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Gary Sheffield: Caged or Disengaged?

After almost two seasons with the Tigers, we know Gary Sheffield loves to talk. Or maybe it's not so much that he loves to talk, but that he's so willing to talk. Regardless of whether or not you like what the man has to say, if you ask him a question, he's very likely going to answer it. And not with a practiced, rubber-stamp response.

So when the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo apparently asked Sheff if he's thought about clearing waivers and going to another team, Sheff did what Sheff does. He answered the question.

"I really haven't thought about it," said Sheffield. "My thing is, I'm going to do what I've done in the past. Whatever opportunity presents itself, I'm going to look at it.

"I don't prefer platooning here, but I understand because I got off to a slow start, that's part of it, but I feel I'm playing better now. I'm back to being a threat I need to be.

"I don't get pitched the same like everybody else. I get pitched very carefully. Now that I'm a lot better physically, I can handle tough pitching. I can be the player that I know I am."

If the player Sheffield "knows he is" is a .280 hitter who can pop 20-25 homers and drive in 75-80 runs, Tigers fans would love to see that guy. Sheff certainly doesn't lack in self-confidence, and maybe that's one reason (besides one or two more obvious ones) Jim Leyland continues to pencil him into the lineup. But you could certainly take issue with Sheffield's apparent lack of accountability for how disappointing his production has been this season.

Is it unfair to say that he's not acknowledging responsibility? Maybe, but when he complains about the strike zone, playing designated hitter instead of the outfield, and platooning, doesn't that sound more like excuse-making? Even if both of those factors, along with his continued recovery from off-season shoulder surgery, could be legitimate reasons for his struggles?

Unfortunately, when you're hitting around .220 and striking out or hitting into double plays when runners are waiting to be driven in, people don't really want to hear that. (And that - along with his $14 million paycheck - is why the fans are booing him, Tom Gage.)

Even worse, fans don't want to hear that you're interested in playing for another team. I can't speak for other cities, having lived in metro Detroit most of my life, but in Detroit, the people will turn on you in a blink if you don't want to be here. (Big Al's tagline at The Wayne Fontes Experience says it so well: "In Detroit, you're with us, or we hate you!") And that's where Sheffield is tip-toeing toward dangerous territory.

We already knew he was interested in playing for the Red Sox as his Yankees career was coming to an end. Sheffield admitted that last year. But if Sheffield starts to make too much noise about wanting to be with a team in a pennant race, such as his hometown Tampa Bay Rays (a connection The Daily Fungo's Mike McClary been making for a while now), the boos will only get louder. Especially considering Sheffield's lack of production is one of several reasons the Tigers find themselves out of the competition.

(To be fair once again, however, Sheffield only mentioned the Rays when Cafardo presumably asked him about the possibility.)

Something we should understand is that such talk isn't a slap against Detroit or the Tigers. It's just Sheff being Sheff. A microphone or tape recorder was placed in front of him, and he started talking. When you've played for as many teams as Sheffield has, it's just moving from one cubicle to the other. It's not personal.

But it sure as hell is for the fans. And Sheffield seems like a smart enough guy to know that.