield had been critical of Dalton and former manager Tom Trebelhorn for several years, but it was his outburst this spring—he claimed Trebelhorn and Brewers owner Bud Selig had urged him to play hurt last year—that may have triggered his trade to San Diego for pitcher Ricky Bones. "It was always, "You have to do this, you have to do that,' " says Sheffield. "They put so much pressure on me, I played with a lot of anger."
When he did play, that is. Injuries limited him to 95 games in 1989, 125 in '90 and 50 in '91. In August 1990 he spent three days in an Arlington, Texas, hospital with an illness that still remains a mystery. Trebelhorn visited Sheffield in the hospital, stayed with him for four hours and even brought him a pizza, yet two days later Sheffield couldn't remember the visit. "I was exhausted," says Sheffield. "I was in my room. I blacked out. The doctors said it might be spinal meningitis, then they said it might be something else. It was weird." Despite all of Sheffield's injuries, Trebelhorn, now a coach with the Cubs, says Sheffield "played hard and played hurt. The most frustrating part for me was not getting out of Gary what I know is inside him. But he wasn't the most helpful guy to get it out of, either."
So far, things are different in San Diego. "I don't know what problems he had in Milwaukee, but he has been great here," says Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn. "He's been willing to work, to listen. I don't foresee any problems, either. He has filled the bill here on all counts."
And he's done it with a smile.