Sheffield-Mets union all about destiny
Veteran was ready to call it a career before club called
NEW YORK -- Gary Sheffield insists he was content to end it right there, collect his $14 million from the Tigers, go home to the bay, relax with Doc and the boys and call it a career. He had found a comfortable spot in the couch and was just settling in when the phone rang. And rang. The Phillies, the Reds and, yes, the Mets.
And that uncle called, too.
"He was trying to push me off the couch," Sheffield said.
The uncle, better known as Dwight Gooden, knew how to push buttons, too.
"He kept reminding me I always said I wanted to play here," Sheffield said on Saturday, the day before he officially will change positions -- from the couch to the Mets' bench, from a near full-time designated hitter to whatever his role turns out to be with his new team, the eighth club in what will be 22 seasons.
His contract in place and a physical passed, Sheffield will be added to the Mets' roster on Sunday after general manager Omar Minaya, manager Jerry Manuel, et al. decide who will be let go -- Nick Evans? Marlon Anderson? A reliever? -- in the final day cut, probably Evans.
Then, after a workout at Citi Field, Sheffield and the Mets are off to the forecasted chill of Cincinnati and the anticipated thrill of Opening Day.
"I'm really happy to be going there," Sheffield said. "I didn't know what to expect when [the Tigers] released me. I figured someone would call. But if no one did, I was all right with going home."
Home is comfortable for the former -- inhale -- Brewer, Padre, Marlin, Brave, Dodger, Yankee and Tiger. There, his stature is high profile enough that he could walk away from the game needing one home run to become the 25th player in big league history with at least 500 home runs.
That is his contention.
"What I wanted was 493," Sheffield said. "I wanted to catch [Fred] McGriff."
Sheffield wanted to be No. 1 in the neighborhood, where he, McGriff, Gooden and dozens more made Tampa-St. Petersburg a big league spawning ground.
Now, with 493 achieved -- he hit it against the Yankees on Sept. 1 -- playing for the Mets is the most compelling entry on his to-do list.
"Because my uncle played here," Sheffield said.
He seldom refers to Gooden as Doc or Dwight, even though they are essentially contemporaries. Gooden, "ecstatic" about his nephew's career move, is 44. Sheffield is 40. They grew up together.
"I wanted to play here," Sheffield said. "I liked hitting at Shea [Stadium]."
And, according to his memory, he nearly was a Met on at least four other occasions, most recently Spring Training 2001.
"The first time I was with Milwaukee," Sheffield said, "a couple of times, my uncle called and said [the Mets] had my jersey made up."
Sheffield moving to the Mets never progressed to that point in 2001, when the Dodgers were quite willing to deal him and the Mets were intrigued by what he would do for their batting order. Whatever interest existed diminished when Robin Ventura and Todd Zeile said publicly they preferred Sheffield not be acquired.
They believed he brought too much baggage. He remained with the Dodgers. The ensuing season wasn't the first time -- or the last -- Sheffield's final season with a club turned sour.
No such public cries were made in this situation. Sheffield was all but signed before most Mets players knew of the possibility. Some were curious when they learned of the move; others concerned about playing time.
As it was, David Wright texted him a welcome. It moved Sheffield. He had considered Philadelphia and Cincinnati. Before he accepted the Mets' offer, he called Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins and Reds manager Dusty Baker to say thanks, but no thanks. He followed the dream he had as a teenager.
Sheffield acknowledged the circumstances he enters with the Mets don't promise the at-bats he might have been afforded had he accepted the Phillies' or Reds' offer. And he said he's comfortable with a diminished role if that's what his turns out to be.
"They didn't promise me anything. They just said get ready and be ready," Sheffield said. "I know I'm not a marquee guy anymore. I know I can't demand. But I want to win another championship, even if it means I'm a pinch-hitter."
Though he said he was willing to retire, Sheffield did take batting practice and some fly balls during his unemployed -- though hardly uncompensated -- days.
"I did my cardio and got my reps in," Sheffield said. "I have to get used to playing again. But I'm healthy. And if they want me to play, I'll be happy to play."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.