Wednesday, September 12, 2007

If Being Controversial Means Playing With Pain, Then Kudos To Sheffield

They've said a lot of things about Gary Sheffield over the years. They've said a lot of it this year, too.

Too opinionated. Speaks without thinking. Can be disruptive to a team's chemistry. Has an ax to grind. A wearer out of welcomes.

But they'd better not say this: Gary Sheffield dogs it for his team.

Sheffield, the Tigers' DH/sometimes outfielder, is playing with a sore shoulder. That's the Reader's Digest version. The fuller-length version, the one that could fill up some space in a medical journal and a page or two in media notes, is that Sheffield shouldn't be playing baseball at all -- instead he should be shut down, someplace warm, and do nothing baseball-related until next spring training. He shouldn't be where he is now, in the #3 spot in the Tigers batting order, trying to give it a go after at least two cortisone shots and much shorter rests than are necessary. He shouldn't be anywhere near a baseball stadium, but yet here he is, because he knows his team needs him -- for even a Gary Sheffield at 60-70% is better than most of what MLB's personnel has to offer.

"You've got your teammates coming to you and saying, 'No matter how you feel, you're out there and it makes a difference,' " Sheffield said yesterday to the Free Press. "When your teammates say that, it makes you feel good inside. It makes you want to go out there and try harder. No matter what I go through, I still give the effort."

Isn't that what matters most, anyway -- how much effort you're giving forth as a player? How hard you're willing to work to give your team a chance to win, even if your shoulder feels like it's been stomped on by some elephants?

Not speaking out against former managers, as Sheffield did earlier this summer about Joe Torre. Not being indignant about steroid use, as he was when the Barry Bonds chase of Hank Aaron reached its crescendo. Not, basically, simply giving honest answers to every question that's put toward him, as Sheffield has done this season, and as he's done all his previous seasons.

If you don't want to know, then don't ask him. That's pretty much the rule of thumb when it comes to talking to Sheffield. Yet the media always acts so stunned when they get spin-free answers from him.

"Gary Sheffield should just shut up!," anti-Sheff baseball fans have wailed. Sure -- he'll shut up. As soon as the reporters stop asking him questions. Sheffield doesn't call press conferences. He doesn't wave reporters to his locker. I know this to be true. The only reason controversy follows him is because it's stalking him -- baiting him with questions designed to elicit the very responses that they receive.

All I know is that Sheffield is sticking it out with the Tigers during this final, frantic -- and sadly, probably unsuccessful -- push for the playoffs. He's playing with a shoulder that shouldn't be played on, for a team that he wasn't even a part of nine months ago. He's doing it, because he knows he's needed.

"He's rusty and he's sore, but he's playing for the team," manager Jim Leyland said yesterday. "There's no question about that. He's a proud guy. He knows he's not right."

But he's out there. Maybe the anti-Sheff fans are the ones who should just shut up.


Blogger Rick said...

Greg, great post. For 18 years I haven't really been a fan of Sheffield. I always thought he was a showboater, a jerk. When he's going to work for your team on a daily basis, though, he's good. I cannot wait for him to be healthy for a whole year. If the Tigers don't make the postseason this year, they should have a great shot next year. They're loaded up. Health makes a huge difference.

10:30 AM  

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