This has been an eventful week in terms of players calling it quits even if they were hitting as recently as last season. That Alex Rodriguez is retiring this week at age 41 is surprising, but only in the sense that he’s so, so close to 700 home runs and that the Yankees’ front office was somehow able to will it into existence. That Mark Teixeira announced last Friday that this, his age 36 season, will be his final one is not particularly surprising. Unless you want to just be a contrarian, A-Rod is a hall of famer (like Jonah Keri says in that article, feel free to put an asterisk by his name, but, seriously, come on). Teixeira is the very definition of borderline, but both he and Rodriguez are amazing players who had long and storied careers. But we’re not here to talk about them, we’re here to talk about the most heartbreaking news of the week, that Prince Fielder is done playing baseball.
Fielder, age 32, is retiring because his doctors aren’t clearing him to play baseball after his second surgery for herniated disks in his neck. Unlike Rodriguez (career 115.0 bWAR) and Teixeira (career 52.0 bWAR), Fielder (career 23.8 bWAR) isn’t going to be in any Hall of Fame discussions. But that’s okay and it doesn’t mean that Fielder wasn’t any less of a joy to watch, as when he was at his best, he was one of the most watchable players in the game.
Like Rodriguez, Fielder was a divisive player, just for different reasons. Whether it’s someone doubting whether Jose Altuve will be able to succeed, or Pablo Sandoval showing up to spring training looking heavier than expected, players who don’t conform to our expectations of what athletes should look like are always going to fight a fiercer uphill battle and face extra scrutiny if they fail. Fielder, who Baseball-Reference.com has as 5’11” and 275 pounds, took his fair share of heat for this, but he also embraced it, and, occasionally, 100% owned it, in the absolute best of ways. In the end, no amount of fat shaming or anything else can change the fact that Fielder was an absolute beast when it came to hitting.
In the eight full seasons Fielder played during his prime, from 2006 to 2013, he hit .286/.390/.528, averaging out to a 142 OPS+ hitter over that time frame. He put up an average of 3.4 bWAR per season despite putting up negative numbers defensively every season, a testament to just how great of a hitter he was in his prime. By wRC+, he was the 9th best hitter in baseball. Over that same time frame, Fielder not only never played in less than 157 games per season, but also played the most games of anyone in MLB. From 2011 to 2013, he played in all 162 games, and never played more than a few games as DH until 2013, where he started a total of 11 games there.
If you want to get a statistical idea of just how amazing a hitter Fielder was, go play around with Fangraphs’ leaderboard tool for 2006 to to 2013. Fielder was the 2nd biggest liability on defense in MLB from 2006 to 2013 and yet, in spite of that, he still comes in at the 30th most valuable player over that time frame by fWAR. Fielder was always on the field and he was always hitting the absolute snot out of the ball, and doing it with style.
The Rangers' organization is going to have to figure out how to deal with the fact that Fielder is still owed millions, but let’s leave that for another day and just mention that he finished his career with 319 home runs, the same number as his dad, Cecil Fielder, instead. Let’s forget about all the other stuff and just reflect on the fact that we are losing one of the best hitters in recent history. Here’s a montage (feel free to queue up your own baseball-crushing soundtrack):
The world is a worse place without Prince Fielder whipping around and definitively destroying baseballs. May his post-baseball life bring him as much joy as he brought to baseball fans while he was playing.