When the Tigers acquired Gary Sheffield from the New York Yankees a little over two years ago, the Tigers thought they were acquiring a veteran presence who would provide a power bat in the middle of the lineup for the next three seasons.
They were well on their way to getting one . . . and then the collision.
On July 21, 2007, Gary Sheffield, playing right field, collided with second baseman Placido Polanco on a shallow pop up. At the time, he was hitting .306 with 23 home runs.
Turns out, he would never be the same after that.
He sustained a shoulder injury, and for what was left of 2007, as well as all of 2008, Sheffield battled and fought to regain the powerful stroke and presence he once maintained at the plate.
2009 brought about renewed optimism. Sheffield had a chance to let the shoulder fully heal itself, and now healthy again, there was hope he could return to the Sheffield of old. But as spring training wore on, it became clear – Sheffield would likely never return to the Sheffield of old. He, simply put, had gotten too old.
At 40 years of age, his shoulder clearly didn't heal and recover like it would have had he sustained the injury 10 or 15 years ago. His body was aging, and no longer able to do the things he once was. The ball no longer jumped off his bat like it used to – and without that, Sheffield was just another aging ballplayer with a successful career that could take a walk with diminishing skills.
The Tigers still owe Sheffield a reported $14 million. Ultimately, with Sheffield hitting just .178 in spring training, and no longer able to play anywhere but as a designated or pinch hitter, the Tigers decided they were better off moving on, eating the contract, and focusing the playing time and roster spots available on more potent, younger players, like Jeff Larish.
For Sheffield, it's not yet over. It's entirely possible another team out there will pick him up and give him an opportunity that the Tigers were no longer willing to provide. With the Tigers paying Sheffield whether he's playing or not, another team can sign him for the minimum salary and see if he has anything left in the tank.
At minimum, a team could try and pick him up and feature him on a weekend series as he tries to attain the 500th homer, a home run that would likely ensure Sheffield a spot among the all-time greats in the Baseball Hall-of-Fame.
Sheffield, for all his faults and public relations gaffes, doesn't deserve to go out like that. And had that fateful collision not happened, who knows what might have happened. Maybe Sheffield would have been able to provide enough extra offense down the stretch in 2007 to get the Tigers into the playoffs once again. Maybe he would have been well over 500 homers already and starting to chase down greats like Ernie Banks and Ted Williams.
But it happened. And so, Sheffield's Tigers career comes to an end with a whimper, less than a week before Opening Day. Victim of a roster crunch. A big salary not worth saving. Time to get younger guys some at-bats. So it goes.
So long, Sheff.