Getting the Hell Out of Dodge

Just a quick note to thank everybody for their responses to the Gary Sheffield series thus far. It’s been a blast to write, and I’ve learned a ton while researching his career, challenging my own thinking on his various controversies as well as that of others. As I’m leaving town today for my annual trip to Wind Rivers, Wyoming and Salt Lake City, Utah — I’ll go a long way to avoid the Republican National Convention — I won’t get a chance until I return after Labor Day to finish a third installment that lives up to the standards of the other two, but rest assured that will come in due time.

I’m just a tad disappointed that nobody pointed out the irony of me juxtaposing a piece in which I tear down the sainted Derek Jeter with one in which I celebrate Sheffield, who to hear some people tell it qualifies as History’s Greatest Monster. Of course, if you listen to enough Sox fans and stathead hardliners (or hardheaded statliners?), it’s Jeter who qualifies for that tag thanks to his crummy defense and his Yankee pedigree. Oh well…

Those of you who are hungering for more Shef should check out this odd piece from the New York Times documenting his trip to the Little League World Series as an 11-year-old in 1980. Times writer Jack Curry had a chance to sit down with Sheffield and watch video of the championship game in which Sheffield’s Belmont Heights, Tampa team fell to Taiwan, 4-3. Oddly enough, little Shef — who was not yet wagging his bat in that signature menacing fashion — was a catcher in those days; also on the team was Derek (Operation Shutdown) Bell.

Those looking for evidence of Sheffield’s moodiness will note that, according to the story, Sheffield was denied a return trip to the Series because he’d been suspended over a disagreement with a coach during an argument:

He also lamented how he forfeited a chance to play in the World Series when Belmont Heights returned a year later because he was suspended for raising a bat to his coach during a disagreement. He tried to get reinstated, then tried to switch to a different league, but both efforts failed.

“It took years for me to get over that,” Sheffield said. “It’s like, ‘How can you do that to a 12-year-old kid?’ I made a mistake, but I paid the biggest price you could ever pay for it.”

…Interestingly, Sheffield said his experience in the year he was suspended molded him, too, because it made him tougher and hesitant to trust people. That feisty individualism could help explain why he was considered irascible as a young player, something he does not dispute.

Sheffield’s regular-season team in Belmont Heights was in first place in 1981 and had a pivotal game against Bell’s second-place team. When the coach told Sheffield that he was not pitching, he said he grabbed a bat.

Though Sheffield emphasized that he never swung it at anyone, the damage was done. He was suspended and was ineligible for the all-star team that eventually lost to Taiwan again.

And you thought it was just the Brewers’ management that messed him up…

Anyway, I might get a chance to post a quick hit or two when I get back to SLC in the middle of next week, so look for me then.

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