MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
On Monday, when the American League champion Detroit Tigers open their 2007 season, there will be a powerful new bat in the lineup. Gary Sheffield is starting his 20th Major League Baseball season with his seventh club. Last year, he was with the New York Yankees.
Sheffield is a great player with a reputation of a malcontent. In his book, "Inside Power," he says he doesn't deserve that label. But he does recount a story from when he was 12 years old. The year before, he and his teammates from the Tampa Little League went to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania and lost there to Taiwan.
He should've gone back to Williamsport the following year, but he was thrown off the team for brandishing a bat at the coach.
Mr. GARY SHEFFIELD (Major League Baseball Player): Oh, yeah. That was part of my life growing experiences. You know, I was kind of a, you know, one of those guys where, you know, I used to get upset pretty easy. You know, when I was coming up as a kid, you know, I had a lot of fire burning, you know. It's one of those days where my uncle was pitching, which is Dwight Gooden.
SIEGEL: We should explain, your uncle's only just a few years older than you are.
Mr. SHEFFIELD: Yeah, he's four years older than me. And he was pitching in a Senior League. And I chose to watch him pitch opposed to going to practice. And then when I got to the park the next day, my coach told me I wasn't pitching. And I got upset, and I grabbed the bat and went after my coach. And then the guys restrained me and everything. And then after that they kicked me off the team.
So you know, I had to watch, you know, these guys go back to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, which they lost 4-2. But I felt like if I could've been there, I could've made a difference and everything. So that's something that drove me for probably the rest of my life, you know, to be the player that I am today.
SIEGEL: How do you explain, though, to baseball fans who have followed your great career in Major League Baseball, but do we hear the story of your being a hotheaded boy of 12 who waves a bat at the coach and say, sounds like Sheffield, sounds like a guy with a short fuse, that's Gary Sheffield.
Mr. SHEFFIELD: Right.
SIEGEL: What do you say to them?
Mr. SHEFFIELD: Well, you don't have a short fuse where you can't control it and still play 18 years - well, actually 20 years and counting. So I mean, yeah, I might, you know, have a lot of fire burning in me, but I do it with control.
SIEGEL: This season or more likely next season, you break 500 homeruns?
Mr. SHEFFIELD: Right. You know, it's a lot of homeruns, so I also have opportunities to drive in 2,000 runs, you know, get 3,000 hits and I think only three players in the history of the game has done that. So I'm looking forward to it.
SIEGEL: All right. Let's talk, though, about what is clearly going to be the biggest milestone that anyone in Major League Baseball reaches this year. It's going to be the career homerun record, and Barry Bonds almost certain to break it this year. Barry Bonds, super-controversial figure right now in Major League Baseball.
Mr. SHEFFIELD: Well, absolutely. I mean, but the fact to the matter is, you know, God willing, he's going to break the record and, you know, I hope he'll do it.
SIEGEL: You trained with Bonds for a while. And one of the questions about Bonds is, it's not God willing that he's playing at this time, it's thanks to a lot of drugs that he is able to play at this time. People are saying if that were the case, should Major League Baseball honor a record that's attained by using a lot of performance-enhancing drugs, if that were true.
Mr. SHEFFIELD: Well, the thing is that you can't - if you're going to investigate Bonds, investigate the people that own the record. You know, what was in baseball back then is the same thing that's in baseball today. And it's just that now people want to expose them when their hero's records are going down. So...
SIEGEL: But the hero's record that's going down is Hank Aaron, who was your hero growing up.
Mr. SHEFFIELD: Right. Absolutely. But the thing was is that it wasn't per se the Hank Aaron record, it was more the Babe Ruth record.
SIEGEL: When you write about your training with Bonds, you say he got from BALCO - the San Francisco Bay Area laboratory - some cream that you put on your knees. He was driving you hard, I mean like a trainer it sounds, Bonds.
And you said, I thought it was like Neosporin, something you might get at the drugstore. But your knee did heal very quickly.
