Becoming a Major League ballplayer for Dwight and me, that was the dream.
Dwight is Dwight Gooden. Most people know him for winning the Cy Young Award. To me, though, he’s family, an uncle, but at four years older, really a brother. I can still remember those games of catch with Dwight in the backyard: him rearing back, and me somehow getting my mitt up to stop one of his fireballs. Often the two of us would sit with Grandpa (Dwight’s dad), and he’d tell us how hard it would be to make our dream come true, how just playing our best wouldn’t be enough.
He’d talk about “inside power.”
At the time, I didn’t really understand what Grandpa was driving at. But I do now. After twenty years in the “bigs” and seven Major League teams, I understand. When I landed with my first team, Milwaukee, I thought being a ballplayer was about hitting home runs. I’ve always been good at that. It took me longer to learn that “the game” as it’s played at the Major League level with millions on the line and the cameras always turned in your direction asks far more of you.
If you’re a go-along guy, it can be great. I’ve just found that too often “going along” gets in the way of being a man. I love this game. Love the feel of the bat in my hand, the grass under my feet, the shouts of encouragement as I step into the box. I draw strength from the fans and play my heart out for them.
I just wish those who control the game had more respect for the guys doing the playing.
What I want to do in this book is show you what it’s been like taking this strange, wonderful, sometimes immensely frustrating life journey. “Malcontent” . . . “greedy” . . . “selfish” I’ve had plenty of adjectives lobbed my way, and believe me, they’ve stung. There are a lot of stories to tell from a life lived on and off the field: some sweet, others horrific. Everything from soaking up Little League glory to nearly being shot to death, from learning the startling truth of how I came by my last name to playing with and for characters like A-Rod, Jeter, Lasorda, Leyland, and Torre. And, yeah, I’ll finally set the record straight about a guy named Steinbrenner and a guy named Bonds.
It’s a story Grandpa would want me to tell. It’s a story I need to tell.
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GARY SHEFFIELD began his Major League career in l988, and in 2007 he will join his seventh Major League franchise, the Detroit Tigers, where he’ll take aim at the 500 home-run mark. He is the only player in Major League history to make the All Star team with five clubs. He makes his home in Florida with Grammy-nominated singer and actress DeLeon Richards and is the father of six children.
DAVID RITZ is the critically acclaimed author of the bestselling biography Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye and coauthor of the autobiographies of Smokey Robinson, Etta James, B. B. King, and Ray Charles.
You can be shunned and scorned,” my grandfather said. “You can be abused and confused, but if you have Inside Power, you have everything. Inside Power is what gets you through.”
I thought Grandpa was talking about blasting the ball when they pitch it close to your body.
Turns out that was only part of it.
This business of Inside Power is the lesson of a lifetime. Fact is, it’s the story of my life: how I learned it, lost it, and finally found it again; how Inside Power changed everything about me.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to preach or give some lecture.
I’m just going to tell you a story about how a boy became
It starts in the backyard when I’m four.
The summer heat was brutal. Must have been a hundred degrees, but I didn’t care. I was with my uncle. My uncle was my sunshine. My uncle was letting me into his world and, man, my heart was singing.
Two little boys running around the backyards and sandlots of Tampa, Florida, 1972.
Dwight Gooden, age eight.
Gary Sheffield, age four.
Dwight was my uncle, Mama’s younger brother, fourteen years younger than Mama—and to me, an only child, a big brother.
I always wanted to be in Dwight’s world. He was strong and athletic. He was tall for his age and the apple of his parents’—my grandparents’—eye.
Little boys look up to big boys. Little boys want to be big boys. Little boys dream big dreams, and I was no different. I wanted to run with the older guys. Wanted to do whatever they did. Wanted to get out there and show ’em I was big enough to play.
Dwight was finally letting me in. I’d been begging, he’d been resisting, and now he finally agreed.
We were going to play ball.
I’d been watching him as long as I was alive. I’d been waiting for this moment. I had the blind courage of a kid who didn’t know any better. Man, I was ready.
When you’re a kid, nothing matters but playing—not the stifling heat, not your scrawny body, not your raggedy little shorts. You just want to get out there and mix it up.
The dirt lot was scruffy, the ground uneven, weeds and rocks popping up everywhere.
“You stand right here,” said Dwight before walking off forty-six feet, the exact distance between the mound and home plate in Little League. “You gotta catch me,” he added. “I gotta practice.”
Catch him? Sure, I’ll catch him! I’ve been dying to catch him! I’ve been going to his Little League games and watching him pitch.
Now I’m in on the action!
We didn’t have any gloves, just a white rubber ball. I crouched down in my best imitation of a catcher. Dwight wound up and let it rip. The thing came at me with such blinding speed, I jumped out of the way. It blew right past me.
Dwight laughed. “You ain’t ready,” he said.
“I am too. Throw it again.”
I stood there, determined to hold my ground. The second pitch came in like lightning. This time I reached out to catch it, but the ball struck with such force I felt my arm rip from my shoulder. I’d never felt such pain.
“Wanna quit?” asked Dwight.
I wanted to say yes, but instead I said, “Throw me grounders,” figuring grounders would be easier.
The first grounder, though, hit a rock, flew up and smacked me hard in the face. That was it. I started crying and ran inside.
