Cecil Fielder

After 31 home runs in four seasons as a part-timer for the Blue Jays, Fielder revived his major-league career following a year in Japan, emerging almost overnight as one of the 90s most prolific sluggers and placing his name alongside baseball’s most-hallowed home runs heroes. Often weighing in at over 250 pounds, he put to full use his considerable girth, massive arms and powerful legs, uncoiling a ferocious, all-or-nothing swing in the classic power-hitter mold that routinely generated both tape-measure blasts and prodigious strikeout totals. The good-natured first baseman, immensely popular with fans and players alike, was the first Tiger to hit a baseball completely over the left field roof at Tiger Stadium, and the first player ever to hit a ball over the outfield bleachers at Milwaukee’s County Stadium. An harbinger of the home run happy decade that followed, Fielder’s 51 circuit blasts in 1990 marked the first time an AL player had reached 50 since Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris in 1961.

In 1989 Fielder blasted 38 round trippers for the Hanshin Tigers, leading Japan’s Central League with a .628 slugging percentage. Detroit took a chance and signed him to a two-year deal in January 1990. Fielder made the decision look like a good investment when he began wowing teammates and opposing hurlers with displays of his massive power in spring training while winning the club’s first base job. Overcoming a slow start to the regular season, Fielder soon heated up (including a three-homer display on May 6th at Toronto) and didn’t stop busting fences the rest of the season. On October 3rd, the final game of the year, he joined the 50-home run club by clouting a pair of circuit blasts at Yankee Stadium. He led all of baseball in home runs, RBIs (132) and slugging percentage (.592), while also leading the AL in total bases and extra-base hits. His 182 strikeouts, meanwhile, were the fifth-highest total in baseball history. He finished second to Rickey Henderson in the AL MVP voting.

The next year produced much of the same. Fielder again led all of baseball in home runs (44) and RBIs (133), and again finished second in the MVP voting, this time behind Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. Angry over missing out on the honor for the second straight season, Fielder lashed out at over the voters, going so far as to accuse them of racism in their selection of Ripken, who was white.

He felt snubbed again in 1992, when he was left off the All Star team despite leading the league in RBIs at the midway point. “It’s an ugly situation,” Fielder said. “Is it the city we play in? Is it that so few fans come to our games?” He added that, “It’s kind of petty stuff compared to the other disappointments of my career”, referring to the years he spent in Toronto, when he posted good numbers in limited action but had to play in Japan to prove he deserved a full-time job. At season’s end Fielder wound up third to Juan Gonzalez and Mark McGwire in the home run chase, but his 124 RBIs made him the first American Leaguer since Babe Ruth to lead the majors in runs batted in for three consecutive seasons. Over the next several years he continued to pile up impressive power totals for a series of mediocre Tiger teams. In the ninth inning of an April 2nd game at the Minnesota Metrodome, Fielder took off from first on a hit-and-run and lumbered safely into second when Melvin Nieves swung through the pitch and catcher Greg Myers‘ throw kicked off the heel of shortstop Pat Meares. It was Fielder’s first stolen base at any level since 1984, and his first ever in 1,096 major-league games, a record for the most games at the start of a career without a steal. The Minnesota crowd cheered wildly after learning that it was his first steal, and after the game a Twins’ attendant delivered the base to his locker. “The pressure is off now,” Fielder said. “He (manager Buddy Bell) might start moving me a little more now that he has seen me run. Hopefully he won’t.”

After years of finishing well out of pennant contention with Detroit, Fielder was sent to the Yankees for outfielder Ruben Sierra in July 1996 just hours before the trading deadline. He launched 13 of his 39 home runs during his 53 games with New York, but his most vital contributions came during the post-season. Fielder homered and drove in four runs during the Yanks’ four-game dismissal of Texas in the Division Series, and then helped New York polish off Baltimore with home runs in Game Three and Five of the League Championship Series at Camden Yards. His biggest hit however, which came during Game Five of the World Series at Atlanta, did not leave the ballpark. With the series even at the two games apiece and Andy Pettitte and John Smoltz settled into a scoreless pitcher’s duel, Fielder ripped a fourth-inning double down the left field line to score Charlie Hayes. It would stand up as the only run of the game (and the last in the history of Fulton-County Stadium), as the Yankees hung on to claim a 3-2 series advantage. The club would win again in Game Six to capture the franchise’s first World Series since 1978.

Fielder spent one more year with the Yankees, hitting just 13 home runs in 361 at-bats. He signed a free-agent deal with Anaheim in December 1997, and was tied for the team lead with 68 RBIs before unexpectedly getting released that August. Many speculated that the club didn’t want to pay him several performance bonuses he would soon have been due, or that he failed to get along with manager Terry Collins. Whatever the reason, the Indians promptly picked him up for a pennant-run boost to their lineup, but let him go in mid-September after he hit .143 in 14 games. The following spring he signed a minor-league contract with the Blue Jays but was cut just before the start of the season when Toronto traded for Dave Hollins to serve as their DH.