Tigers cut Sheffield at 499 homers

The Detroit Tigers have released Gary Sheffield, who is one home run shy of 500 for his career.

Gary Sheffield won't be hitting his 500th home run in a Detroit Tigers uniform.

The Tigers on Tuesday released the veteran slugger, who needs just one homer to become the 25th player in major league history to reach the milestone.

Sheffield, 40, was set to enter the final season of the two-year, $28-million US extension he signed with the Tigers as part of the November 2006 trade that brought him to Detroit from the New York Yankees in exchange for prospects.

His uncle, former New York Mets pitcher Doc Gooden, and other family members had planned to attend Detroit's season-opening series in Toronto early next week, hoping to watch him reach 500.

"I wouldn't say I'm shocked, but I am surprised," Sheffield told The Oakland Press of Pontiac. "To do this when somebody is one home run away … I don't know how to react to it.

"[Tigers manager] Jim [Leyland] said, 'We're going to go with versatility.' When he said that word I thought to myself, 'I'm probably the most athletic guy on this team.' But they're entitled to their opinion."

Two-Marlboro decision

Leyland said he had a hard time sleeping Monday night, knowing he was going to release Sheffield, a potential future hall of famer.

"I lit two Marlboros at the same time," Leyland said. "I couldn't sleep. But I feel better that it's over with than I did at three in the morning."

Sheffield had a fine debut season in Detroit, slugging 25 homers and stealing 22 bases while posting a .378 on-base percentage in 133 games.

But finger, shoulder and oblique injuries limited him to 114 games in 2008 as he dipped to 19 homers, nine steals and a .326 OBP in 114 games.

Sheffield hit just .178 in 18 games this spring, and it appeared Detroit was going in another direction when it acquired outfielder Josh Anderson from Atlanta on Monday.

Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Frank Robinson and Reggie Jackson are the only players in baseball history with as many home runs as Sheffield plus at least 2,500 hits, 1,500 RBIs and 200 stolen bases.

In all-star games, he has represented San Diego, Florida, the Los Angeles Dodgers, Atlanta and the Yankees, since making his debut two decades ago in Milwaukee.

The career .292 hitter has 1,633 RBIs, putting him 27th on the all-time list.

Marcus Thames, who will take Sheffield's place in the lineup as designated hitter, also was surprised by the move.

"Somebody told me he was released, and I couldn't believe it," he said. "[Miguel] Cabrera looked like he was in a state of shock."

With files from the Associated Press