Prince Fielder was by no means the biggest reason the Tigers lost to the Red Sox in six games in the ALCS. But the Tigers are paying him $214 million over nine years and he had just four hits (three singles and a double) in 24 trips to the plate against Sox pitching, so he has been a magnet for criticism. He also made a costly base running gaffe in the sixth inning of Game 6, getting caught down the third base line by catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and making a failed attempt to belly-flop back to third base.
Some players would be outwardly upset or remorseful that they are no longer playing for a championship. Fans like this because they are able to grieve vicariously through their team’s players. For Prince Fielder, though, he isn’t letting the missed opportunities get to him. Via MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez:
“You have to be a man about it,” he added. “I have kids. If I’m sitting around pouting about it, how am I going to tell them to keep their chins or keep their heads up when something doesn’t go their way? It’s over.
“It isn’t really tough, man, for me [to move on]. It’s over. I have kids I have to take care of, so, for me it’s over, bro.”
Told fans may be upset to hear him shake off a disappointing loss so quickly, Fielder said: “They don’t play.”
As much as the “they don’t play” defense rings hollow, the fans and the media shouldn’t be in the business of dictating how a player should react and feel at any time. If this is how Fielder deals with failure, all the more power to him.
Retired big league pitcher Barry Zito has a memoir coming out. Much of it will likely track the usual course of an athlete’s memoir. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat and a few fun and/or sad and/or thoughtful anecdotes along the way. One bit of it, though, is not the stuff of the usual athlete memoir.
He writes that he ctually rooted against the San Francisco Giants — his own team — in the 2010 World Series. He did so because he was left off the postseason roster, felt miserable about it and let his ego consume him. From the San Francisco Chronicle:
“It was really hard to admit . . . I rooted against the team because my ego was in full control and if we lost then I could get out of there . . . It would a) prove they couldn’t do it without me, and b) take me out of the situation because I was so miserable coming to the field every day. I was so deep in shame. I wanted out of that situation so bad.”
Zito at that point was midway through a seven-year, $126 million contract he signed with the Giants after the 2006 season. Almost as soon as he signed it he transformed from one of the better pitchers in the game — he had a 124 ERA+ in eight seasons with the Oakland Athletics and won the 2002 Cy Young Award — to being a liability for the Giants. Indeed, he only had one season in San Francisco where, again, by ERA+, he was a league-average starter or better. In 2010 he went 9-14 with a 4.15 ERA and was way worse than that down the stretch. It made perfect sense for the Giants to leave him off the 2010 postseason roster. And, of course, it worked out for them.
Things would improve. He’d still generally struggle as a Giant, but in 2012 he was a hero of the NLCS, pitching the Giants past the Cardinals in a must-win game. He then got the Game 1 start in the World Series and beat Justin Verlander as the Giants won that game and then swept the Tigers out of the series. As time went on he’d fine more personal happiness as well. When his contract ended following the 2013 season Zito took out a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle thanking Giants fans for their support. He’d leave the game in 2014 and pitch three more games for the Athletics in 2015 before retiring for good.
Not many baseball memoirs deliver hard truths like Zito’s appears willing to do. That’s pretty damn brave of him. And pretty damn admirable.