So Gary Sheffield is claiming that the are Yankees a racist organization. Honestly nothing could make me happier than finding out that Torre and Cashman watch "Birth of a Nation" together every Tuesday night, not because I condone such behavior, but rather because I gain happiness from any Yankee embarrassment. Sheffield adamantly feels that while he was a Yankee, African-American ballplayers were treated disparately from white players (Not counting Jeter who is "not all the way black"). Now these are some loaded accusations so I hope Sheffield would have some solid proof to back up his claims, but Sheffield clearly lacks a smoking gun or any type of evidence at all. He tries to cite the treatment of the organization- Torre and Cashman- toward himself, Kenny Lofton, and Tony Womack as examples its racist paradigm, but as you will see below these charges hold less water than New a Orleans leeve. Let's go through each:
Gary Sheffield v. Vlad Guerrero- Sheffield's main gripe is that rather signing him, Cashman and Torre wanted to ink Vlad Guerrero prior to the 2004 season. It's as if he is completely discounting Vlad as a player. Frankly, whether or not to sign Sheffield or Vlad at that point is a complete coin flip. Vlad was coming off a injury riddled season and there were concerns about his back, but he was eight years younger than Sheffield, had strung together five straight Hall of Fame caliber seasons prior to 2003, and those very same injury concerns helped to drive down his market value- making him one of the biggest free agent bargains in the history of the game. So at the time, it was probably a better idea to sign Guerrero over Sheffield, but lets see how it actually turned out. Ok, after putting on my Hindsight 20/20 tm contact lenses, the Yankees would have been better off signing Vlad instead of Sheffield. You can compare their stats yourself (Guerrero and Sheffield), but to sum it up in 2004 and 2005 Guerrero OPS+'d 154 and 156 respectively, while in that same span Sheffield had an OPS+ of 143 and 132. Both players were productive, but Guerrero was clearly better, and let's not forget the anecdotal evidence that Guerrero won the MVP in 2004. Also, 2006 was a lost season for Sheffield as he played in only 39 games, while Vlad was his usual impaling self, throwing up a stat line of .329/.382./.552. This year Sheffield having a productive season...for the Tigers as Guerrero continues to rake for the Angels. So Gary, do you really think that Cashman and Torre were wrong in preferring Vlad??
Kenny Lofton- According to this Ken Davidoff article, Sheffield actually convinced Steinbrenner to sign the aging speedster in 2004. The thought at the time of the signing was that Lofton would take split time with Bernie Williams, who had begun his precipitous career decline in 2003. Torre, when awake, is extremely loyal and according to the Davidoff piece Torre did not like the idea of playing Lofton over Bernie. Lofton was coming off a decent year for Kenny Lofton (.296/.352/.450), but at age 34 he clearly was not the long term solution for the squad. Futhermore, Lofton and Williams posted almost identical OPS+ (109 to 110), so you really can't fault Torre for playing Bernie over Lofton, unless maybe late in games where Lofton was well suited as a defensive replacement for Bernie. So, with all things being fairly equal, Torre choose to play a player that he had coached for ten very productive years over a player that he had no attachment to and who was not an upgrade. I'm still waiting for some evidence of racism.
Tony Womack- Citing that Davidoff article, both Sheffield and Womack think that Tony got that shaft in his lone season with the Yankees. With apologies to Christian Guzman, in 2005 Womack was probably the worst position player in baseball. If you don't believe me, please check out his stat line. In 329 abs Womack posted a anorexic .249/.276/.280, which netted him a quark-sized OPS+ of 47!!!. Womack should be ecstatic that he got a paycheck that year rather than be all salted up for losing his 2b job to Robinson Cano. Also, after Cano came up Torre still found playing time for Womack by moving him to the outfield where he was probably the least productive player in the history of baseball. Tony, the only people that got a raw deal during your tender in the Bronx were the fans who were subjected to watching you swing a wet noodle and misplay fly balls every day.
OK, though it looks like I'm completely trying to dismiss Sheffield's cries of racism in the Bronx, while I obviously can speak on what was actually happening in the locker room, Sheffield is going to need to do a lot better than trotting out Vlad Guerrero, Kenny Lofton, and Tony Womack as examples if we wishes to get a direct verdict in the court of public opinion. Furthermore, wanton claims of racism denigrates instances of actual racism, (see the parable "The Boy Who Cried Wolf") so Sheffield might actually be doing more the hurt the cause than help it.
(Question to Tremont- Before or after being traded, did Sheffield ever state that he wanted to stay with the Yankees?)