“Come on,” Dwight protested. “Let’s keep playing.”
“Mama! Grandpa!” I cried. “I don’t wanna play with Dwight. It hurts to play with Dwight!”
“It’s all right,” said my mother, looking to console me and cuddle me in her arms.
“It ain’t all right,” said my grandfather, Dwight’s dad. “The boy needs to learn. Get back out there, Bug”—Grandpa called me Bug because of my saucer-sized eyes—“and learn to catch the ball. Dwight needs to practice. Just get past the pain.”
“I don’t want no pain,” I protested.
“Get out there!” Grandpa insisted. “Dwight’s calling you.”
For years Dwight kept calling me. And for years I answered the call. During those first years, I didn’t want to. Didn’t want to catch his fireballs. Didn’t want to get popped in the eye when a grounder hit a rock and flew in my face. Didn’t want to run down the ball when Dwight blasted it a mile over my head.
“Hey, Bug,” Dwight kept pushing, “you wanna quit?”
He knew I did. But he also knew that Grandpa wouldn’t
“You can’t take it anymore, can you?” he taunted.
“Yeah, I can,” I said.
“Well, take this!”
He let loose another pitch that flew at me like a red-hot comet. If I didn’t catch it, he’d laugh; if I did catch it, my hand would burn like fire.
I tried to catch it, but the ball smashed into my middle finger, bending it back till I was crying in agony.
Ran back inside. Ran back to Mama.
But Mama gave in to Grandpa who said, “Bug, get back out there.”
“But I can’t move my finger,” I protested.
“Soak it,” said Grandpa. “It’ll come round.”
And eventually so did I.
I stuck it out with Dwight. I sucked it up. From the very first moment I started throwing and catching a ball, I felt pressure. I had to hang in with my uncle. But it was also always something I wanted to do. Pain was part of it, but it was fun. It was all mixed together.
Pressure, pain, and fun.
How does a little kid deal with all that?
He doesn’t think about it; he just keeps playing; he just wants to get better; just wants to compete with the big boys.
Day after day, spring after spring, summer after summer, fall after fall, I learned to catch my uncle’s fireballs. My hands were always sore, my face bruised, but something in my spirit got strong. I wasn’t going to be a crybaby.
“We ain’t having no crybabies in this family, Bug,” said Grandpa. “I don’t wanna see you crying, and I don’t wanna hear you complaining.”
I learned to keep the crying on the inside; on the outside, I acted brave.
“Don’t let Dwight break you,” urged my grandfather. “Don’t let anyone break you. Remember—you got that Inside Power.”
Inside my heart, I was slowly learning to love baseball. I was getting the hang of it. I still couldn’t catch most of my uncle’s rockets, but once in a while I’d grab one and hold on to it for dear life. Nothing made this little boy happier.
. . .
Dwight was the center of our family’s attention.
“Dwight’s got what it takes,” Grandpa would tell anyone who’d listen. “I do believe the boy’s gonna be a star.”
Everyone was proud of Dwight. And I was proudest of all. Proud to be his nephew. Proud to be seen in his company.
My uncle also intimidated me. Dwight was bigger, stronger, better at everything.
In the eyes of a six-year-old, a ten-year-old is a giant. At ten, Dwight was already famous in Little League. In my family, he was the Golden Boy.
I loved my family with all my heart. My family was everything warm and wonderful in this world.
My mom, Betty Jean, and my dad, Harold, were tight. Mom’s whole life was family—her sister, her kid brother Dwight, and her parents; she was devoted to them and to me, heart and soul. Dad was a shipyard supervisor, a contractor and a construction expert. He was also a bodybuilder. No one messed with my daddy. He was my superhero.
“Your daddy ain’t even your daddy,” said Dwight, angry that I wouldn’t go back outside to play catch. My hands were still hurting from catching him a few hours ago. I’d had enough punishment for one day.
“What do you mean my dad ain’t my dad?” I asked.
“He ain’t your real dad.”
I was confused. I didn’t even know what “real dad” meant.
“This other guy’s your real dad,” said Dwight. “He’s a real thug. Ask your mom. You don’t even know who your real dad is.”
When I asked Mom, she looked at me like I’d hurt her. Then she started tearing up. She took me in her arms and said, “I love you, and Harold loves you too, Bug, but there’s another man who’s your father. He’s the man who I got pregnant by. If you want to meet him, he wants to meets you.”
I was curious, but still unsure of what was happening. The expression “pregnant by” didn’t mean a lot to me. Dwight filled in the details in a way that blew my mind. He spelled out the facts of life.
Then one day my real father showed up. He said his name was Marvin, but he never told me his last name. I just presumed it was Sheffield. He never said to call him “Daddy,” and I never did.
He gave me a small stack of money. Someone said he owned a poolroom.
“Tell him you want the bills that have a hundred written on them,” said Dwight, “not just ten.”
I didn’t want to tell the man anything. Something about him made me uneasy.
“He’s toting those guns,” I heard my dad Harold say. “I don’t want him around Bug.”
Little kids are fascinated by guns, and I was no different, but I also knew to stay away from Marvin. He’d pat me on the head, give me cash, but I never felt connected to him, n...
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