South Beach fits Gary Sheffield comfortably, like one of his
perfectly tailored Armani suits. This is the stars' sandbox of
Miami Beach, where the toys are called Mercedes. "I drive mine,
and nobody notices," he says. A 27-year-old rightfielder pulling
down $6.1 million from the Florida Marlins can blend easily with
all the models, actors, impresarios and assorted other genera of
beautiful people who like to wear sunglasses at night. "You see
guys in Mercedes all the time," says Sheffield. "Anytime you
pull out of your driveway, that's what you see. It's something
I've been searching for: Here people greet you, they don't
Not even a Metropolitan Dade County traffic officer smothers
him. When he sees Sheffield walking toward the black Landcruiser
(the Mercedes got the day off) parked at the expired meter on
Ocean Drive, the officer simply extends his right arm for a
friendly handshake. And, naturally, he stuffs away his ticket
book. Sheffield later passes two hours eating lunch at a diner
without much recognition.
"I want to be normal," he says. "I'd like to be a normal man, do
things that a normal man does. I see how people start to treat
you differently when they know you're making six-point-one. They
look at you differently. I don't want to be a star. If I'm
walking down the street and my butt itches, I want to scratch
it. But when you're where I'm at, you can't do anything."
Last year a female fan stalked him at his rented home in Miami
Lakes. The house was also robbed, and he was barraged with crank
calls. "You know how worried I am?" he would tell the callers.
"I'm going to hit a home run for you tonight." And he would.
So this year he took a penthouse apartment on Biscayne Bay in
Miami with former pitcher Vance Lovelace, a longtime friend, who
now serves as his executive assistant. High in Sheffield's ivory
tower, surrounded by walls of glass, his view is so spectacular
that it's easy to forget how messy his life has been. Last
November his uncle, New York Yankees pitcher Dwight Gooden,
presented him for the first time with a birthday card. The
message from a man who is trying to come back from alcohol and
drug abuse was this: "I'm here for you whenever you need me."
"Just one time," Gooden says, "I'd like to see him have a season
where his mind is free and clear and he stays healthy. Then I
want to see what kind of numbers he has at the end of the year."
Actually, that happened once, in 1992 with the San Diego Padres,
the only one of Sheffield's seven full big league seasons in
which he hasn't been disabled, suspended, traded or dragged into
court. All Sheffield did was win the batting title and nearly
the Triple Crown while hitting between Tony Gwynn and Fred
Now an older, hardened Sheffield is making that sort of season
possible again. "I'm at peace now," he says. At week's end, not
only had Sheffield played in each of Florida's 45 games, but he
also was tied for fourth in the National League in home runs
(14), was second in walks (35), fourth in on-base average (.426)
and sixth in slugging percentage (.620) while batting .280.
"I think it's definitely the most focused I've seen him over the
three years I've been with him here," teammate Jeff Conine says.
"He likes to win. His commitment to the team is above everything
Now all Sheffield has to do is cope with a couple of civil
suits--one brought by a former girlfriend, the other by a police
officer after Sheffield was charged with resisting arrest (the
charges were dropped) at a Houston pancake house at 3 a.m.--his
bat-slamming frustration about insufficient protection in the
lineup and his disgust with the Marlins' slow improvement since
they traded for him in 1993. Despite having won 11 of their last
13 games through Sunday, the Marlins lingered in fourth place,
one game below .500. Says Sheffield, who signed a four-year
contract that binds him to the club through next year, "If I had
to do it all over again, I wouldn't have signed the long-term
deal. People say, 'You have your money. You should be happy.' I
want to win. When I signed, I thought we were on the right
track. And I'm tired of taking the blame."
The scouting report on Sheffield is that he's riddled with
weaknesses. You can start with shoes, all 250 pairs of them.
Many of them are lined up as straight as soldiers at inspection
on the living room floor of his apartment.
Clothes? Yes, he goes limp for those, too. Sheffield has a
wardrobe to rival that of a major film studio. He once turned
the garage of his St. Petersburg home into a makeshift closet.
At the Miami apartment three cedar-lined closets offer no
vacancy. His accoutrements will be more comfortably accommodated
in the $3 million home he is building in St. Petersburg; it will
feature a room-sized closet with the sort of motorized rotating
hanging system used by dry cleaners.
There are the guns (the 9-millimeter, the Smith & Wesson
five-shot and the rifle), the cars (the two Mercedes, the
Landcruiser, the Porsche and the limousine he keeps in Atlanta)
and the charity cases (everybody from underprivileged kids to
the patients at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg to
acquaintances in more dubious straits). He is a softy for all of
them. And yet none of them is the greatest weakness of Gary
"His biggest weakness? I'll tell you," says his mother, Betty
Jones, who is Gooden's older sister. She pauses. Then, sotto
voce, she says, "Women."
Sheffield's life would be a dime-store paperback if anyone could
believe so much mayhem involving one character. In addition to
being stalked, robbed, harassed, shot, charged with resisting
arrest, and arrested for driving under the influence, he has
been pulled off a team plane and searched for drugs; questioned
about bullets left on a former girlfriend's doorstep; and said
to have AIDS in mysterious flyers circulated at Miami's Joe
Robbie Stadium. And that's only in the past three years.
None of the charges stuck, except a reduced one regarding the
DUI (he pleaded no contest to reckless driving). If he is guilty
of anything, both Sheffield and his mother agree, it is entering
into lousy relationships with women. "Yes," Sheffield says. "I
never made judgments about them, didn't care whether it was a
rich woman or a poor woman. I'm just accepting when it comes to
Says Betty, "They see that side of him and take advantage of it.
