Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Gary Sheffield: You had me at "hello"

Big Time Sports' recognition of the feats of Gary Sheffield has been long overdue. In honor of Sheffield, I have been working on several opening lines to this column, like "The Shef is cooking up an RBI special, and it' delicious," and "Can you smell what the Shef is cooking? It's great baseball," and my personal favorite, "Shef boy-are-dese Yankees something else, or what?" But then I realized that none of these lines make any sense, and are all predicated on the assumtion that Gary Sheffield is an actual chef, which he is not. Nevertheless, he is very good at baseball.

I, along with Yankees' fans worldwide, had assumed that the off-season acquisition that would make the biggest impact in the Bronx Bombers' lineup this year would be, quite obviously, Miguel Cairo. But even though Cairo has played well this year, it's been Gary Sheffield that has separated himself from the pack. And that "pack" is not just Sheffield's teammates, but also the rest of the American League.

Let's talk numbers. Here are Sheffield's: .297 batting average, 33 home runs, 98 RBIs, and 101 runs scored. He also leads the AL in walks with 79. But Sheffield isn't all about the numbers. He likes words too. And if he were writing this column, some of the words he would probably say would be, "don't forget about my great plays in right field this year," and "what are talking about, steroids?" And he's right (about the defense) - Sheffield has eight outfield assists this year, tied for second in the American League. That figure doesn't even begin to describe how many base runners have thought twice about taking an extra base, out of fear that they will be gunned down like the scum that they are.

But even though Sheffield does enjoy playing great defense, his favorite part of baseball is hitting, as evidenced by his infamous bat wag. The bat wag is not just a timing device, it's also a means of intimidation on Sheffield's part, similar to Dikembe Mutombo's finger wag, except that it's intimidating, and not hilarious. The bat wag tells opposing pitchers, "throw your junk my way and you'll be using a bed pan for a month,' or something similarly vindictive. You can just never tell what phrase the bat wag will come up with next.

What has made Gary Sheffield so valuable to the Yankees this year is not just the fact that he earns over $12 million, and that theYankees just could not afford to lose him somewhere, like in the airport. Okay, fine, maybe they could. But regardless, Sheffield's abstract value lies in the fact that almost every one of his hits has been a "big hits", as in Wham!'s "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go." Just last week, Sheffield hit a game-winning two-run home run to give the Yankees a much-needed win over the Cleveland Indians, and snap the team's five-game losing streak. Two weeks ago, Sheffield muscled a down-and-away slider against Minnesota Twins' closer Joe Nathan for a home run that would help the Yanks win that game as well. Three weeks ago Sheffield hit a game-tying two-run home run against the Oakland A's, a game that, you guessed it, the Yanks would go on to win. It seems like every time there are runners on base in a big situation, Gary Sheffield brings them home, as if they were his kids, and were not having a good time at summer camp.

Unfortunately, there are some negatives to Gary Sheffield. It is rumored that he may put steroids in his Frosted Flakes. I do not know if this is true or not, but I must admit that, going into this season, I was very skeptical as to how Gary Sheffield would perform in New York, especially in the middle of a steroid controversy. And not only has he won me over with his great play, but he has repeatedly denied the allegations against him, saying, "I eat Cap'n Crunch." And I have to believe him. Why? Because I want to.

One concern I do have about Sheffield is that his shoulder may fall off of his body and land in the outfield grass. You see, Sheffield suffers from bursitis in his right shoulder - which is a disease that causes your baseball bat to wag involuntarily - and has received cortisone shots to numb the pain. The pain is so bad that he even recently hinted that he may retire after this season, unless George Steinbrenner pays him enough to buy another shoulder.

Sheffield is currently struggling through an ankle sprain that has kept him out of the last few games, and the Yankees haven't been the same without him. But by the time you read this, Gary Sheffield will probably be back in right field, still in one piece, and still vying for an AL MVP Award that he may certainly win when all is said and done. Until then, try the delicious RBIs. In fact, the Shef recommends it.

(I'm sorry. I couldn't resist.)

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