Both men put up similar MVP-caliber statistics during the year. Their bats were hot, and their defense stood strong. Together, they helped guide their team through the regular season and into the postseason for just the third time in franchise history.
The question begs to be asked, though: Between two such talented players, which is more important to the team’s success?
Of course, there is no simple, black-and-white answer to that question.
Throughout the regular season their batting statistics weren’t all that different, and on defense they both contributed to the team in ways that aren’t easily comparable.
Those trends have continued through the playoffs thus far, with both players turning in outstanding performances.
So if we can’t use numbers and statistics to try to quantify the importance of Braun and Fielder, what can we do? How can we compare them?
The answer may be one of the least-measurable ideas in all of sports: intangibles.
Between Braun and Fielder, who brings more leadership, more heart and more strength of character to the table?
Throughout the regular season, the answer would have been up in the air. Both men are true leaders, as evidenced by the way the team rallies around them. When Braun and Fielder do well, the team tends to do well.
It is while we consider those very leadership qualities that have cemented this group of players this season, though, that we finally find the difference between Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.
Ryan Braun has made it clear that he wants to remain a part of this team for the long haul.
Prince Fielder, through his actions and later his words, has broadcast to the world that this will be his last year in Milwaukee.
What kind of a team leader takes off from a championship-caliber team to fatten his bank account?
It’s not a secret that deep penetration into the playoffs will equal a bigger payoff for Fielder once the Brew Crew’s season ends. The fans know it. The coaches know it. The players know it.
You can bet that somewhere in the back of his teammates’ minds there is a shred of doubt about Fielder every time the Brewers take the field this postseason. Right now, he’s not necessarily playing for his team—he’s playing for himself, and for his own future.
In a team spot like baseball, that “me first” mentality can be poisonous.
Ryan Braun, on the other hand, has the luxury of simply going out in every game and playing the best baseball that he can. He knows (and the fans know, and the coaches know, and the players know) that he will be back next year no matter what.
There is no question about Braun’s motives or his motivation. He simply wants to win and he’s willing to put everything he can into making that happen.
The playoffs won’t last forever. Whether or not the Brewers can win it all remains to be seen.
Years from now, though, the Brewers administration probably won’t be retiring Fielder’s number. He’ll be a blip in the history of the team, albeit an impressive one.
Braun, on the other hand, has ensured that he will be written into the Brewers’ team lore. Don’t be surprised to see his number permanently etched at Miller Park alongside the other Milwaukee greats someday.
Even for something as immeasurable as an intangible, that’s a pretty powerful difference between Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder—and certainly enough to crown Braun the more important player in the Brewers’ lineup.