TAMPA - In the past couple of days, Gary Sheffield has been thrust into the national conversation about baseball and steroids. He wants out of it.
So Thursday, as he departed the Yankees' minor-league complex, the club's new rightfielder did away with the no comments and laid out his cards: He has never taken steroids, and he welcomes the chance to be tested for them.
"I've been an honorable guy," the Tampa native said. "I've been outspoken about testing guys. Anybody that wants to say, "I'll take the challenge of taking the test' ... I'll be the first to stand up there and won't back down."
Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney's office e-mailed documents to several news organizations that accidentally revealed Sheffield sent a Federal Express package to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, the San Francisco-area company being investigated for providing steroids to athletes. The e-mail was supposed to have all names blacked out, but Sheffield's name escaped the editing process.
Rufus Williams, Sheffield's attorney, said he received a call Tuesday from Jeff Novitzky, the IRS special agent who has led the government's investigation. Novitzky apologized for the error, Williams said.
"Gary's name was never supposed to have been in there," Williams said. "Gary was no more than a witness to all of this. He was part of their fact-finding."
Sheffield said he disdains drugs and is disgusted with being so closely connected to the investigation.
"The bottom line is that I did purchase vitamins from that company, being out there and working out with Barry Bonds," Sheffield said. "Besides that, I don't know what else can come with that."
In other Yankees news, pitcher Jose Contreras began his second spring training separated from his wife and two daughters, who remain in Cuba.
Contreras, a former star pitcher on Cuba's national team, defected in 2002 and signed with the Yankees. Nicaragua twice has granted Contreras' family visas only to have the Cuban government deny it permission to leave.
While pitching in Cuba, Contreras occasionally would eat with Cuban leader Fidel Castro and talk with him by telephone.
"I think he's disappointed in the decision I made, and he's taking it out on my family," Contreras said through an interpreter. "It bothers me. During eight years, I gave all I had for the team and my country. If they thought about that, they would think to release my family."
Meanwhile, the Yankees announced sales of nearly 104,000 tickets worth a total of $2-million since Monday, when they acquired AL MVP Alex Rodriguez from the Rangers.
GIANTS CURB ACCESS: The entourage of trainers who surround Bonds' locker will be noticeably absent from the clubhouse this season.
That means no Greg Anderson, one of four men charged last week in a steroid distribution ring. Anderson has been a personal trainer to Bonds, who has not been implicated in the investigation and has denied using steroids.
"I do think the rules are going to be the rules," general manager Brian Sabean said Thursday, speaking of a 2-year-old directive by the commissioner's office that is expected to be more strictly enforced this year. "It will be a cooperative effort."
NO REGRETS FOR EPSTEIN: When Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein heard about Aaron Boone's knee injury, he knew the Yankees might try to replace him with Rodriguez.
But Epstein never thought seriously about reopening his pursuit.
"That ship had sailed," Epstein said.
He defended Boston's plan for building the team - aggressive pursuit of players combined with financial discipline - that led the team to go after Rodriguez, then back off.
"Fans were really disappointed in a lot of things we didn't do last offseason. Things worked out," he said. "Get used to it."
PUJOLS DEAL: NL MVP runner-up Albert Pujols and the Cardinals are expected to announce their $100-million, seven-year contract today, when the sides had been scheduled to go to arbitration in Arizona.
The sides agreed to the deal Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. The Cardinals called an 11 a.m. news conference at their spring complex in Jupiter.
DODGERS: Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne lost his arbitration case and will receive $5-million instead of $8-million.
EXPOS: Though Frank Robinson hasn't signed a contract, he will return as manager this season. "He has verbally agreed to a contract," general manager Omar Minaya said.
PIRATES: First baseman Randall Simon returned to Pittsburgh, agreeing to a one-year contract that includes a club option for 2005.
REDS: The team has assured right-hander Danny Graves that he will be its closer after a failed experiment in the rotation last season.