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Gary Sheffield left the Atlanta Braves for the New York Yankees in December, 2003. Gary spent three years with the Yankees, having almost identical seasons in 2004 (.290, 36, 121) and 2005 (.291, 34, 123) before missing most of 2006 with a wrist injury. Braves' manager Bobby Cox had dealt with Sheffield for two seasons and when informed that Gary was signing with the Yankees, told reporters "Gary, for two years, was pleasant. He's a manager's player. He was terrific. He came to play. Joe Torre will like him a lot."
Sheffield Doesn't Agree With Bobby Cox
Sheffield thinks that Bobby Cox was wrong. Gary has revealed that Joe Torre wanted Vladimir Guerrero, not him, as his right fielder. Torre never said that. He might have preferred Guerrero, but that is not a criticism of Joe Torre. It is an affirmation that Torre can occasionally see what other baseball men already know.
Guerrero is Better Than Sheffield
The Yankees considered signing Vladimir Guerrero to the same deal they offered Sheffield, but Guerrero's price was higher and he eventually signed with the Angels. The Yankees signed Sheffield, who is a great player, but Vladimir Guerrero is greater. From 2004-2006, Vladimir has a higher batting average, has averaged more home runs per season, and has a higher slugging percentage. Defensively, there is no comparison.
Joe Torre Had His Work Cut Out
The year the Yankees signed Gary Sheffield, they also acquired Kevin Brown and Kenny Lofton. Now, while it generally acknowledged that Joe Torre is not the greatest baseball strategist to ever sit in the Yankees' dugout, he is one of the best handlers of players among current managers. Torre knew that the 2004 Yankees were not the Yankees of David Cone, Paul O'Neill, and Tino Martinez. Joe had his work cut out for him. "My job is going to be tough enough, not because of the new acquisitions of guys who are supposedly tough to handle. When you go in and you have new people, you see what you have. Will my job be tougher? You never know that. I certainly don't think it's fair to suddenly put a wary eye out. This is the New York Yankees. This is what we do. This is how we play. If something doesn't fit, then we address it."
Gary Considered Only the Yankees
Sheffield wanted to sign with the Yankees. He said that they were the only team that he considered. Gary negotiated his contract without an agent, and when he tried to change his original demands, he discovered that George Steinbrenner wouldn't budge. Gary gave in. His uncle, Dwight Gooden, who worked for the Yankees, said that Gary was afraid that the Yankees might back out of the contract, which was something he didn't want to face.
Gary Was Ecstatic to be Traded to Detroit
This past November, the Yankees traded Sheffield to the Detroit Tigers for three pitching prospects. It seemed that Gary was as happy to leave the Yankees as he had been to join them. "I was ecstatic because I get reunited with the people that I've always loved. They're business-minded. They're smart people. They're respectful people. They treat you like men."
Jim Leyland Was Just as Happy
Tigers' manager Jim Leyland, for whom Sheffied played with the Florida Marlins and who is one of baseball's most respected managers, was just as happy. "This is one of the ultimate bats in baseball and one of the ultimate people in baseball," Leyland said. "I have the utmost respect for him. I can't tell you how happy we are. It's almost unbelievable. It's hard for me to believe that we landed Gary Sheffield."
Kepner, Tyler. "All Bets Off as Yankees Reconsider Right Field. New York Times. 10 December 2003, p.D2.
Likely Page Break Kepner, Tyler. "Sheffield Thinks Twice; No Hesitation for Brown." New York Times. 14 December 2003, p.SPN1.
Kepner, Tyler. "The New Look Yankees Will Test Torre." New York Times. 18 December 2003, p.D6.