Mr. SHEFFIELD: Yeah, I mean, but the thing is, that I'm not educated on medicines and what-have-you. And I feel like I'm just putting cream on my knees, it's not going to be any controversy. You know, if - I don't think anybody that would've been put in my shoes would've thought that.
SIEGEL: But I read your chapter. I read your book, and I read the chapter about training with Bonds and Bonds's trainer, Anderson, who got the cream. But in the book that the reporters from San Francisco wrote, "Game Of Shadows," they say that you paid $10,000 for the stuff you were getting from Anderson. That could've been Neosporin. If you're being charged that kind of money, it's not over-the-counter salves that you're buying.
Mr. SHEFFIELD: Well, if you show me why I paid $10,000, then I'll show you a magic trick. But I never paid anybody $10,000. You know, the only thing I pay for is letting somebody train me. You know, I'll pay a trainer. You know, but you're talking about paying for some cream or something else, you know, you got the wrong guy.
SIEGEL: I want to ask you something about the nature of the game of baseball, as opposed to other sports. If you had the greatest season at bat for batting average that we could imagine, you did .400, and that would mean you'd make outs 60 percent of the time. There'd be more failures than success when you play the game.
Mr. SHEFFIELD: Right.
SIEGEL: You have to be prepared to go up to the plate, knowing it is statistically more likely than not that you make out when you go up to the plate, even being a great player.
Mr. SHEFFIELD: Well, despite knowing that you are going to fail, you got to go out there with the attitude thinking you're going to succeed. Because if you go up there with attitude that you're going to fail, you're going to fail. So it's one of those ironic things that you know you have 10 at-bats to do it in. So you know you got 10 at-bats to get you three hits. So you know, when you go 0-1, 0-2, you're not all that worried. But if you're 0-10, that's when the you start looking at things a little different. So...
SIEGEL: What you just said, what is that like? What happens mentally when you go over 0-10 and you are now in a slump, we'd say.
Mr. SHEFFIELD: Well, as a younger player, I used to - everything gets - go to closing in on you. You know, you start looking at 0-10, and before you know it, you're thinking about, okay, if I go 0 for this game, then I'm going to be 0-15.
Mr. SHEFFIELD: And so by thinking like that, you wind up going 0-15. But as an older player, I've come to realize you have to have a short memory. You know, if you had a bad game, that don't mean you are going to have a bad game the next day. You can go out and have a bad game today, and go out and hit two homeruns with four hits. And that'll erase that bad game.
So, I just look at it as whatever I do on a negative side of the game, I'll go and try to turn it around to a positive the next day to make up for it.
SIEGEL: When you say that you have short, you've got a short memory, on the other hand, you can recount how the Little League team came back from 4-1 to 4-2 against Taiwan when you were 11 years old...
Mr. SHEFFIELD: Right.
SIEGEL: ...and you almost made it back but lost it 4-3, obviously.
Mr. SHEFFIELD: Right.
SIEGEL: And baseball players have encyclopedic memories of what's happened...
Mr. SHEFFIELD: Right.
SIEGEL: ...to them in their careers.
Mr. SHEFFIELD: Well, we do. We do. But I mean (unintelligible) it's like your struggles, you got to understand the difference though. You got to be able to distinguish the two. You know, you got to be - certain moments in your life that you're going to be able to cherish forever. There's things you're going to always remember.
But there are moments in at-bats that you don't want to remember, you want to put out your mind as quick as possible because if you look at how a pitcher dominated you and you keep that in your memory bank, then other pitchers are going to dominate you. So those are the things you just have to get out your mind and move forward.
SIEGEL: Well, Gary Sheffield, thank you very much for talking with us today.
Mr. SHEFFIELD: All right. Thanks for having me.
SIEGEL: And good luck with the Tigers.
Mr. SHEFFIELD: All right, buddy.
SIEGEL: Gary Sheffield's book is called "Inside Power." One of NPR's leading Tiger fans, White House correspondent Don Gonyea, puts his trenchant questions to Sheffield at our Web site, NPR.org.