Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Tigers Get It Wrong By Giving Sheffield No. 3

It took about nine days for Gary Sheffield's presence to resonate with the Tigers.

Maybe it was a birthday gift (Sheffield turned 38 Saturday). Maybe someone on the Tigers just took leave of their senses. Maybe the spirit of Pat Swilling took over Sheffield's life form.

Sheffield, the Tigers' new DH/outfielder, acquired in a trade with the Yankees on November 10th, will wear uniform no. 3 next season, and the two seasons beyond that, presumably. Unless whatever controlled substances they're consuming at Comerica Park wear off before then.

That's right -- Sheffield, a Tiger for just nine days when the announcement was made, will wear the no. 3 that was done oh-so-proud by shortstop Alan Trammell for 20 seasons.

The real no. 3.

Imagine that. Giving away no. 3 so easily -- to a player whose current age is the same as Trammell's when he played his last game for the Tigers. I wonder what was going thru Sheffield's head when he even inquired about the number. Just like I wondered what Swilling was smoking when he asked about no. 56 when he was acquired by the Lions in 1993. Then the Lions gave it to him, and thus proved that they were even more ripped than their new linebacker.

The Lions' 56, of course, was the Hall of Fame linebacker Joe Schmidt. And the no. 56 jersey was rightly kept out of circulation, forever put away, never to be disturbed again, for no one could ever wear no. 56 with as much aplomb as Joe Schmidt.

Or so I thought. The Lions traded for Swilling during the '93 draft, and it wasn't long before he asked about 56 -- his number as a New Orleans Saint. Even Joe Montana, when he was traded to Kansas City, didn't even bother asking about no. 16. That number was worn into the Hall of Fame by Len Dawson. So Montana settled on 19 as a Chief. But even if Swilling wasn't up to snuff on his Lions history, it was incumbent on some sane voice of reason in the Lions offices to kindly tell him that it was time to wear a new number on the NFL fields. Didn't happen, and they trotted out poor Joe Schmidt for a hastily-called press conference to present his 56 to Swilling.

I thought such nonsense was reserved for dysfunctional franchises like the Lions.

But now the Tigers, just a month removed from their first World Series appearance in 22 years, have repeated the mistake their feline football cousins made, 13 years ago and some change.

Trammell, for his part, offered the expected "it's fine with me" comments when reached after the decision was made to give his number to the new Tiger Sheffield. But what else is he going to say? Kirk Gibson, when he was brought back to join Tram's staff as a coach in 2003, recognized the new status that his no. 23 had assumed in Detroit. Gibby wore 23 as a player, but by 2003, a statue of the original 23, Willie Horton, had been erected at CoPa. So Gibson, in a class move, didn't bother to put the Tigers on the spot; he asked to wear no. 22 instead.

Yes, Trammell's number isn't yet retired by the ballclub. So, theoretically, it's up for grabs. And Sheffield isn't some bum off the street; he may someday end up enshrined in Cooperstown. No matter. A number is worn for 20 seasons, and in the manner that Alan Trammell wore no. 3 -- that number should be stored away forever. Retirement ceremony or not. What's next? Is Lou Whitaker's no. 1 in jeopardy?

Sheffield wore no. 11 with the Yankees for the last three seasons. I don't ever recall him wearing 3 in any of his other baseball stops, which makes this request doubly odd. In fact, my first thought after the Tigers made the trade was, "Will they give him no. 11? That was Sparky Anderson's number, and no one has worn it since he left after the 1995 season."

No, they didn't give Sheffield no. 11. They did worse than that. They gave him no. 3.

Shame on them.


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