Prince Fielder's Terrific, Memorable Career Ends Far Too Soon

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistAugust 9, 2016

ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 10: Prince Fielder #84 of the Texas Rangers before the start of the game against the Minnesota Twins at Globe Life Park in Arlington on July 10, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)
R. Yeatts/Getty Images

Larger than life.

It's a worn-out bromide that gets tossed around far too liberally. Life is pretty large, after all.

It has always applied to Prince Fielder, though, from the moment he swung onto the scene with his bulky physique, MLB pedigree and a hack built to bash baseballs.

Now, unfortunately, we can apply another overused-but-apt label to Fielder: done before his time.

Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal broke the news Tuesday:

Fielder underwent neck surgery on July 29 for the second time since 2014. According to Rosenthal, the 32-year-old slugger isn't technically retiring. Instead, Rosenthal reported, "He is medically disabled and doctors will not clear him to play."

That's an important distinction, because it means Fielder will receive the $96 million remaining on his contract, which runs through 2020. The Detroit Tigers are on the hook for $6 million per year. The Rangers, meanwhile, have an insurance policy that will pay 50 percent of their $18 million annual commitment, per Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.

That's semantics, however, best left for the bean counters to sort out. We're here to remember Fielder the player. There's plenty to remember.

Let's start with a number: 319.

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That's how many home runs Fielder hit in his 12 big league seasons. It's also the number his father, Cecil, hit in 13 MLB campaigns. 

That's a coincidence, a numerical anomaly. But it forever binds the father and the son, whose at times troubled relationship was built around baseball from the beginning.

"When he had a diaper on," Cecil said when asked the moment he knew Prince would be a pro ballplayer, per MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan. "He was a baseball player from Day 1. He was around the ballpark, and he loved the game, and you know when you have a kid that has that much enthusiasm in something, he's gonna be special. I always knew he was going to be a special player."

Cecil Fielder and a nine-year-old Prince at the 1993 MLB All-Star Game.
Cecil Fielder and a nine-year-old Prince at the 1993 MLB All-Star Game.Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

The younger Fielder delivered on that promise in 2006, when he bashed 28 home runs as a rookie with the Milwaukee Brewers. The next year, he hit an eye-popping 50 to go along with a 1.013 OPS and top-three National League MVP finish. 

Matching his father's legacy seemed like a foregone conclusion. The only question was how high this kid could climb among the ranks of all-time greats. 

In 2008, Fielder carried the Brewers to the postseason for the first time since 1982, collecting 21 RBI in September alone. And he helped the Crew advance to the National League Championship Series in 2011, his final year with the team.

Then came the nine-year, $214 million mega-contract with the Tigers, the franchise that employed Cecil for six-plus seasons in his fence-clearing prime.

Prince spent just two years in the Motor City before a trade to Texas, though he made a pair of All-Star teams and a World Series appearance during that time.

The first neck operation followed in 2014, and with it came the beginning of the end.

Fielder's deal with Detroit is an albatross in hindsight. In June, Sports Illustrated's Cliff Corcoran named it one of the worst contracts in baseball, and he wasn't wrong.

It's easy to forget, however, that prior to 2014, Fielder defined durability. He appeared in at least 157 games every year from 2006 to 2013, and he played in all 162 games four times.

During that span, he made five All-Star teams, had four top-10 MVP finishes, won the Home Run Derby in 2009 and 2012 and hit 283 home runs that counted, fourth-most behind Albert Pujols (291), Miguel Cabrera (287) and Ryan Howard (287).

He had a temper, and he wasn't above beating up a dugout or storming toward the opposing clubhouse to confront the other team's pitcher. 

He also ruffled feathers with his on-field antics, including a home run celebration he created in Milwaukee wherein his teammates would greet him at home plate and fall to the ground like bowling pins. 

That instigated a beanball battle with the San Francisco Giants that carried into spring training in 2010. And it sparked harsh words from fellow players, including then-Los Angeles Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, who said Fielder would "get crushed" if he kept it up, per Grant.

Underneath, though, Fielder always seemed like a jovial softie. As Grant reported, his friend and fellow second-generation big leaguer Tony Gwynn Jr. called him "a sensitive dude."

Plus, he did undeniably awesome stuff like this, via Freep Sports:

Last season, Fielder added a Comeback Player of the Year award to his trophy case, hitting .305 with 23 homers and 98 RBI. He helped the Rangers win the AL West.

In a league where the designated hitter position allows guys like the Boston Red Sox's David Ortiz to remain productive past their 40th birthday, it was plausible Fielder's career could have another act.

"I'm a glass half-full kind of guy," Texas general manager Jon Daniels said in January, per Jeff Wilson of the Star-Telegram. "Having put that [injury] behind him, now knowing that he can go, I'm excited to see what he can do this year."

Those words have a bitter aftertaste now, considering how the story ends.

As it turns out, Fielder's resurgent 2015 wasn't a harbinger of things to come. It was a final reminder of the player we'll never again get to watch dig into a big league batter's box.

A healthy Fielder could have put together a convincing Hall of Fame case.
A healthy Fielder could have put together a convincing Hall of Fame case.Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

What would Fielder have done with another six, seven or eight seasons? Barring a massively unexpected medical twist, that will remain a hypothetical. But the guess here is a Hall of Fame resume and plenty more big moments.

Instead, we'll take what we got: an always-entertaining, bright-burning, occasionally controversial and above all hugely memorable career.

Prince Fielder is done before his time. But he remains, undeniably, larger than life.

All statistics current as of Aug. 9 and courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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