2012 MLB Free Agency: Gary Sheffield Talks to B/R About His Company, HOF & More
For 20 seasons in Major League Baseball, Gary Sheffield terrorized opposing pitchers, belting 509 home runs (24th all-time) while driving in 1,676 RBI during his illustrious career.
A nine-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger Award winner, Sheffield knows what it takes to be successful on the diamond, and with his new consulting firm, he is proving that he knows how to maintain his successful ways outside of the game.
Sheffield Sports & Entertainment Management Group is a sports and entertainment consulting firm owned by Gary Sheffield, his wife DeLeon Sheffield and his business partner Xavier D. James.
Mr. Sheffield was kind enough to give me a few minutes of his time to discuss his firm, his free agent Jason Grilli, the Hall of Fame and more.
Here's what Sheff had to say.
Sheffield Management and Entertainment Group
CB: First things first, what prompted you to start Sheffield Management and Entertainment Group?
GS: It's a company that me and Xavier James, my lawyer, started to help the younger players understand the principals and values of how much money they spend, based upon what they make and how it's gonna look when they're getting ready to retire.
CB: On the company website, you state that “The goal of this company is to not only negotiate sports and entertainment contracts, but also prepare clients for life during and after their careers.” Can you explain to the average person how athletes and entertainers can fall into financial hardships after making great money during their careers?
GS: They basically aren't paying attention to their finances, as in how much is going out. They know how much is coming in, but they really aren't accumulating the money to save for the future. So basically, the amount that is coming in is the amount that is going out.
When you see a guy go broke after a few years of playing baseball, for five, 10, 15 years; that shouldn't be. If a guy never made a million, or two million dollars, he shouldn't be living above that.
So, its based on what I've seen over the years. I've seen guys live beyond their means and I think that's because a lot of times they're not paying attention to their finances.
CB: The first client signed to Sheffield Management Group was veteran relief pitcher Jason Grilli. What drew you to Jason?
GS: Well Jason is a guy that I befriended when I was with the Tigers. One thing that stood out to me with Jason is that they used to put him in the game under the most difficult situations I've seen and they used to constantly do it. He got judged on it.
When you get put into the lineup with bases loaded and one out or no outs on an everyday basis, you're going to fail sometimes. I'm not saying you're going to fail every time, but the times that he failed, people always made it look like it was his runs that were on base. It was really someone else's runner that was put on base that he had to help bail them out. They would give up the runs or whatever and he would come in the next day with a smile on his face like it never happened.
He would come to my locker, and here was this guy that was trying to understand and learn about the game and pick my brain. Once I started talking to him, he liked what I was saying: taking care of your business and taking care of your family.
When I got out of the game I received a call from him. He told me, "I'm out of the game now, I blew out my knee and I need to get back in the game."
I told him I need to look at him and see him throw. I went and saw him and told him, "OK, I'm down with you." I had eight teams come to look at him and got him a shot.
CB: You managed to get him a $1.1 million contract with the Pirates, his richest contract to date. Do you think that, as a former player, you understand the value a player has to a team more than an agent who never played the game?
GS: Yeah, I mean, like I told Jason when he signed with me, a lot of people are going to say 'why him' and all of the other questions that go along with it. People don't understand what I've done behind the scenes with my own contract—the language I chose to put in my own contracts. Nobody had to tell me this; I chose to put it in there and it's benefited me today.
There's a lot of things that I've gotten knowledge from, spanning over 25 years in the game, and I got all that knowledge and I've applied all that knowledge. I fight this all myself. When it worked out for me, I feel it can work out for the next person.
One thing that I told him is that GMs (general managers), they can't string me along like they would do an agent because an agent is just going to base it on, and I do as well, I go to the dollar base and get numbers, compare his numbers to the next person; based on age, years; I do all of that myself.
The bottom line is, I've played with guys, I've played the game, I've seen pitchers throw. I know who's a better pitcher and I know who's a better hitter, a better fielder, etc. because my eyes tell me what I see. So when I'm talking to a GM, I'm talking from that perspective.
When I go to a GM and tell him that Jason Grilli still has a lot left in his arm and he's fully recovered from his injury, they won't have to worry about the injury or the risk factor; it proves that I was right.
Like I told Jason, I'm not going to go putting my name on the line, especially on somebody else, betting on somebody else, if I don't believe it. That gives him that advantage because that tells a general manager that I'm not going to vouch for something that I don't believe.
CB: Can you tell me a little bit about clients that you hope to acquire or may be working with in the near future?
GS: Well, I have a couple guys I did that went into the draft. I did their contracts out of high school. I've got multiple players in that capacity. Jason really was my first big-league client.
It's really hard to land a big-league client right when you get started, but I was able to do that in my first year doing it. The goal is to make it grow. The Grilli contract and the Grilli situation—if you didn't believe before, you'll believe now—he's on the verge of signing a big contract right now. We have multiple deals on the table.
