By: Will Burchfield
Gary Sheffield still replays the incident in his head.
He was coming in for a fly ball, second baseman Placido Polanco was going out, and the two collided. Sheffield fell on his right elbow and the resulting shoulder injury cost him about 20 games down the stretch of the 2007 season.
Even when he was in the lineup, the slugger wasn’t the same.
At the time of his injury, July 21, Sheffield had a .306 average and 23 home runs. The Tigers, meanwhile, were 58-37 and two games ahead in the A.L. Central. They had serious World Series aspirations.
How quickly everything changed.
Sheffield hit just .172 with two homers from that point on, while the Tigers went 30-37 and missed the playoffs altogether.
“We were in first place, we were having our way with the division, Verlander was at the top of his game. It just felt like, this is it, we’re gonna win multiple championships. When I got hurt, that’s the thing that came to my memory, man, when I got hurt everything changed.”
Sheffield was traded from the Yankees to the Tigers prior to the 2007 offseason. He welcomed a move to Detroit for the chance to reunite with Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski, with whom he had won the World Series with the Marlins in 1997.
“I had a limited no-trade clause at the time, so this was the only place I was going. (The Yankees) were trying to trade me to other places and I told them I wasn’t going there, I’ll retire before I go. When Jim Leyland and Dave Domwbrowski called me, it was a no-brainer. I knew I was coming,” Sheffield said.
From the start, he believed the Tigers were capable of big things.
“With certain teams you have that feeling. You’ve always got guys in spring training saying, ‘We’re gonna win,’ but they know they’re really not gonna win. But this team here, I really felt like we were gonna win it all. We had everything that you need to win it. We had the right skipper, we had Verlander on top of his game, we had the hitters to back it up.”
Sheffield’s injury that July threw the train off the tracks.
Asked what made Leyland such a great manager, Sheffield said, “Honesty. He’s gonna treat you like a man, he’s gonna be honest with you. If he likes something he’s gonna tell you, and if he doesn’t like something he’s gonna tell you. That’s all you can ask for as a baseball player.”
The Tigers released Sheffield prior to the 2009 season and he retired after playing one year for the Mets, with whom he hit his 500th home run.
He was at Comerica Park on Sunday to accept the 2017 Willie Horton African American Legacy Award from the Tigers.