PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 04: Prince Fielder takes first plunk of his postseason career, in the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game Three of the National League Division Series at Chase Field on October 4, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
This is Part 3 of a week-long series series looking at Prince Fielder's tenure as a Brewer from every possible angle. Today's guest poster is Plunk Everyone, who chronicles hit by pitches at a depth most of us can hardly imagine. - KL
Prince Fielder: A story of youth, resilience, and getting hit by a lot of pitches
On May 9, 1986, a little boy named Prince sat with his mother on his 2nd birthday, staying up late to watch his father, a young Designated Hitter for the Blue Jays, play against the Mariners. It was the first Major League game that Cecil played on his son's birthday, and he promised his boy that he'd hit a home run for him. Maybe even two. (Or so I imagine.) In the 2nd inning, Prince got his birthday wish - perhaps too young to really understand what was happening, but he saw his father swing that big bat and hit a towering fly ball right out of the park. A home run! For his birthday! Baby Prince Fielder must have been so excited. But then he had to wait for the next time his father came up to bat, thinking for sure that his father could crush that baseball any time he felt like it. Could Cecil hit another home run for his son's birthday? Well no. Cecil came to bat again in the 5th inning, and Seattle pitcher Mike Moore wasn't going to give the rookie slugger another chance to go deep - it was a plunk. Cecil's first major league HBP on his son's 2nd birthday. With Prince sitting with his mother watching, scared, wondering where it all went wrong. Wondering if his father got hurt, but without the understanding that his father could be hurt. Dad's are invincible, as Cecil showed with his earlier home run.
That moment could have left Prince Fielder with a lifelong fear of baseballs... but we know that didn't happen, don't we. What I think happened is that Cecil brought home that baseball, and gave it to his son and said something like "It's just a baseball - it's hard, and it moves fast, but when you're big and strong, it doesn't hurt that much. And look at it this way, Son - when you get hit by a pitch, you get to go to first base. And that's the first step to coming home." And Prince kept that baseball, and grew up to be big and strong, always knowing that sometimes you have to get hit by a few pitches to reach your goals, but that's nothing to be afraid of.
Okay, okay, I have no idea if any of that really happened, but Cecil Fielder really did get his first career HBP on Prince's 2nd birthday, and he did hit a home run earlier in the game. But Prince Fielder has a superhuman talent for getting hit by pitches, and every superhuman talent needs an origin story.Twenty years and 19 days later, on May 28, 2006, Prince Fielder got his own first plunk in the Majors. It was in the 5th inning, just like his dad's was, although he only hit a double in the 2nd inning unlike Cecil's homer. He'd already proven that he had no fear of baseballs, taking 44 plunks in the minors on his way to the Brewers. At just over 22 years old he was no where near the youngest player ever to be plunked for the Brewers (that would be Robin Yount, at 18.57 years old), but within a few months he became the youngest Brewer to get to 10 HBPs. On September 17th that year, he became the youngest Brewer to get hit twice in a game. By the end of 2006 he had 12 HBPs, winning the National League most plunked rookie of the year award, handed out by some silly website called Plunk Biggio. That was the most HBPs ever recorded by a left handed Brewers rookie, and possibly the Brewers rookie record (depending on whether Keith Ginter was a rookie in 2003, which I can't figure out). At the time, Fielder was just the 9th left hander to get hit at least 12 times as a rookie, joining Denny Sullivan in 1907, Steve Evans in 1909, Heinie Manusch in 1923, Ed Bouchee in 1957, Al Oliver in 1969, Bake McBride in 1974, Fernando Vina in 1994 and Nick Johnson in 2002. Alex Gordon joined that club in 2007.
By the time Prince was 23, he had 15 HBPs under his belt (not literally of course). The only left handed batter born after the year 1900 to take that many plunks by his 23rd birthday was Heinie Manush, and he was born in 1901. Since 1974, only 3 batters have reached 40 plunks by their 25th birthday - Jason Kendall, Rickie Weeks, and Prince Fielder. And now he's at 78 career plunks, and he doesn't turn 28 until next May 9th.
