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Double standard

Sheffield gets free pass while A-Rod gets grilled

Posted: Wednesday August 23, 2006 10:09AM; Updated: Wednesday August 23, 2006 10:50AM
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Gary Sheffield said he's willing to play first base next season, but that probably won't be enough for the Yankees to pick up his option.
Gary Sheffield said he's willing to play first base next season, but that probably won't be enough for the Yankees to pick up his option.
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Alex Rodriguez has been roasted by the media and the fans in New York all summer.

Let's get this straight: Alex Rodriguez gets ripped like Dean Martin at closing time for casually mentioning that he has played hurt this season -- and those close to A-Rod say he weathered a nagging groin injury and food poisoning in Detroit -- and yet his long-sidelined teammate Gary Sheffield gets a pass for publicly pledging he won't play through pain?

A-Rod's history shows he almost never takes a day off, while Sheffield has missed about three years with injuries.

Rodriguez should never have spoken about playing hurt, because, as his advisers tell him, he's A-Rod and he plays. But it's hard to blame him for trying to win a little sympathy considering how badly he's been getting hammered by the New York press and fans this season.

You'd think it would be hard to hammer Rodriguez for a few harmless remarks in the midst of a frustrating season. As it turns out, it wasn't. A-Rod must have felt as if he'd been hit by a steel-plated rod. His revelation that he's been hurting was met by another round of criticism. He continues to be held to the highest standard imaginable.

Maybe it's not what you say, but who says it. About the same time Rodriguez made his comments, Sheffield (who has produced 22 fewer home runs and 74 fewer RBIs than A-Rod this year) publicly vowed not to play until he feels 100 percent. And no one criticized Sheffield. He continues not to be held to any standard.

Judging by the reaction to the respective stars, it's apparently more admirable not to play through pain than it is to play through pain and mention it. Pu-leeeze.

Rodriguez's own manager, Joe Torre, didn't help matters by acting like he didn't know about his superstar player's pain, which is entirely possible considering A-Rod's stoicism. Still, Torre's failure to back up Rodriguez made A-Rod look like he was reaching for excuses, when the fact is he surely did play in pain. Just like he's always done.

Speaking of pains, there is Sheffield, who received not one scintilla of negative feedback for announcing last week that he was looking out for himself, as usual. "I have to worry about me," Sheffield said. "I'm not in a hurry [to get back]."

Sheffield talked about how anxious he was to grab a first baseman's mitt and help where he can. But as one clubhouse source observed, "He's like Tony Curtis -- a bad actor." Maybe so, but he's convinced more than a few.

While Sheffield hasn't done anything so wrong as throw balls away on purpose (not since Milwaukee, anyway, his first of six stops), he should be rung up for his overt lack of interest in his team. When he said, "My plan isn't short-term, it's long-term," he was talking about his life after the Yankees, the team that pays him $13 million annually.

"Sheffield thinks the Yankees [bleeped] him,'' said one Yankees clubhouse source, referring to their tide-turning deadline trade for Bobby Abreu, who took Sheffield's place in right field.

Sheffield's anger is misdirected. Doctors told the team that Sheffield's wrist might not be healed until September. They had no choice but to find a replacement. The fact that they found a great one isn't the fault of the Yankees.

Sheffield's attitude stinks, a fact no one ever mentions. His free pass continues. It's like nobody remembers he took steroids, either. (Sheffield told SI's Tom Verducci in October 2004 that he unknowingly took the Clear and the Cream and has denied allegations in the book Game of Shadows that he took injectable testosterone and human growth hormone.) The only difference between Sheffield and his ex-workout partner Barry Bonds is that Bonds is closing in on an all-time record. Yet there's no criticism for Sheffield, no investigation involving Sheffield, no feds chasing Sheffield.

It's a wonder the media cut him so much slack. Maybe they fear Sheffield. Or maybe they fear losing him as a quote; you never know what he might say next.