Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Shut Up and Play: Sheffield’s Attempt to Clarify GQ Interview Falls Flat

A year or so ago, I heard some jabber on sports radio about current major league baseball players who will or won’t make the Hall of Fame. When the name of Gary Sheffield came up, the consensus seemed to be that he wouldn’t. In fact, as I recall, there was little debate on the matter.

But hold on a second. As I write this, Sheffield has 468 career home runs, 1,533 career RBIs, and a career batting average of .297. He’s 38 years old at the moment, and as the Detroit Tigers’ designated hitter, there’s no reason to think he might not have a few good years left at the plate. He’s on pace this year, for example, to hit 39 homers and drive in 96 runs. He’s already got more career RBIs, and hits, than Mickey Mantle, whose .298 career average and 536 lifetime home runs are also certainly within Sheffield’s reach if he stays healthy and continues to perform.

Sheffield has driven in more than 100 runs in eight different seasons (Mantle, 4). Four times he’s driven in 120 runs or more (Mantle, 2). He’s been selected to nine All-Star teams, and has been in the top 10 in MVP voting six times. And, he won a championship ring with the 1997 Florida Marlins. So, based on the numbers, Sheffield is going to make it awfully tough for HOF voters to ignore him when his time comes around.

Alas, Sheffield probably did himself a negative PR turn in a recent GQ interview, in which he claimed that the rise in Latin American ballplayers in the major leagues is because they can be controlled more easily than African Americans. Then Sheffield tried to clarify his remarks.

"When you see a black face on TV and they start talking, English comes out,” Sheffield said in defense of his GQ statements. “That's what I said. I ain't taking a shot at them or nothing. I'm just telling it like it is."

Sheffield had told GQ: "Where I'm from, you can't control us."

Tuesday, Sheffield also said, "They [Latins] have more to lose than we do. You can send them back across the island. You can't send us back. We're already here."

Studies show that only approximately 8 percent of major league baseball players are black, while nearly 30 percent are Latino. The decline in blacks has been precipitous since the late 1970s.

Sheffield might make the Hall of Fame, but he’ll probably never make membership in Mensa.

What, Gary, ya mean if there was a black kid hitting the crap out of a baseball in, say, inner-city Chicago, that he would be snubbed by MLB? Are ya saying that talented black players have been IGNORING baseball in recent years as a form of PROTEST?? Against control??

Right, Gary: Black guys are giving up $50 million in lifetime earnings 'cause they don't want to be "controlled."

Last I checked, baseball—like every other major sport—is interested in athletes who can play at the highest level. Believe me, if there are black players better than the Latins, I guarantee that the team will choose the black players. If 25 black guys showed up on the doorstep of the lowly Kansas City Royals, and they were all better than the team's current roster, it would be "So long current roster, hello black guys!"

Oh, I get it, Gary: Baseball used to be 25% black, and now it's only 8% black, but that's because black guys have found more money and personal fulfillment—and freedom of expression!—working as accountants and schoolteachers and insurance salesmen. Doh!

I don't know why there are more Latins than blacks in MLB. Is it just possible that they happen to be the best players around? Oh no... wait... it's because MLB teams want to have more control over the guys they turn into millionaires, rather than playing more talented guys that they can't control. So, apparently, there are several baseball teams’ worth of black guys sitting around somewhere, who COULD play MLB but aren't because either they don't wanna play for the "massa" owners, or because the owners are intentionally snubbing them, even if it would mean that their teams would improve.

You know, there are issues, and there are issues. This ain’t one of ‘em. But if it is, I wish someone would bother to tackle it with some honesty and intelligence.

Go stand in the corner, Gary. And after you’ve thought about this a little more, we’ll let you come back and continue your attempt to build that Hall of Fame resume.

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