Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Playing the Wrong Card

Gary Sheffield made statements recently in which he accused Joe Torre of treating black players different from white players. He said that black players were singled out in team meetings while white players were spoken to in private. He also said that Kenny Lofton would back up his claims. Lofton was quick to add that Sheffield "knew what he was talking about". I have no personal knowledge of these claims, but based on Torre's long tenure in baseball (40 years), It seems that if this were actually the case, this sort of accusation would have come up before. And Kenny Lofton, who was brought to the Yankees against the wishes of Joe Torre, is probably not the best person to ask. Lofton was benched by Torre in favor of Bernie Williams and I'm sure that he hasn't forgotten that. Daryl Strawberry has had nothing but good things to say about Torre and Willie Randolph, who was Joe's long time coach with the Yankees before becoming manager of the Mets, has also come out in support of Torre.

Gary Sheffield has had a problem with almost every team he has played with. For some reason he plays with a huge chip on his shoulder. He is always on the lookout for the next perceived slight that might come his way. Gary Sheffield has been traded five times in his career and for a player who is now approaching 500 home runs and is building a very credible Hall of Fame case, that seems an inordinate amount. He was traded by his first team at 22 years old even though he had been touted as one of the best hitting prospects in all of baseball. His second team traded him at the age of 24 in the season after he made a run at the triple crown and finished 3rd in the MVP voting. The Dodgers, his fifth team, traded him after a season in which he hit 39 home runs, drove in 132 and again finished 3rd in the MVP voting. Sheffield will tell you that the problem isn't with him, but with the teams that traded him. But there is a very clear pattern. Sheffield gets to a new team, bad mouths his previous team (he claimed the Dodgers were racists when they wouldn't sign him to a contract extension in 2001), and says how wonderful his new team is. In a couple of years, his new team trades and he starts the cycle all over again. He has bent over backwards to praise the Tigers manager, Jim Leyland (who was his manager at one of his previous stops), and once again he has decided to bash his old team.

Accusing an individual of being a racist is a very powerful thing in America today. At a time when political correctness abounds (I have my own thoughts about that, but that is an article for another day and another place), even an unproven accusation of racism can haunt an individual forever. I don't know Joe Torre, but my general sense of the man tells me that he is not a racist. The Hall of Fame right hander Bob Gibson came to Torre's defense recently. He and Torre were teammates for six years with the Cardinals in the 60's and 70's. He stated simply that Torre is one of the best friends that he's ever had in his life. I am more willing to take the word of someone such as Gibson, who grew up in the face of segregation, when he vouches for the character of Joe Torre. I'm sure in Gary's mind Torre did treat him differently when he was with the Yankees. I'm sure he's felt mistreated wherever he has been. I'm not sure why that is, but hopefully the approximately $180 million that he will leave baseball with will make up for that somehow. I'm not sure that there's enough money to make up for the potential damage that he's done to Joe Torre's image with a few thoughtless words.

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