Sheffield criticizes baseball for not recruiting more black players

Updated: June 6, 2007, 2:23 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Detroit Tigers outfielder Gary Sheffield insists he meant "nothing derogatory" toward Latin players when he said recently that Major League Baseball found it easier to "control them" than black players.

However, teammate Carlos Guillen said he was happy Sheffield said what he said.

"I'm happy he said it," Guillen told The Detroit Free Press on Tuesday. "I'm glad somebody spoke up."

Sheffield said he was surprised his comments, which appear in the current issue of GQ magazine, created such a stir. The outspoken slugger said he merely answered a question about why there were so many Latin players in baseball as opposed to blacks.

"I said this a long time ago, this is a baseball issue. If they want to change it, they can change it," Sheffield said before Detroit's game Tuesday night at Texas.

"When you see a black face on TV and they start talking, English comes out. That's what I said. I ain't taking a shot at them or nothing. I'm just telling it like it is," he said.

Guillen told The Free Press that Sheffield's words in the GQ article rang true with his own experience as a young Latin player trying to break into the big leagues.

"In my first year, in rookie league, I hurt my elbow and I played DH," he told the newspaper. "In my first at-bat, I hit a double, and I missed first base. I was out, and they screamed at me."

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"I didn't know what to say. If I had said anything, they would have sent me home. I was afraid to talk.

"That happens to every Latin player. They are afraid to talk."

Last season, only 8.4 percent of Major League Baseball players were black, the lowest level in at least two decades, according to an annual report by the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports. The report showed that 29.4 percent of players last season were Latino.

Sheffield's comments Tuesday were similar to those he made to the magazine, when he expressed his long-held belief.

"What I called is that you're going to see more black faces, but there ain't no English going to be coming out. ... [It's about] being able to tell [Latin players] what to do -- being able to control them," he told the magazine. "Where I'm from, you can't control us."

In expanding on his comment about control, Sheffield said Tuesday, "They have more to lose than we do. You can send them back across the island. You can't send us back. We're already here.

"So there are a lot of factors involved you look at. I'm not saying you can tell them what to do and it'll be 'yes sir' and 'no sir.' I'm just saying from a grand scheme of things," he said.

Sheffield, the nephew of former major league pitcher Dwight Gooden, said the large number of Latin players "is a big accomplishment."

But Sheffield chastised baseball for doing more to recruit players from outside the United States than in the inner cities.

"The subject was players of my race and what we deal with and why they don't look in the inner cities for that same talent that they do in other places," he said. "[Latin players] have a backing, a support when they come off the island, and black players don't. As far as authority figures, we're only going to respond to people who care about us. That's what I meant by it."

While acknowledging that it's "a complex question" on how to deal with the situation, Sheffield would like for baseball to do more to find minority players in the United States.

"When you see Major League Baseball putting academies in other countries, obviously that throws up a red flag. You wonder why they ain't going up in our neighborhood," he said. "Bottom line, what I see, I talk about. ... I see it over and over. if anybody can show me I'm wrong, then show me."

Sheffield said he hasn't gotten any negative response from teammates or other players and doesn't expect any. He said he has gotten along with Latin and white players throughout his 22 seasons in pro baseball.

Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who is from Puerto Rico, told reporters to "just leave the poor guy alone" when asked for a reaction to Sheffield's comments.

Rodriguez then approached Sheffield, and the two shared a couple of laughs. Sheffield referred to "Pudge" as his friend.

Detroit manager Jim Leyland characterized Sheffield as a "total professional" who is popular with his teammates and is never a problem.

"I love Gary Sheffield. We have a great relationship. I don't agree with everything he says," Leyland said. "If you have different views on something and then you expose those views, you're going to be exposed in some controversy, that's just the way this is. I'm not going to tell my players what to say and what not to say. They're grown men."

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen didn't want to comment directly on Sheffield's remarks, but told The New York Daily News in Tuesday's editions his own theory on why there are more Latin players in the game now than African-Americans.

"I guarantee that Latin American people play more baseball than any people, because that's all we have," Guillen told the newspaper. "You have more people playing baseball in Venezuela or the Dominican than anywhere, so there are going to be more players from there."

Guillen also told the newspaper that he believes there are more Latin players in baseball than African-Americans because players from Central and South American and the Caribbean can sign as free agents while American players have to go through the draft.

"It's not that they can control us; maybe when we come to this country, we're hungry," Guillen told the newspaper. "We're trying to survive. Those guys sign for $500,000 or $1 million and they're made. We have a couple of dollars. You can sign one African-American player for the price of 30 Latin players. Look at how many Latin players have won Cy Youngs or MVP awards the last couple of years, how many Latin players have been in the All-Star Game; it's quantity and quality."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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