All of the deals, I've talked to all of the general managers and have been forthright, straightforward. Some of them just making pass-by offers, like most of them do. I'm looking to get big-league players and if I have to look at guys going into the draft I'll do that as well.
I get a lot of calls from minor leaguers that are struggling to get to Double-A or Triple-A or even move forward. That's a harder sale to do because they're doing it all for free. That's something that when you're talking about signing big-league players, time is of the essence. You spend a lot of time making sure your guys in the big leagues are getting everything they need and everything is going as planned.
CB: What are your thoughts on this year’s free-agent class?
GS: I think the Reds got a good one in (Jonathan) Broxton. I think that was a good move on their part. They're moving (Aroldis) Chapman back to the rotation. He will fit right in the closers role and he's shown that he can be a seventh-, eighth-inning guy, which raises his value. When you can play that role and go back to closing out games, that shows you're a very versatile pitcher and that makes you valuable.
That's what I think makes Jason Grilli unique because when he got his opportunity, he seized it. He's a guy that started in the past. He's also pitched seventh, eighth inning and closed. That makes him valuable.
CB: What type of contract do you think the two biggest names on the market, Josh Hamilton and Zach Greinke, will end up signing for?
GS: Well I think they're gonna get big contracts. I think that both come with a lot of risks. At the same time, I think top value and dollar, but shorter in the years. If I was a GM, I would consider that. Not one of these seven- or eight-year deals, but more like a five-year deal. No more than five years. I would do something on those terms on whatever dollar value works for the ballclub, but anything beyond that, I would pass on it.
The Hall of Fame
CB: This year, Major League Baseball has an extremely interesting Hall of Fame ballot. As you know, it is the first year Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds will appear on the ballot. Given their histories and ties to performance-enhancing drugs, do you think that either player should be allowed into the Hall of Fame?
GS: Yeah, I do. Honestly, I do.
The reason is, as I've said before, I don't know if Mark McGwire ever failed a test, but speculations vary. It's like you look at him and say it's obvious, same with Barry Bonds. But I don't think that either one of them ever failed a test and it's all under suspicion and under suspense.
Just like a lot of players that probably took drugs that aren't under suspense that will probably go to the Hall of Fame. Is that fair to them, to the people that you suspected? No, I don't think so.
There's a lot of guys that are in the Hall of Fame that have baggage with a lot of things that are worse than the guys that you suspect that did this.
There's a lot of things that you have to look at, too, before you cast judgement on certain players and that's just my opinion.
CB: If you had a vote for the Hall of Fame this year, who would you vote for and why?
GS: Well actually, I don't pay attention to that, honestly. I don't even know the players that are on the list. I'm being honest with you. I don't really pay attention to that kind of stuff. What I do know is that if you tell me a name, I can tell you whether or not he belongs in the Hall of Fame or not, and that's about all I can give you.
CB: Do you think Curt Schilling is a Hall of Famer?
GS: Well, I would say no to that. The reason being that when you talk about wins, that's going to hurt him. When you talk about playoffs and what he's done all through his career has been remarkable.
When people mention Cy Youngs and all that, that really means a hill of beans to me. When you talk about awards, its based on somebody voting for you. Whether it's MVP, Cy Young, the right winner is not always the right winner.
So, if a guy has an MVP season that you're 100 percent sure that he's gonna win and he doesn't win, well, he may not have that type of year again for the rest of his career. He may have better years than that later in his career, but somebody may have a better year than him.
You may never have a Cy Young or an MVP and when your career is over, that's the first thing they talk about. It's all watered down to me.
Negotiating with Steinbrenner
CB: Going back to free agency, some people may not be aware that you negotiated your own contract to play with the New York Yankees. Can you tell me a bit about what it was like negotiating with George Steinbrenner?
GS: At first, I thought it was going to be intimidating for me. The way he set it up, it kinda made me nervous, but I had to get over the nerves because when I walked in the room, the first person I see with a chair facing me was George Steinbrenner.
When I walked in, he told me to sit down, and when I sat, he kinda looked at me and I knew it was all business. This is the guy that had known me since I was eight years old, growing up as a kid. Now this is different. This is possibly my last contract. I wound up getting another one after that, but this was possibly my last one, so I wanted to seize the moment.
It was nerve-racking at points. He was up against a lot of people in the Yankee organization that didn't want to bring me to the team and was adamant about doing it because he knew I could produce under any circumstances. I made him that promise that I would.
When I went in the room, there was a lot of intimidating things that he did to try and get me to sign cheaper than I wanted to sign for and a lot of things came into play.
It taught me a lot. So when I'm talking to a general manager or an owner or whoever, I'm never intimidated by it anymore because I've already talked to the best.
CB: My last question for you and it’s a fun, theoretical one: If you were in your prime today, as a free agent, what type of contract do you think you could negotiate for yourself?
GS: The highest one. Without a doubt.