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Friday, January 27, 2012

Like Father, Like Son

For those of you who were on African safaris or imitating ostriches over the last three days, free agent first baseman Prince Fielder, formerly of the Milwaukee Brewers, signed the fourth largest contract in Major League Baseball history, 9 years for $214 million, with the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers are a team that, by and large, has knocked on the door of a World Series title for much of the latter half of the 2000s and into the 2010s. The Tigers are also the team that Prince Fielder’s father, Cecil Fielder, bashed out home runs in bunches in the early 1990s.


The biggest element that brought Prince Fielder to the Motor City is, of course, the money. That is obvious. Fielder's agent, Scott Boras, is the president, emperor, and king of getting his clients what they want and is worth every nickel he earns. Reportedly, Boras eventually stopped dealing with Tigers General Manager David Dombrowski and skipped straight to Owner Mike Ilitch. Reportedly, this is an often used tactic of Boras. Reportedly, Dombrowski was pissed. Apparently, neither Boras nor Fielder gave a damn.

Dombrowski: If Scott Boras calls Mr. Illitch, I shall never deal with you again!
Prince: Frankly, you tightwad, I don't give a damn! 1
Fielder also goes to the American League. A slugging first baseman with limited fielding ability seeking a long term contract is more valuable in the American League than the National League. Because of the designated hitter position in the A.L., Fielder can be moved to that position is he needs a rest in the field, which one can expect to happen during the back end of Fielders contract, when he will be in his mid-30s.

The A.L. designated hitter rule not only benefits Fielder down the road. It opened up the pool of available suitors for him. The Tigers already have an MVP caliber, slugging first baseman in Miguel Cabrera. When Cabrera is not hitting the sauce, he is one of the most feared hitters in baseball. There is only one first base. The structure of the American League will enable the Tigers to utilize the coveted hitting ability of both stars.

Finally, Prince Fielder spent many of his formative years in Detroit while his father, Cecil Fielder was a star with the Tigers. I have heard stories, on multiple occasions, of how Prince would take some swings during Tigers batting practice, in his youth, and hit balls over the fence back then. While it has been well publicized that Prince is estranged from his father, reportedly over financial disputes that drove a wedge between them, I cannot help but think that Prince Fielder associated Detroit with a sense of home. If so, the move to the Tigers offers an benefit that cannot be bought.

Prince is in the money! 2


Is Prince Fielder worth $214 million over nine years? He will not be crushing forty-plus homeruns per year when he is 36 years old. He probably will not be playing in the field and likely will not play more than 120 games per season if he is healthy. The Tigers are paying later to reap benefits now.

Still, the Prince Fielder of the here and now elevates the Tigers' lineup from "potent" to "ridiculous", in spite of the loss of four time All-Star Victor Martinez for the 2012 season with a knee injury. Fielder, regardless of where he is inserted in the lineup, will be a nightmare for opposing managers.

I am not sure where Fielder will be placed in the lineup and, frankly, it doesn't matter. Adding Fielder, who hits in the neighborhood of .300 and hits 40 to 50 homers per year, in the lineup with Miguel Cabrera (.344, 30 HR, 105 RBI in 2011), Jhonny Peralta (.299, 21 HR, 86 RBI in 2011), and other solid, dependable bats like Delmon Young (.268, 12 HR, 64 RBI in 2011) will make a healthy Tigers team the favorites most days in the pitching-challenged American League Central. When Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander is on the mound, the Tigers might be as close to invincible as a Major League Baseball team can be.

Detroit's lineup was potent before the Fielder signing. If Miguel Cabrera can not take anymore swigs of Scotch in front of the cops and not have anymore mug shots, like this one, the Tigers could be an unstoppable force in the American League. 3


I have read and heard accounts of the rift between Prince Fielder and his father, Cecil. Frankly, it saddens me. Baseball, perhaps more than any other major American sport, is a game that celebrates its multiple generations of players - father and son legacies. Ken Griffey, Jr. and Ken Griffey, Sr., Tony Gwynn, Jr., and Tony Gwynn, Sr., Filipe and Moises Alou, Cal Ripken Sr., and sons Cal Ripken, Jr., and Billy Ripken are just some of the examples that come to mind.

The sports romantic in me would like to think that the arrival of Prince Fielder to the team that Cecil Fielder played for in seven seasons, all of which he finished with 28 or more homeruns, could be a launching point for a father-son reconciliation. Tigers fans over the age of 30 have not forgotten the 51 homerun season of 1990, at the time the 14th highest single season total of any player in history. They haven't forgotten the three time All-Star and two time MVP runner up who helped give Tigers fans hope of a playoff appearance in the early 1900s.
Cecil Fielder played for the Detroit Tigers between 1990 and 1996. 5

Alas, romance is called romance for a reason. A father son rift is sad under any circumstances. I think that such sadness is amplified when both possess such a unique and rare talent and their paths parallel one another's so closely. Such a shared experience should bring families closer together, not drive them apart.

Prince Fielder circa 1994 4

Prince Fielder got the mega dollar, long term deal he wanted. The Tigers got the superstar they wanted. Scott Boras, once again, got what he wanted. What happens with father Cecil Fielder and son Prince remains to be seen. Without question, the Prince Fielder transaction was a stick of dynamite, not just a log, in the Major League Baseball hot stove preceding the 2012 season.

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