Friday, April 13, 2007

Don't Worry -- Sheffield Is No Nate Colbert

New slugger comes to town -- the big righthanded bat that the Tigers feel they're missing. He has an impressive homerun ratio on his resume, and once smashed five homers and drove in 13 runs during a doubleheader.

He gets off to a terrible start with the Tigers, though, and is struggling to bat his weight -- heck, even half his weight. People within the organization start to look at each other cross-eyed, for this isn't the player that they thought they had acquired. By June he's gone -- cut and released -- with an unsightly .147 BA and four measly humeruns in 156 AB.

That's the cautionary tale of Nate Colbert, and in 1975 his was but one of many sad stories for the Tigers, who finished the season 57-102 and in last place for the first time in over 20 years.

The Tigers could maybe have seen Colbert's nosedive coming, though. In his last year with the Padres in '74, Colbert batted a then career-low .207 and his homerun total was but 14 in 368 AB. But maybe it would be asking too much to say that anyone could have predicted such a drastic tumble in 1975. By June of '76, Nate Colbert was finished at age 30.

Gary Sheffield is no Nate Colbert, not even close. Sheffield is a Hall of Famer who will finish his career with over 500 HR. But he's nonetheless in a Colbert-like funk to begin his maiden season with the Tigers. His BA is barely scraping .100, and he seems perhaps too eager to make a good first impression on his new teammates.

"I've always had to make an adjustment when I come to a new team," Shef said the other day in reference to his attempt to become a full-time DH for the first time in his career. He then went on to say that he has no doubts that he'll work his way out of this early-season malaise. And I don't think there are many who will argue that.

In watching Sheffield's at-bats, it's obvious that he approaches the batter's box with a ferocity that I don't really remember seeing in Detroit by a Tiger. Maybe Cecil Fielder, but not really. In fact, Sheffield might be the best combination of free-swinger and demolisher that the Tigers have ever employed.

But it's not happening for Shef right now. It was said by FSN's Rod Allen last night after Sheffield blooped a single into left field in Toronto that something like that could be all it takes to get a hitter of Sheffield's status untracked. Maybe, but I think the untracking is more likely to come from a brutal onslaught of homeruns and extra base hits -- the slew of which is going to make opposing teams shudder.

It'll happen. There's nothing on Sheffield's resume to suggest that it won't. Just a matter of time.

No, Gary Sheffield is no Nate Colbert. Or maybe that should be written vice-versa. Regardless, the Tigers won't be cutting their big new bat in mid-June. By that time, Sheffield should be at least a month into terrorizing opposing pitching again.

Besides, the Tigers are 6-3 without their big new bat heating up. So who needs him now, anyway?


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