Now that Mike Napoli’s signing is official, and there is nothing really to talk about on the field, I figured I would re-print the farewell article I wrote about the guy Napoli is essentially replacing: Prince Fielder. I wrote this last year when it was announced Fielder’s playing career was over. It seemed like a good idea to pull it back out.
Originally published August 14, 2016.
I couldn’t possibly imagine what it must feel like to be Prince Fielder right now. The heartache of being just thirty-two years old and having what you love to do most in your life snatched out of your hands.
Since his press conference to announce that his career is over, I’ve heard a lot of cynical people saying, “He still gets his money.” And while that is true, I would bet Prince would trade all that money for a chance to play again.
In a heartbeat.
If someone could somehow wave a magic wand and say, “Prince, you can play again but only for the major league minimum,” there is not a doubt in my mind he would jump at that opportunity.
This is a guy who liked playing baseball. He missed just thirteen games in eight seasons. That’s Ripenesque. That’s a love for the game that is pure and deep. Heck, he went three seasons in a row without missing a single game at all. And he missed just one game in five seasons between 2009 and 2013.
So yeah, he gets to keep the money. But you know what? He earned it.
Right or wrong, fair or not, players don’t get paid for future performance, they get paid for what they did in the past, with the hope that they will keep that up in the future. But very rarely do any long-term contracts of this magnitude pay out. Most of the time the team wants out after just one or two years.
Look what he got that contract for. Look at the numbers he put up. He hit 285 home runs in his first nine seasons—50 in 2007 and 46 in 2009—an average of 32 per season. As a Rangers, Adrian Beltre is averaging 27 per season.
In those same nine seasons, he drove in 870 runs, 141 in 2009, an average of 96 RBIs per year. In the last five Rangers seasons, only Beltre and Michael Young in 2011, and Josh Hamilton and Beltre in 2012 drove in more RBIs than 96. Oh, and Fielder last year with 98.
Prince had four years in a row where his on-base percentage was over .400. By comparison, on-base percentage darling Shin-Soo Choo has had only two seasons ever over .400. In fact, Fielder and Choo have identical lifetime on-base percentages of .382.
Fielder finished third in National League MVP voting twice and fourth once. He was a six-time All-Star, with three teams. And he was the Comeback Player of the Year last season.
He earned the money.
The shame is, baseball wrote him a check that his body simply couldn’t cash. He is now a former ballplayer. And, according to CNN, from this point on he will earn more money than any former player in the history of baseball: $106 million. That’s more than the total payroll for six teams.
But when you watched his news conference on Wednesday, when you saw the heartbreak, the tears, the sadness, this quickly went from being a financial story to a human interest story.
Watching him deflated, slumped over at that desk, his two sons behind him, as he was choking back the tears, wearing a neck brace, and declaring, “The doctors told me I can’t play major league baseball anymore,” it was difficult not to shed a tear yourself. He was a soft-spoken gentle giant of a man who seemed to have a heart of gold and a pure joy for playing the game. This is a guy who literally grew up in a big league clubhouse.
And just like that, it’s all over.
Those broad shoulders carried this team for most of the 2015 season. No wonder his back gave out.
Prince Fielder didn’t have too many dramatic moments in 2016. He did get the only hit in the Rangers opening day win against Seattle’s Felix Hernandez. It drove in the tying run.
And he did hit perhaps the most dramatic of his 319 career home runs this year. In a June 11 game in Seattle, top of the ninth inning, down to their final out and final strike of the game, his Rangers were being shut out by the Mariners. Who can forget what Fielder, batting just .204 at the time, did with one mighty swing of his bat off closer Steve Cishek? The baseball gods granted one more wish to the big man. He sent the ball deep into the right field stands to tie the game at 1-1. I can still remember the look of euphoria as all 275 pounds of him rounded the bases. This was a big kid having fun playing baseball.
Two innings later, the Rangers won the game 2-1.
He would hit only three more home runs after that.
So long, Prince. I wish we would have known you back when. But the Texas Rangers would have never made it to the playoffs in 2015 without you.
Nobody can take that away from you.
You were, ironically, the back bone of that team.