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Sheffield reflects on Tigers years, Horton honor

MLB.com

DETROIT -- Wearing a light blue suit and a big smile, former Tiger Gary Sheffield happily accepted the Willie Horton African American Legacy Award ahead of Detroit's afternoon game Sunday at the close of the team's annual Negro Leagues Weekend.

"He's been the ambassador for Detroit for a long time," Sheffield said of Horton, a member of the Tigers' 1968 World Series championship team. "What he means to me has just made the honor that much greater. Being here the short period of time I was here and to be honored like that is special."

DETROIT -- Wearing a light blue suit and a big smile, former Tiger Gary Sheffield happily accepted the Willie Horton African American Legacy Award ahead of Detroit's afternoon game Sunday at the close of the team's annual Negro Leagues Weekend.

"He's been the ambassador for Detroit for a long time," Sheffield said of Horton, a member of the Tigers' 1968 World Series championship team. "What he means to me has just made the honor that much greater. Being here the short period of time I was here and to be honored like that is special."

In Sheffield's 22 MLB seasons, stocked with accolades such as 509 home runs, nine All-Star Games, five Silver Slugger Awards and a World Series title, he played two seasons in Detroit in his late 30s. As he neared the end of his career, he knew he would only agree to leave the Yankees if it meant playing for a contender. The Tigers gave him that chance.

Video: CLE@DET: Sheffield tosses the first pitch in Detroit

After the 2006 season, in which the Tigers lost to St. Louis in the World Series, Sheffield told the Yankees that with his limited trade clause he wanted to go to Detroit. He would retire before he went somewhere else, he said.

A big part of Detroit's allure was the presence of manager Jim Leyland and general manager Dave Dombrowski, who Sheffield was with in Florida during the Marlins' championship in '97. Sheffield was traded to the Tigers in early November 2006 for three young players, none of whom ever appeared in more than two MLB seasons.

"I felt like that was the one team, when I first got here, we were going to win the World Series," Sheffield said.

That didn't happen, and after his 40-year-old season with the Mets in 2009, Sheffield retired. But as a studio analyst for MLB on TBS, he still pays attention to the game, its trends and how it has changed.

The emergence of Statcast™, for example, has piqued his interest in knowing what sort of exit velocities his mammoth home runs could've recorded. Most of all, he said he wants to see Nolan Ryan's fastball measured up against those of the hardest throwers in today's game.

"I don't believe these guys [are] throwing harder than Nolan Ryan," said Sheffield, who was in his early 20s when he faced an over-40 Ryan. "I don't think nobody's throwing harder than this guy. That's probably the hardest fastball I've ever seen in my life."

Sheffield said the pace of play topic in baseball is due to shortened attention spans today. While baseball has always been a "patience game," fans are more interested in getting through games faster now than they used to.

Something Sheffield doesn't think has changed is the skill set of Miguel Cabrera, who was 25 when he and Sheffield were first teammates in '08.

"One of the greatest hitters I've ever seen," Sheffield said. "This kid came in at the same pace he's been on for years. They're saying he's having a down year this year, but I mean he's human."

Jordan Horrobin is a reporter for MLB.com based in Detroit.

Detroit Tigers