“Well, just put it this way, at 10 past three, about 20 minutes after Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports broke this story, I talked to Jim Leyland. He didn’t know anything about it. ‘Nobody has talked to me. Can’t be true.’ That’s how fast (the signing happened).”
That was MLB Network’s Peter Gammons, discussing how quickly the deal that put Prince Fielder in a Detroit Tigers uniform took place. Leyland, the manager, was even left in the dark, fueling his sense of disbelief. Minutes later, the ink was dry on the nine-year, $214 million contract. One of the game’s best power hitters is shockingly headed to Motown, making an already immensely talented Detroit team even more dangerous.
That Leyland was taken aback by the news is not altogether surprising. It was widely expected that the powerful Fielder would go to the Washington Nationals or another one of his few suitors. The Tigers weren’t even mentioned in relation to him until today. They had to replace the mighty hole left by Victor Martinez, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. It was perceived that they would just sign one of the lesser free-agents or make a trade. No one but the Tigers front office thought they would with such a slugger as Fielder.
“Everyone knew Mr. Ilitch and Mr. Dombrowski were going to make a move when Victor went down,” outfielder Brennan Boesch said in a phone interview with the AP, as documented by Sports Illustrated. “But I don’t think anybody thought it would be this big.”
There is are other reasons, other than the yearly commitment and incredibly lucrative contract, that Fielder picked Detroit. First, his Dad, Cecil, played for the Tigers. In 1996, a 12-year-old Prince hit homers out of the stadium he is about to play in.
“You can’t ever say that you look at a kid that age and say that you know he’s going to hit 40 or 50 home runs someday, but Prince was unbelievable,” former Tiger and Hall of Famer Al Kaline reminisced a few years ago. “Here’s a 12-year-old kid commonly hitting homers at a big league ballpark.”
Now, at 27, he is about to do the same, donning the uniform his dad played in for the team he grew up following.
Another reason for his choosing Detroit is the formation of perhaps the game’s most lethal duo, as Fielder joins Miguel Cabrera in the middle of the Tigers lineup. The 28-year-old Cabrera, who will reportedly move to third base as Fielder takes over first, hit .344 last season with 30 homers and 105 rbi; he has 277 homers and 984 rbi in only eight seasons time. Similarly, Fielder hit .299 with 38 homers and 120 rbi last season with the Milwaukee Brewers, the team he was signed by in 2002; he has 230 homers and 656 rbi in only six seasons time. It’s safe to say these two are among the most prolific sluggers in the game. And now they will be batting back-to-back in what was already a solid lineup, with the potential to be what Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz was for the Boston Red Sox from 2003 to 2008.
The commitment financially and yearly to Fielder in creating this formidable pair and ensuing comparison is far from advisable, especially considering the large percentage of payroll the Tigers have donated to just a few players, but his bat turns a team reeling from losing Martinez to a championship contender once more.
How did this happen? All of the credit for this big splash out of the blue is due to General Manager Dave Dombrowski and owner Mike Ilitch. And because of their efforts, Fielder has been there and back again.
“That just shocked me,” Cecil Fielder told MLB Radio on SiriusXM, as documented by USA Today. “I just landed in New York… and I got that call — that’s crazy! He’s going to come full circle. You know, he’s been there in Detroit most of his young life, so I think he’ll be comfortable in that place. …
“I know Mr. (Mike) Ilitch is probably pretty excited, because he’s been wanting that kid since he was a little kid, so he finally got his wish.”
Ilitch sure did. And as a result, the city of Detroit will be treated to an older Fielder, back to his old stomping grounds, doing what he does best yet again.