Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

$61,000,000 Sheffield Vaults Past Belle as Richest Player in Baseball

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

$61,000,000 Sheffield Vaults Past Belle as Richest Player in Baseball

Article excerpt

Gary Sheffield sat at the table wearing a new suit, diamonds in his bracelet and a pen in his hand, looking like a million bucks as he signed a contract worth much more.

Sheffield and the Florida Marlins finalized the largest contract package in baseball history Wednesday, a $61 million, six-year extension.

"A deal like this, guys haven't gotten it before," the All-Star right fielder said. "I can't believe it. I'm spaced out, basically." The contract runs from 1998 through 2003. In total money, it surpasses the $55 million, five-year contract Albert Belle signed with the Chicago White Sox. San Francisco's Barry Bonds is third at $43.75 million over six years. The agreement had been in the works for weeks. Sheffield's current $24.45 million, four-year contract expires after this season, but he decided to remain with a team that is expected to contend for the pennant this season for the first time. The contract continues an unprecedented spending spree by the Marlins, who committed nearly $100 million during the offseason to hire manager Jim Leyland and sign six free agents. "Based on what we did in the winter, we didn't want to lose our franchise player," general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "The dollars are large, but if we wanted to keep him, those were the dollars we were going to have to pay." Leyland said: "Dave has put his neck out there. I give him a lot of credit." When Leyland managed the Pittsburgh Pirates, he lost sluggers Bonds and Bobby Bonilla to free agency. "Other than Gary and his family, I'm probably the happiest guy in south Florida," Leyland said. Sheffield, 28, had his best season in 1996, hitting .314 with 42 homers and 120 runs batted in. At a news conference to announce the contract, he and Dombrowski shook hands and shared smiles. The scene would have been unimaginable last August, when Sheffield was angry about trade speculation and called Dombrowski a liar. Both men agreed that Sheffield has matured in recent months. The Marlins' slugger credits his newfound faith in God. "Since I've gone in that direction, I've been a lot more positive person," he said. "I don't think the deal would have gotten done if I was the Gary of old. …

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