But, you know, there's more to baseball than just getting hit by a lot of pitches. There can be too much of a good thing - like in Greek mythology, where Icarus flew too close to the sun, and then had to go on the DL because he got hit by too many pitches. So it's also important to stay on the field - so you can get hit by a lot of pitches (and hit the ball a lot too, I guess, if you're into that). In Prince Fielder's 6 full seasons of major league service (dropping his partial 2005 year), he got hit by 78 pitches and played in 959 games. The list of players who have played that many games and gotten hit by that many pitches in the span of 6 seasons isn't very long. It's just Prince Fielder. Though some of that is circumstance, that he plays with a 162 season. Craig Biggio probably would have matched that if it wasn't for the labor dispute in 1994. But lots of players have played that many or more games in a 6 season span - Cal Ripken, Pete Rose, Miguel Tejada, Ron Santo and Ichiro to name a few, but the most HBPs any of them got was 56 by Tejada. In 2011, Fielder was the only player to play all 162 games (though Matt Kemp played all of the Dodgers 161 game schedule). In 2009, Fielder was also the only player to play 162 games. He sat out one game in 2010, but in that span of three seasons he got hit by 40 pitches and played 485 games. Alex Rodriguez is the only other player to do that (with Texas from 2001 to 2003). There's a reason that historically baseball has focused on counting stats and career milestones like 3000 hits and 500 homers - because durability is a talent. Particularly back before doctors learned to do things like transplant Tommy John's spare ligaments into other people, durability may have been the most important talent. Craig Biggio was amazing at being hit by pitches, but he was also amazing at keeping on the field for 20 years, and being on the field enough to get hit by 285 pitches. In a baseball environment where hardly anyone plays every day anymore, it's that much more remarkable that one of the guys who does play every day also gets hit by pitches so often.
So, that's one of the reasons I hope he'll stay with the Brewers. If I were a normal Brewers fan I'd be hoping Prince would stay so I could see him crush home runs, and add to his 8 career walkoff hits for Milwaukee (4 were homers). But I'm just a baseball fan from another part of the country who loves seeing guys excel in the obscure art of getting hit by pitches - and I'll be able to enjoy Prince Fielder where ever he goes. The problem is, it just increases the chances that he'll go to a team with a manager who will make him rest more, or encourage him to get out of the way of more pitches. And that's just no good. Also, if Prince leaves the Brewers, they'll be breaking up one of the greatest HBP combos of all time. It was Fielder and Rickie Weeks who became the first teammates with over 20 plunks each in a single season since Doc Gessler and Kid Elberfeld did it for the 1911 Washington Senators. If they could play together for another couple of years they could join the short list of teammates who have played together after each has been hit 100 times for their team. That list is just Derek Jeter and Jason Giambi for the Yankees for about a month in 2008, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell for the Astros from 2001 to 2005, Nellie Fox and Sherm Lollar in 1962 and '63, and Nellie Fox and Minnie Minoso in 1961 and 1962.
Fielder's 78 regular season plunks with the Brewers have come in 72 games, and the Brewers are 41-31 in those games. They're 33-20 for a .606 win percentage when Prince Fielder takes an HBP in a home game, and they're 39-21 for a .538 win pct in road games with a Fielder plunk. They're 4-2 when Prince gets his twice, but he's never had a two plunk game at home, for some reason. Also, among those 78 plunks, none of them has occurred with the bases loaded. In the past 40 years, only Eric Young (89) and Devon White (87) have had more plunks without having a single RBI plunk. So it seems to me he has unfinished business in Milwaukee.
Also, among left handers in the NL Central, Fielder only needs 31 more plunks to pass Fernando Vina for the division record. If he leaves the division, he won't be able to do that. Since 2005, only Rickie Weeks has been plunked more than Fielder for NL Central teams.
Regardless of where he plays, I hope everyone will join me in rooting for him to keep displaying his talent for HBPs. He's 105 plunks behind Jake Beckley for the most HBPs by a left hander (though Chase Utley may get there first). Also, he's just 67 plunks behind Jose Guillen for the most HBPs by anyone born under the astrological sign Taurus - so he's got that important record to reach as well. He already holds the all time record for getting hit by pitches thrown by pitchers named Zach, but he'll need to defend that record. And as I mentioned, he's not even 28 yet, so he should have a good number of years left to get hit by a lot of pitches. So here's hoping we can all enjoy many more years of Prince Fielder, even if he's not wearing the uniform we'd pick for him if we could.
Thanks again to Plunk Everyone for taking the time, and be sure to check out his site for much, much more on the day's HBP exploits.