The Florida Marlins agreed to let Gary Sheffield play basketball for fun, and he agreed to keep playing third base for them.
Sheffield's love of hoops was one of the few hangups in negotiations that led to the $22.45-million, four-year contract he agreed to Wednesday. Serious discussions began two weeks ago, after Sheffield decided he wanted to stay in Miami.
At age 24, he becomes baseball's highest-paid third baseman and Florida's best-paid player. His salary will average $5,612,500 a year, the 10th-highest in baseball.
Sheffield, obtained June 24 from San Diego in the Padres' salary purge, made $3.11 million this season, 86th on the opening-day salary chart, and had been eligible for arbitration this winter. He could have become a free agent after the 1994 World Series, but instead took a deal that pays him $4,625,000 next season, $5,625,000 in 1995 and $6.1 million in each of the 1996 and 1997 seasons. Instead of a signing bonus, the Marlins will pay $1,125,000 of his 1994 salary this Nov. 1.
"The money is not the issue," he said, joined at a news conference by his parents and girlfriend. "Being somewhere where you're happy and comfortable is the main issue with me. I enjoy myself here in the state of Florida and playing in front of my family every night. That's what my decision came from."
Sheffield grew up in Tampa, where he still lives and plays pickup basketball games with such All-Star friends as Fred McGriff, Derek Bell and his uncle, Dwight Gooden. The Marlins sought a clause in the guarantee language that would have prohibited Sheffield from playing basketball because of the injury risk, but he balked.
"We finally agreed to say that he can play in pickup games, like 2-on-2 or 3-on-3, but not in an organized league," agent Jim Neader said with a chuckle.