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100 greatest Tigers: #39 Cecil Fielder

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The Toronto Blue Jays had no room for Cecil Fielder. So, the infielder moved to Japan for a season and tore up the league. The Detroit Tigers took notice and signed Fielder to play first base. The Tiger slugger shocked the American League with his amazing power. The first baseman accomplished feats unseen since Babe Ruth. Eventually, the Fielder Era ran its course, but not before the big man provided many fireworks for mediocre-to-bad Tiger squads.

The Kansas City Royals signed Cecil Fielder in 1982, but traded him to the Blue Jays the following season. Fielder played parts of four seasons with Toronto displaying some power. He hit 31 home runs in 506 at bats over 220 games with the Jays. However, Fred McGriff blocked the slugger’s ascent, so Fielder moved to Japan. The move allowed the first baseman to play everyday and paid over $1 million. He hit 38 home runs in the Japanese Central League. Fielder’s husky build (6’3’’ and 280 pounds) and prestigious power made him a fan favorite in Japan. They affectionately nicknamed him “Wild Bear.”

Detroit noticed the Wild Bear’s 38 home runs in Japan. They desperately needed power following a 100-loss 1989 campaign. Fielder returned to the majors in 1990 as the Detroit's starting first baseman. He promptly became one of the major stories of the season. The newest Tiger became the first major leaguer since 1977 to hit 50 home runs and the first Tiger since 1938. He led the league in home runs (51), RBI (132), slugging (.592), and total bases (339). The Tigers improved to 79-83 representing a 20 game improvement over 1989.

During the 1990 awards season, Fielder finished second in a controversial MVP race. Many felt the Tigers 20 game betterment over the previous season warranted a MVP award for Fielder. However, others argued the Tigers did not contend, so Fielder should not win the award. In 1991, Fielder finished second once more. Cal Ripken won the award playing for the 95-loss Orioles. Apparently, the voters changed their minds over what constituted MVP criteria between 1990 and 1991. On the other hand, Fielder did win Tiger of the Year honors from 1990-1992 and made the All Star team three times as a Tiger.

MVP controversy aside, Fielder’s 1991 season rekindled memories of Hank Greenberg. Fielder led the league in home runs (44), RBI (133), and games played (162). He became the first Tiger since Greenberg with consecutive 40 home runs seasons. Only Greenberg, Fielder, and Miguel Cabrera have accomplished the feat. The following season, “Big Daddy” led the league in RBI for the third consecutive campaign making him the first American Leaguer since Babe Ruth to do so. Also, Fielder added another 35 home runs to his career totals.

Fielder’s home runs tended to be truly majestic. He rarely hit a fence scraper. Instead, Fielder’s long balls were Ruthian in stature. In 1990, he hit a ball onto the left field roof at Tiger Stadium off Oakland’s Dave Stewart. Only three other players have accomplished this. The following season, he became the only man to hit a ball out of Milwaukee’s County Stadium off of Dan Plesac. The power and production made Fielder the highest paid player in baseball for a time. From 1993-1995, he hit 35, 30, and 28 home runs and knocked in 117, 90, and 82. The baseball seasons were cut short due to labor strife in 1994 and 1995, which explains the drop in numbers. Fielder played in 109 games in 1994 and 136 in 1995.

Baseball returned for a full 162 game season in 1996. Fielder put up monster power numbers once more. He hit 39 home runs and drove in 117. However, the Tigers cratered in 1996. They became a 100-loss team once more. As a result, they decided to dump salary and shipped Fielder to the Yankees. New York won the World Series while the Tigers would not contend again for a decade. Meanwhile, Fielder played just two more seasons. He remained in New York for 1997, moved to Anaheim for 1998, and finished that season in Cleveland.

Cecil Fielder hit 319 career home runs, drove in 1008, and had a career .827 OPS. As a Tiger, he hit .258 with 245 home runs, 758 RBI, .498 slugging, and .849 OPS. He made three All Star teams, won two Silver Sluggers, and received MVP votes from 1990-1993. People questioned the Fielder signing before the 1990 season. Many thought he was too big to be successful. However, size did matter since it helped Fielder hit so many home runs.

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