"Leave the poor guy alone," Tigers teammate Ivan Rodriguez said to a group of reporters before Tuesday's game against the Rangers. "Anything he says is wrong."
Correction. Anything he says is news.
Sheffield received some criticism earlier this week after he told GQ Magazine that there are more Latin players in the Major Leagues than African-Americans, because Latin players are easier to control. He clarified the remarks on Tuesday, claiming the subject of the interview was the complex issue involving the decreasing number of African-Americans in the Major Leagues, not anything anti-Latino.
The outfielder said he was surprised anybody was offended by his words.
"It was nothing derogatory toward Latins or anybody else," Sheffield said. "They asked me a question about why there are so many Latin players opposed to blacks. And I said like I said before. I said this a long time ago. 'This is a baseball issue. If they want to change it, they can change it.' Like I said before, 'When you see a black face on TV and they start talking, no English comes out.' That's what I said. That ain't taking a shot at them or nothing. That's just telling it like it is.
"Every Latin player, you can't control," he continued. "I'm just saying from a whole grand scheme of things, they have more to lose than we do. You can send them back across the island. You can't send us back, we already here so there's a lot of factors involved that you look at. I'm not talking about them as, you know, you can tell them what to do and they are going to be 'Yes sir, No sir.' Nah, that ain't how it works. I'm just saying from a grand scheme of things.
Sheffield's biggest problem is his belief that more can be done to reach the African-American communities to promote the sport of baseball. He acknowledges the work of various inner-city outreach programs, including Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities (RBI) and MLB's Urban Youth Academy in Compton, California, but says it's not enough.
MLB has addressed the issue and is considering creating other Urban Academies in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and the Miami area. A distinguished panel of experts discussed the issue before the Civil Rights Game in March and concluded a multi-tier approach using present-day players along with an unprecedented partnership between the league and the players could be part of the solution.
"A lot of people are trying to do things about it. But is it working? No," Sheffield said. "Obviously, when you come from a black community and you see Major League Baseball putting academies in other countries, obviously, that throws up a red flag to you. You wonder why they ain't going up in our neighborhood."
What irks Sheffield is that he is confident there are talented African-American players waiting to be discovered. If they will be discovered is his biggest worry. He's a big proponent of supporting other African-American Major Leaguers like Twins outfielder Torii Hunter and Indians pitcher C.C. Sabathia who also are reaching out to the community.
"You can't find another Dwight Gooden? You can't find another Gary Sheffield?" Sheffield said. "We are right here. We are still here. And that's all I am saying.
"If you ain't been in that environment, you don't know what it's like to get out of it and that' the bottom line. They found [Tampa Bay's] Elijah Dukes. Here's a kid, like I said before, 'If you don't show the love as an organization toward a kid and show that you care about him as a person, he's not going to listen to the authority figure because he ain't going to be disrespected,' and I know exactly where he is coming.
"You ain't going to disrespect me if you don't show me no love. You don't support me and have my back, I'm not going to listen to nothing you say, not one word you say. I don't care if it is the owner, the GM, or the manager. But if you showing that you care about me, and you care about my feelings, you care about me as a human being, then, if you come and curse me out to my face, I will sit there and take it like a man."
Sheffield asked his critics to listen to the "message" and stop listening to the "messenger." He is very aware of his image as a controversial figure, but that's not going to stop him from expressing his views.
"It's a matter of finding [African-American prospects] and when we get here, it's how you are treated and what you have to deal with," he said. "We deal with a little more and that's just the way it is. So if anybody says any different, then you are blind to the fact."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland, the outfielder's manager with the Marlins a decade ago, said Sheffield is not a distraction and "has never one time been a problem for me, never." To Leyland, Sheffield is who he is and he's not going to change -- nor does the manager want him to change.
"I don't agree with everything he says," Leyland said. "I'm sure he doesn't agree with everything I say, but that doesn't mean you don't respect him or have a great relationship because we do. That's what makes the world go around, opinions."
Getting along with teammates has never been a problem and he doesn't expect the latest GQ article to create any friction in the clubhouse, particularly with the Latin players, Sheffield says. He calls the entire episode "hilarious" but was not surprised his latest message created controversy.
"Whatever I say, I know people are going to look at it their own way opposed to what I actually meant or really said," he said. "Whatever people want to take away from it, take away from it and if anybody got a problem with it, tell them to come see me."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.