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As usual, Sheffield out of right field

Gary Sheffield speaks and you want to hand him a hammer. His opinions almost always exist among the dust particles on a brick’s face, never really pounding themselves deep enough into the center to discover an issue’s real worth. He’s good for a sound bite or two of astounding claims but not for discovering any lasting solutions that might generate change. He always has been more surface than substance this way, always attempting to dissect compelling predicaments with a plastic knife of twisted logic.

Here is his latest failed attempt at analyzing a real dilemma with another short-sided outlook:

In an interview for the June issue of GQ Magazine, the Detroit Tigers designated hitter says he believes Latin players are easier to control than blacks, his explanation for why studies from 2005 showed just 8.5 percent of major leaguers were black, the lowest number since the mid-1980s. Those same studies showed 28.7 percent of players being Latino.

“I called it years ago,” Sheffield told the magazine. “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. Where I’m from, you can’t control us. You might get a guy to do it that way for a while because he wants to benefit, but in the end he is going to go back to being who he is … So if you’re equally good as this Latin player, guess who’s going to get sent home? I know a lot of players that are home now can outplay a lot of these guys.”

Be sure not to choke on all that dust.

It’s true fewer blacks are part of major league rosters, ironic when you consider all the celebrations this season honoring the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic debut.

But the list of reasons why is far more extensive than some inept judgment about one race being easier to control than another, preposterous given the self-centered and win-at-all-costs traits of most owners and general managers and managers. Sheffield has been saying controversial things his entire career. The guy often comes off as a nut. But he has never been sent home because he has always produced. He has never been exiled because he has always hit.

“Ultimately, one has to look beyond simple statements from someone who is obviously uninformed on a matter such as this,” said Harry Edwards, widely recognized as the nation’s leading authority on race and sports and a consultant to NBA, NFL and major league baseball teams. “Such a straightforward (opinion) or answer is absolutely wrong and asked of someone with limited information and who is armed with only locker-room opinions. It’s unfortunate and doesn’t do anything to advance and further understand the issue.

“I’m quite certain you’ll find guys more manageable than others on every team. But it’s an individual thing. At the end of the day, you can’t say one race is collectively more easily managed.”

Edwards has studied the declining number of blacks in baseball for years, and his conclusions are (what a shock) far more detailed and reasonable than anything Sheffield told GQ.

There is the issue of numerous baseball academies in places such as the Dominican Republic, where men are more or less conditioned to play only baseball from a very young age. There is the issue of deteriorating urban centers in America, where large numbers of blacks live and deal with failing economic and political and educational infrastructures, where violence is so profound, parents are often reluctant to send their children to play on fields that are not adequately maintained or protected.

There is always the issue, as 51s manager Lorenzo Bundy sees, of those other two sports.

“We have not been the primary, glamour choices that football and basketball are for young black athletes in a very long time,” Bundy said. “Baseball is making strides in the inner cities and is doing a better job promoting itself through new programs aimed at young African-Americans, but those kids also realize you can get to the top levels in football and basketball much quicker than toiling through the minor leagues of baseball. I’m sure they hear all the stories about bus rides from Jacksonville to Huntsville to wherever. Rookie League games in the Gulf Coast in 98 degrees with humidity just don’t seem as glamorous as the NFL and NBA.”

These are real reasons for those declining numbers, ones with a lot of meat to them.

The kind Gary Sheffield’s plastic knife could never cut through.

Ed Graney’s column is published Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. He can be reached at 383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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