Sheffield expects big year from A-Rod

Updated: March 5, 2007, 2:33 PM ET
Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. -- Gary Sheffield brought his strong opinions back to Legends Field on Monday, predicting a big year for former New York Yankees teammate Alex Rodriguez and saying he never thinks about making the Hall of Fame.

Gary Sheffield

"Alex is going to have the best year he's had since he's been here," Sheffield said before the Tigers played the Yankees. "I think what he did, he stood up, that's going to get him over the top because he expressed how he really felt. He was honest and that goes a long way. I guarantee when he went home it was a peaceful night because he really wanted to say these things a long time ago."

Rodriguez said during the first week of spring training that he felt a need to conform during his first three seasons in New York.

Sheffield, dealt to the AL champion Tigers during the offseason, talks regularly with A-Rod.

"Sheff has always been good for me," Rodriguez said. "A good friend. A good teammate. He's like a big brother to a lot of us. We're going to miss him."

Sheffield thinks the Yankees and A-Rod will benefit from the change in demeanor.

"Alex, he's just a passive guy in that area; he doesn't want to touch on those subjects that can be borderline controversial," Sheffield said. "He did it, so I think he's going to benefit from it. He's got to be his own man. In essence, speaking out I think was the best thing for him and the organization. The organization is going to benefit big time."

Sheffield needs 45 homers to reach 500, which would help his Hall of Fame chances. It's a situation he doesn't think about.

"Not important at all," Sheffield said. "The best wasn't allowed to play this game for a lot of years. So all the best players ain't in the Hall of Fame. That's what I'm saying. Not all of them. If it wasn't for that, a lot of them wouldn't be in. I don't concern myself with it, really at all. I don't think about it. It's nothing that I shoot for. It's nothing that I care about. It's as simple as that."

Sheffield is excited to be with Tigers manager Jim Leyland again. The pair were together when Florida won the 1997 World Series.

"I'm just trying to do what I did before," Sheffield said, "going back out and winning the World Series. That's what I'm looking forward to."

Sheffield has no regrets about his time with the Yankees.

"I had a great experience," he said. "You can't erase the great years I had. I feel proud of what I did here. I did what I was supposed to do on the baseball field. That's what they asked me to do, perform, and that's what I did."

Sheffield felt he had to earn the respect of Yankees manager Joe Torre, which he eventually did.

"I had to build a relationship," Sheffield said. "Nothing was given to me. I had to earn everything I got from relationships to respect in the lineup, to being a go-to guy, being a guy they could count on. I had to earn all that. Nobody gave me that. I had to earn the fans. That was part of it. When I look back, that's the thing that stands out the most."

He is hopeful that fans at Yankee Stadium will be supportive when the Tigers visit Aug. 16-19.

"I love them," Sheffield said. "I know a lot of New Yorkers love me. Hopefully that never changes."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press