Detroit Tigers: It’s time to appreciate Prince Fielder’s time in Motown

(Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images) /

Prince Fielder’s short stay with the Detroit Tigers shouldn’t be remembered as a total failure.

When the Detroit Tigers team owner Mike Ilitch gave the ‘ok’ or as many suspect, forced his General Manager (GM) Dave Dombrowski to sign the slugging free-agent first baseman Prince Fielder to an excessive nine-year, $214 million deal; it came with plenty of push-back.

Many thought Ilitch should have used that money elsewhere, perhaps bolstering a historically weak bullpen?  Many thought Fielder’s large frame brought plenty of risks.  How would his body hold up for nine more years playing at 285-pounds signing this lucrative deal at 28-years old?

Ilitch often spent on his Detroit Red Wings, but we all understood his real passion was baseball, having unsuccessfully tried to carve out a career for himself as a player in his past.  In 2012 the Detroit Tigers were going to be without their primary Designated Hitter (DH) Victor Martinez, and with Fielder unsigned, the perfect storm erupted in Ilitch’s vision and last-ditched effort to win a title.

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There were a couple of other moving parts in this deal.  Mike Ilitch had Prince’s father and legendary Detroit Tigers first baseman, Cecil Fielder, in place when he purchased the franchise in 1992.  Cecil was coming off of back-to-back spectacular seasons hitting 51 and 44 home runs respectably.  Fielder was the Detroit Tigers star at that point, and we all know how loyal Mr. I was, so after seeing Prince grow up inside Tiger Stadium as a kid and having an opportunity to sign him later in life, it became inevitable.

The other moving part was straightforward.  Fielder was being represented by Scott Boras, the most popular agent in the business.  Boras and Ilitch had an excellent relationship, Ilitch loved to spend later in life, and Boras loved to earn.  Boras brought the stars to Ilitch, and Mike signed the cheques.

Signing Fielder meant Miguel Cabrera would eventually slide back over to play third base as he had earlier in his career, leaving Fielder at first with Martinez returning to his role as the DH when healthy.  The trio anchored the best offensive core we’d seen since the mid-80s, but unlike the Gibsons’, Trammells’ and Whitakers’ this group failed to produce in October when every game becomes critical.

We seem to remember two distinct elements about Prince Fielder’s stay with the Detroit Tigers.

The first that comes to mind was Prince’s atrocious .071 world series batting average in 2012.  Perhaps having a healthy Victor Martinez for the ’12 season would have made all the difference as he’d been incredibly clutch in his postseason appearance.  But if Victor were healthy, Ilitch likely wouldn’t have okayed the deal for Fielder.

The second came after a game six exit of the 2013 ALCS when the struggling Fielder mentioned;

"‘It’s not really tough for me, bro, Yeah, you got to be a man about it you know. I got kids, like I said if I’m sitting around pouting how am I going to tell them to keep their chins up or keep their heads up when something doesn’t go their way? So, yeah, definitely it’s over.”"

Fielder failed to hit a home run or drive in a single run during 11 contests throughout the 2013 MLB playoffs. The comments didn’t go over well, especially for the high-priced Fielder who failed to produce in a city that tends to hold a grudge when it comes to their athletes.  Take Sergei Fedorov, for example, need I say more?

That being said, don’t forget, the Detroit Tigers had been clawing for years and right at the cusp of a title in 2012-13.  It had been eight long years of false hope in this town.  Fielder had only had two kicks at the can with Detroit, so maybe he wasn’t taking the fan suffering into consideration as he was basically still the ‘new guy on the block.’

Sure, not a great look for Fielder, but the comments came in the clubhouse minutes after the game.  I imagine Fielder, who was struggling, felt he let his team down and was trying to cope with it his own way.  We shouldn’t remember him for that, or for being a bust, he hit 55 home runs and drove in 214 runs in just two years with the Detroit Tigers while carrying a respectable .295 batting average.

When it comes to the injury concerns, the folks who initially were concerned about the signing stating health reasons were correct.  I wasn’t one of those people. I thought from a fan’s perspective it was an excessive, yet exciting deal, but looking back at it, the money could have been allocated in a much better way, and conceivably the Detroit Tigers who were peaking as a World Series contender would have finally won their first since 1984.

The Detroit Tigers dealt Fielder to the Texas Rangers for second baseman Ian Kinsler, another solid player but not nearly as decorated.  Fielder’s career would eventually be cut short due to a career-ending neck injury; he’d play in parts of three seasons with Texas before calling it a career.

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Ironically, Prince ended his career with 319 home runs, oddly enough, the identical number his father hit.