These women, all they want is to sleep, eat out, drive a nice
car and get jewelry. I asked Gary a question some time ago. I
said, 'When was the last time--or the first time--you approached
a young lady because you were interested in her?' He couldn't
remember. He has to learn about these women. If he hasn't
learned by now, they're going to destroy him."
Says Sheffield, "I've learned. I have to be more selective."
One former girlfriend, Sherry Gary, is suing Sheffield, charging
among other things that he imprisoned her in his house (she
claims that he once locked her in a bedroom and forbade her to
leave without his permission) and once forced her to walk on the
side of a highway in her underwear. The charges are ridiculous,
Betty says wryly: "We all know she doesn't wear underwear."
Sheffield is currently dating, though not seriously enough to
present anyone to Mom. He has never been married. He has three
children by three women: daughters Ebony, 10, and Carissa, 8
(who live with their mothers in Tampa), and son Gary Jr., 2 (who
lives with his mother in Phoenix). Says Betty, "I told him,
'Gary, don't bring in new problems. No more babies.' He's
already been through so much. I don't see how he's still
One bullet could have felled him for good. It was last Oct. 30
that Sheffield, after a trip to Atlanta, was driving from the
Tampa airport to a barber shop in Belmont Heights, the Tampa
neighborhood where he grew up. As he slowed his Mercedes near a
stop sign, he saw a man walking toward his car quickly from the
rear. Sheffield, thinking it might be a friend, was about to
roll down his window when suddenly the man pulled out a gun and
fired. The .22-caliber slug, slowed by the glass, caused only a
flesh wound on his left shoulder.
Sheffield sped away, then circled back, thinking he had one of
his guns in his car. But then he realized that he had left all
of them at home, not wanting to keep one stowed in his car at
the airport parking lot. He continued to the barber shop, where
a friend notified police. The case remains open. There are no
The incident was the culmination of an awful year in which
Sheffield played in only 63 games because of a torn ligament in
his right thumb. The shooting also prompted the Marlins and
major league baseball officials to ask Sheffield to see a
psychologist. "Could you have killed somebody in that
situation?" the doctor asked.
"I could have," Sheffield replied. "I'm not saying I would have.
But if I had the gun, I can't say that I wouldn't have used it."
Of his guns, Sheffield says, "I'm carrying because the kids
carry them. Kids act like kids. They shoot all the time."
Sheffield says he wrote Marlins general manager Dave Dombrowski
in January "explaining my side of things. I knew they were
worried, but nobody was asking me about my side. I wanted him to
know that these things that were happening weren't my fault."
Sheffield also hired a New York-based publicist not only to
repair his image but also to help control these fires raging
Recovered from his injuries, Sheffield is again one of the
dominant hitters in the game. He banged 11 home runs last month
(as did Brady Anderson of the Baltimore Orioles and Barry Bonds
of the San Francisco Giants), tying the major league record for
April also shared by Willie Stargell, Mike Schmidt and Graig
Nettles. At week's end he had added only three dingers this
month, largely because pitchers realize it is often foolish to
throw him strikes. No one else in the everyday Florida lineup
has hit more than 25 home runs in a season, and with no
lefthanded-hitting threat on the team, the Marlins have seen
only seven southpaw starters all year. At week's end
Sheffield--with righthanded hitters Greg Colbrunn and Conine
surrounding him in the lineup--had only 28 plate appearances
against lefties in 1996.
"When you look at that team, Sheffield is the one guy about whom
you say, 'Don't let him beat you,'" Colorado Rockies manager Don
Baylor says. "Conine is a very good hitter, but you can pitch to
him with sliders away and busting fastballs inside. Gary is the
one guy who can hit a home run at anytime on any pitch."
Sheffield has never walked more than 55 times in a season, but
he is on pace to draw 126 free passes this year. When Colorado's
Marvin Freeman walked him May 9 with a runner at third base in
the first inning, Sheffield slammed his bat to the ground.
Against Kevin Ritz the next night, Sheffield popped out with the
bases loaded when he missed a rare hittable fastball, prompting
him to throw down his helmet with such force that the padding
"If I can reach it, I'm going to swing," Sheffield says, "but
I'm getting nothing even close. I am not trying to walk. I don't
care if I hit .150 with runners in scoring position, I'm going
to be aggressive early in the count. It's my only way to drive
Ask him about his future with the Marlins, and it seems as if
he's waiting for the next strong breeze for an answer. "Either
I'm here or I'm not," he says, though he admits an affinity for
the Mets. "I can handle it in New York, not like Bobby Bonilla.
I can go to New York and perform. I've been dealing with things
like that my whole career."
Says Gooden, "Gary is actually a very shy, sensitive person. He
might come across as a tough guy who doesn't let anything bother
him. But I know he cares what people think about him."
A father at 17, a batting champion at 23 and a veteran of three
big league teams at 24, Sheffield still appears remarkably
young. He lived with Betty and his stepfather, Harold Jones, as
recently as two years ago. On the night before he left for
spring training this year, he sat on the edge of his mother's
bed, and they talked until six in the morning about finding love
and happiness. "You pray to God," Betty told her son, "and he
will send you someone."
Sheffield has an option to buy the Miami penthouse, but he'll
wait and see. Either he is here or he is not. "Seems like almost
nobody in the building speaks English," he says with a smile.
"They don't even know me."
After a game, late at night, he will sit alone and gaze out the
floor-to-ceiling windows: the tableaux of Biscayne Bay out one
side and downtown Miami out the other. The world is quiet. "The
lights of the buildings twinkling at night--man, it's beautiful,"
he says. "Just beautiful."