Sheffield’s A Hard Hitter — With A Bat And His Tongue

By Terry Foster
Updated: April 8, 2007

DETROIT — Tigers slugger Gary Sheffield walked into Hockeytown Cafi last week with the confidence of a man who is at peace with his world.

He knows dark clouds swirl around because he is a magnet for controversy. He is a man’s man on the field. And he is a man’s man off it because Sheffield has chosen the toughest path he can in sports.

While many safely speak in sound bites, he speaks his mind in the same violent way he hits a baseball on game day.

He did it again in a recently released book called “Inside Power” that chronicles his life inside and outside of baseball. It is not a great piece of literature but it allows you to quickly get in and out of Sheffield’s thoughts in punchy and short chapters.

“The book was like therapy for me but I also wanted to set the record straight,” Sheffield said.

He talks about allowing God into his life. He talks about how difficult it was being named after a man who never married his mother and was murdered.

But the most interesting part of the book involved Barry Bonds and the cream. Sheffield claims he is innocent of steroid use and blames Bonds’ trainer for giving him a steroid-laced cream that put him on front pages around the country.

But woven inside this story is a tale of Bonds trying to control Sheffield and treating him as less than a man. This is the worst thing you can do to a black male, other than call him “boy” or the N-word.

Sheffield remains resentful of Bonds and their relationship is in bad need of repair.

“That is accurate,” Sheffield told me. “You show a man respect.”

Bonds asked Sheffield to work out with him in the Bay area and allowed him to stay at his house and use his cars. Sheffield claims Bonds would not allow him to do anything without his consent. They trained on Bonds’ terms completely and Sheffield had no say in anything, even when he wanted to surprise Bonds with a trip to Miami for a boxing match.

But here is where Sheffield loses me and needs a little more explanation. He claims he never put steroids into his body. Yet during a training session he allowed Bonds to talk him into doing squats despite having knee surgery just days prior. Sheffield said he knew better but he did not want to give in to Bonds.

Sheffield did some squats and says in the book that stitches holding the surgery together popped. He then said one of Bonds’ trainers gave him some cream to help the knee heal quicker. He thought it was like Neosporin, but it would work faster.

The cream worked all right. But it contained steroids and Sheffield’s name was tainted.

Here is my problem. Sheffield talks over and over about how he hated working out with Bonds and that he wanted out. The only reason he did not leave earlier is that his wife told him to hang in there.

So Sheffield put something on his body he knew nothing about?

“I had respected him for many years and I trusted him,” Sheffield said when asked why he would put something on his body he obtained from Bonds.

I’ve spoken to dozens of athletes who say their body is their livelihood. They won’t put anything in or on their body that they don’t know about. Mistakes happen. I understand that. You can talk to Pistons guard Lindsey Hunter about that.

Sheffield trusted a group of people he should not have.

Bonds has been linked to or suspected of steroid use for a number of years. I would not trust him to give me a burger from McDonalds. You have to be careful around him. You just never know.

Sheffield let his guard down.

However, the book is a good read. It allows you to get to know Sheffield in a different way.

He has had problems and successes. He loves his wife. He questions the way he has handled past family situations and you can tell there has been a lot of turmoil, doubt and vulnerability in his life. It all unfolds in the book.

We sometimes view athletes as perfect beings. Sheffield shows he is not perfect.

He is human just like the rest of us.

Yet he talked about one more chapter that should bring a smile to Tigers fans.

“World Championship this year,” he said with a smile.