I have been a fan of the Detroit Tigers since the Summer of 1984. That means I am lucky enough to vividly remember my baseball team winning a World Series title, and waiting for them to win another. Since every year the team itself asks me who my Tiger is I decided to write about my favorite 25 Tigers since I became a fan…at eight years old…This has less to do with performance as it does with whatever intangible qualities Tigers’ players have…I mean this is the town that loved Brandon Inge and Don Kelly…and no neither one of those players will make my list…With all of that being said…
#10 First Baseman Cecil Fielder
By the time the clock ran out on the 1980’s the Detroit Tigers needed to be rebuilt, maybe not totally but they had lost a good amount of their power at the plate in the years following the terrible loss in the 1987 ALCS. Manager Sparky Anderson and his team were coming off a very disappointing 59-103 1989 campaign. Something needed to be done and more power had to be found. For what amounts to the first big foray into free agency GM Bill Lajoie went out into the market to find the pieces that could make his club competitive again. He landed Tony Phillips to several infield positions and help at the corner outfield spots, Lloyd Moseby to replace Chet Lemon (who moved over to RF) in Center…and then found the power he needed and a first baseman in Cecil Fielder who had played 1989 in Japan.
Cecil would play in Detroit till the trading deadline of the 1996 season when Randy Smith started selling off the parts to lock the team into his his now infamous five year rebuilding plan. In that time he became a very popular player due to his ability to hit balls very, very far. In his first season in Detroit he smacked 51 home runs…while 40 home runs as become something of a norm in recent years crossing the 50 tater plateau is still something very special. In fact only two Tigers have ever hit 50 home runs in one season…Of course with all that power and big swings come a lot of strike outs and in 1990 Cecil whiffed 182 the most of a Tigers hitter ever. He would win a silver slugger award and finish second in the MVP vote.
When he was signed it was not a very trumpeted move. The fans did not really know who he was…only true hardcore baseball fans knew who Cecil was and that he had been a bench warmer with the Toronto Blue Jays before going to Japan to find a bigger role with a team over there. In two years time that would all change and not only would Cecil be a adopted Detroit son but his 12 year old boy Prince would become famous for hitting a home run at Old Tiger Stadium. The team would also have new ownership and the new owner would fall in love with his big power hitter so much so that he severely over paid for his son in reaction to a Victor Martinez injury…a move that was later undone in a trade but remains a 6 million dollar per season line item on the Tigers’ payroll.
When Cecil came to town the era of the 1980’s great Tiger teams was at an end. Many of the stars of that team had moved on and the core of the team was aging. He wasn’t a big name signing but given the fact he hit 100 home runs over the next three years and batted in over 120 runs in each of those first three seasons he became a Tigers’ legend. However power alone cannot carry a team and the simple fact here is the Tigers of the early 1990’s didn’t have the arms to contend. The team would competed for the divisional crown deep in the the 1993 season but that would be the lone bright spot for the entire decade of the 1990’s.
The simple fact here is we loved Cecil for his bat. In six and more than a half seasons he was an All Star three times, won two Silver Sluggers, and finished second in the MVP voting twice. However, his Tigers teams never won a division…never made the playoffs…but they did manage to win 80 plus games twice. I have to wonder how much we would love this huge man had he helped bring our team back to the post season. While he signing did not make a huge splash he smashed three home runs in a spring training game that let Tigers fans know a new superstar had come to town. The early 1990’s Tigers were a team in dire need of some power at the plate, star power, and personality. Cecil was all of that and more. His signing began a new era for the team…the 1980’s Tigers were done and Cecil was the bridge to the next era for our baseball team. While that era was the worst of my time as a Tigers fan I still hold a lot of fondness for the Cecil days.