We never totally understood Prince Fielder. We were willing to give it a try, but we never really saw eye-to-eye with him.
Was he the smiling, happy-go-lucky big first baseman with the even bigger bat, or was he the detached, enigmatic player who shrunk in the spotlight?
Did he care badly, or did he barely care?
Was winning the World Series of the utmost importance to him, or was it more important to the fans?
Was he a baseball player who had a family, or was he a family man who played baseball?
Was he a selfless man who wouldn’t come out of the lineup, or was he a selfish man who wouldn’t come out of the lineup?
Was he a complicated individual with many layers, or was what you saw, what you got?
It hardly matters anymore.
Fielder is gone, traded into the November night to the Texas Rangers for 2B Ian Kinsler, even up. Unless you want to count the $30 million the Tigers are reportedly kicking in to sweeten the deal for Texas.
Fielder arrived on a wintry January day out of the blue in 2012, and has vanished almost as abruptly, his supposedly untradeable contract forwarded to Texas.
The move was made, presumably, largely for financial reasons. Fielder’s $168 million owed has been swapped with the $62 million that Texas owed Kinsler. Add the $62 million to the $30 mill that the Tigers apparently threw in, and it’s still a savings of $76 million for Detroit.
That’s money that the Tigers can now use toward signing Max Scherzer to a contract extension. Presumably. And, bonus: the trade means that Miguel Cabrera can slide back to first base and third base has now been opened up for hot shot prospect Nick Castellanos, who can now return to his natural position, while still being an occasional option in left field.
So the dollars are big, the savings are tangible and the baseball part of it makes sense. No question about that.
But it’s hard to accept that this was just about money and playing musical chairs on the diamond.
Fielder lost the fans in Detroit, which was quite an undertaking since they welcomed him with open arms less than two years ago.
He was the second Fielder to play for the Tigers, and dad Cecil owned the town for a while. Yes, there were some hard feelings between father and son, but Prince Fielder in a Tigers uniform was no less fitting because of the off-field drama.
It’s hard to accept that this trade was just about money because of the fracturing in the relationship between Fielder and the fans. And Fielder and the organization.
Buster Olney, for example, tweeted that there were people in high places in the Tigers organization who were “very down” on Fielder for his performance and his comments during the playoffs.
Ah yes, the comments.
You remember. The one that intimated that if the fans could do it, they wouldn’t be fans—they’d be players. And the one that shrugged off his typical nasty October performance by saying that if the pitcher throws a mistake, Fielder hits it. Otherwise, he won’t. Or the one that said he was going to go home and be with his family, and what’s the fuss, because the playoffs are over with?
I find it almost impossible that Fielder’s being traded didn’t have at least something to do with these remarks, which when paired with his RBI-less post-season, put a bull’s eye square on his back.
Detroit sports fans are simple folk, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. In fact, far from it.
Here’s what they want, and it’s very simple.
The Detroit sports fan only asks that you, as one of their athletes, show that you’re just as torn up as the fans are about failure.
They want to know that you feel their pain.
Fielder, in two post-seasons as a Tiger, not only failed miserably on the field, he failed miserably in the court of public opinion. He never really made us feel like that he was “one of us.”
Not once in either playoff did Fielder say, “I stink. I know a lot is expected of me and I’m just not getting it done.”
That’s all he had to say. And the forgiveness would have been plenty.
Instead, after the 2012 World Series sweep at the hands of the San Francisco Giants, Fielder deflected criticism, essentially saying that fans better not look at him cross-eyed, because he’s one of 25 guys.
Those comments didn’t get too much play. They were spoken almost in a vacuum. But he said them.
But I believe that the comments during this year’s ALCS, spoken while Fielder was again crashing and burning at the plate, were filed away by Tigers brass. And I think the words, spoken so casually and dismissively as the team’s season slipped away in tremendous disappointment, were what led the Tigers to aggressively seek a taker for Fielder.
We may never know for sure, but I think that’s what happened.
Fielder’s big smile and joshing with opponents played well in May and June, but they weren’t so warmly received in October. The smile and kidding around almost became tools of mockery of the fans.
Fielder had an off year in 2013, and it’s well-documented as to why that may have been, what with his pending divorce and nasty rumors of a third party on the Tigers being involved in Fielder’s disintegrating marriage.
But you must wonder whether this trade would have gone down, if only Prince Fielder had empathized with the fans more in their time of need, i.e. during the Red Sox series.
If you, as an athlete in Detroit, make the fans feel like you’re all in with them, they’ll love you forever. That’s been proven.
If you show a sense of entitlement or detachment, if you give an air of being above it all, then your time in Detroit won’t be so pleasant. That, too, has been proven.
Prince Fielder is gone, traded away before Thanksgiving, mere weeks after the Tigers’ lowest point in years.
He leaves us, and with him he takes the answers to so many questions about him that we were only just starting to ask.
Two years and out. Perhaps that’s more shocking than the move to bring him here in the first place.