From the outset, Sheffield established himself as a commanding leader on the Yankees. When outfielder Kenny Lofton complained on the second day of the season about batting ninth, it was Sheffield who pulled him aside and told him to stuff it. "If you take on Mr. Torre," he told Lofton, "you're going to lose. And you won't just be done with the Yankees. You'll be done in baseball."
After Rodriguez struggled for much of the season with runners in scoring position, it was Sheffield who snapped him out of it in August by telling him to "stop feeling for the ball and let it fly."
And when Boston Red Sox righthander Pedro Martinez flashed his usual machismo on July 1 by nailing Sheffield with a pitch after he had the temerity to ask for time as Martinez prepared to throw, Sheffield stood up to him. "You're messin' with the wrong guy," he warned Martinez, glowering as he walked to first base.
Indeed, during his tenure in Milwaukee (1988 through '91) Sheffield once flattened teammate Mark Knudson after the righthander told writers that he didn't want the ball hit to Sheffield in the late innings. After knocking Knudson into his locker, Sheffield turned around to his teammates and said, "Anybody else got a problem?" The room fell silent.
Martinez, Sheffield says, should be aware that he's been put on similar notice. "I gave him one buddy pass," Sheffield says. "If he says one word to me, he's done. Pedro, your buddy pass is over. I've been playing for 17 years. I will never be disrespected on a baseball field or off. If he tries anything again, I won't hurt my team, but I'm telling you, I will take care of him."
No one swings a bat with more ferocity and seeming menace than Sheffield, and he wields words in a like manner. Says Sheffield, "When you hear it from me, you're going to hear it directly. I've been this way all my life. If you really don't want to know the truth, you better go to somebody else."
Ichiro Suzuki? "Two hundred singles? Come on. That doesn't make you a great hitter. If I didn't care about hitting the ball hard and hitting it out of the park, I'd hit you singles all day long. Any guy can go out there and get a single if that's all you try for. I ain't impressed."
Performance-enhancing drugs? "I know guys are not that much better than me naturally. There's no way possible. I'm not going to say any names, [but] six years ago I had the same number of home runs as another player, and I have had my best [home run] years since then. And you mean to tell me he outhomered me by 250? No way possible. Ain't no one in the world who can convince me that is possible."
The MVP? "If it was A-Rod [having the year I'm having], it would be unanimous. If it was someone else, it would be unanimous. But why isn't it? Because it's Gary Sheffield. And I'm supposed to be flattered [by being mentioned]? My uncle [ Gooden] said, 'Man, don't say anything' or 'Do this or do that' to get it. If I have to kiss your behind to get an award, guess what? I won't win it."
Sheffield understands that such frank talk has contributed to people's wariness of him, as it did with Cashman, for instance. The G.M. knew that Sheffield had played himself out of Los Angeles in 2001 by calling team chairman and CEO Bob Daly a "liar" and identifying the mistakes the Dodgers made on contracts for several of his teammates, such as the five-year, $55 million deal given to injury-prone righthander Darren Dreifort.