Prince Fielder’s Playing Career Is Over

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The Texas Rangers announced on Wednesday in a press conference that veteran slugger Prince Fielder, 32, will be forced to end his playing career due to ongoing neck problems.  Fielder experienced serious neck surgery at the end of last month, his second in almost exactly two years.  Fielder underwent a similar procedure in 2014, his first season with Texas.

Prince Fielder’s Playing Career Is Over

Fielder, fighting back tears while addressing the media at Globe Life Park, stated that his family and his teammates are his biggest inspiration.

“When I told my kids they didn’t even let me get down on myself,” Fielder said.  “They were just like ‘okay it will be alright dad, lets just play video games.'”

Fielder said doctors told him even before the surgery that they would not advise him to continue playing baseball.  He stated that the moment of truth came to him when he was unable to walk in a straight line during a medical test.

“The doctor told me just to walk in a straight line and I couldn’t do it,” he said.  “I mean I could do it but there was way too much brain involved, my body couldn’t do it.”

Since Fielder’s playing career is ending due to injury, he is technically not retiring. If he did, he would forfeit the remaining $96 million left on his contract. According to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he will remain on the roster throughout the remainder of his contract.

Fielder finished his career with just under 12 years of MLB service time.  He made his big league debut in 2005 with the Milwaukee Brewers, who selected him seventh overall in the 2002 MLB Draft.  He finished seventh in National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2006, and followed that up with a spectacular 2007, hitting .288/.395/.618, bashing 50 home runs (tops in the NL), and finishing third in the MVP race while playing most of that season at age 23.

Fielder was just getting started.  He would win his first Home Run Derby in 2009 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.  That year, he hit an even better .299/.412/.602 with 46 home runs and 141 RBIs, his career high and a Brewers record.  Fielder finished his Brewers tenure in 2011 as strong as ever, hitting .299/.415/.566 with 38 home runs and 120 RBIs.

While the Brewers had one of the best lineups in baseball when Fielder hit behind Ryan Braun throughout the 2000’s, they had already decided to rebuild by the time Fielder’s free agency rolled around after 2011, as they traded Zack Greinke and other pieces the following season to start a new era.  Milwaukee has not made the playoffs since.

Fielder held out on signing a new deal in the 2011-2012 off-season, waiting as fellow superstar first baseman Albert Pujols and others signed mega deals.  By late January, there had still been little news of a deal for Fielder, and there was thought that Scott Boras, for once, might have overplayed his hand and might end up having to settle on one of his star clients.  Then, Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez blew out his knee in off-season workouts, costing him the entire 2012 season.  The Tigers were in full win-now mode, and desperately needed a bat to fill the void in their lineup.  Owner Mike Ilitch decided to go all in, and signed Fielder to a nine-year guaranteed deal worth $214 million, averaging $23.8 million per season.

While Fielder was just 27 when he signed that massive contract, his skill set: power, patience and strikeouts, combined with his less than ideal physique – he is 5’11 and 275 pounds – made the deal a massive risk for the Tigers, as it guaranteed the slugger big money all the way through his age 36 season.

Detroit would make the World Series in 2012 with Fielder as their first baseman and Miguel Cabrera, who would win the American League Triple Crown that year, at third.  They would then get swept in four straight games by the San Francisco Giants, and have not won a pennant since.  After another disappointing post-season run in 2013, losing to the eventual world champion Boston Red Sox, Detroit bailed out of Fielder’s contract.

Fielder was brilliant in his two years with the Tigers, thriving behind a right-handed slugger in Cabrera just as he did in Milwaukee with Braun.  Over 2012-2013, he hit .295/.387/.491 with 55 homers and 214 RBIs.  Those stats were lesser than his performances with the Brewers, however, which can probably be attributed with a move to the stronger American League, but also to Fielder’s advancing age and massive size.  Detroit sent him, along with over $30 million in cash to the Rangers in exchange for second baseman Ian Kinsler in the 2013-2014 off-season.

That trade worked out brilliantly for Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers.  Since arriving in Detroit, Kinsler has been the Tigers’ everyday second baseman and has hit .288/.330/.441 from various spots in the lineup, while playing 424 games, or practically every day.

In Texas, Fielder immediately fell off in 2014, hitting just .247/.360/.360 with, as the slash line shows, practically no power.  His season was cut short that June, however, as he underwent his first neck surgery for a herniated disk.  He had a great bounce back campaign last year, as he hit a respectable .305/.378/.463 with 23 homers and 98 RBIs and winning American League Comeback Player of the Year.  This year, though, something was wrong from the start.  He only hit .212/.292/.334 with only eight homers and became one of the lesser hitters in a young, star-studded Texas lineup. He underwent a second neck surgery on July 29 of this year for a herniated C4/C5 disc, according to MLB.com’s Rangers reporter T.R. Sullivan.

Fielder’s 319 career home runs are actually tied with his father, Cecil Fielder, himself a former Detroit Tiger, for 116th on the all-time home run list.  As mentioned, Fielder set a Brewers single-season RBI record in 2009.  He also set their record in home runs with 50 in 2007, and walks in 2009 with 110.  He also became just the second player ever to win multiple home run derbies, as he followed up his 2009 crown in St. Louis with another victory in 2012 across I-70 in Kansas City.

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