Thursday, February 7, 2019

#28 - Prince Fielder

What’s that Turtle doin’? Sluggers gotta slugg, particularly when they are the cover boy on a Topps product. Prince Fielder served as the face of 2013 Series One, appearing on all the wrappers, boxes, etc. Topps already had a bit of a thing for Fielder, making him card #1 in the 2010 set. Perhaps that somewhat helps explain passing over a slightly more obvious choice, as one of Fielder's team-mates had just won the first Triple Crown in 45 years.

Although the Tigers had just been swept in the previous World Series, they were keeping the band together to a large degree and much was expected for the 2013 club once again. This remains the only Topps wrapper I can recall to feature a Detroit Tiger as the sole face of a set of cards, something likely to remain true for a quite a while to come as I write early in 2019. 2013, however, was an exciting time to be a Tigers fan collecting baseball cards, and is perhaps one reason I took to this set so quickly upon it's release.

I like to think of this card as The Slugger With The Far-Away Eyes. This is the fifth such card in the set, a post-swing photo where a Hitter has clearly just made contact. On this one, I think, Fielder's eyes have the best launch angle so far. If only Alexa or Siri could just instantly measure that for me, we could know that for sure. Though a launch angle that is too high is just a pop-up. But what fun would it be to imagine that?

On all such cards, I can't help but look for signs that the batter is beginning to initiate running to First Base; although that is likely a pretty vain hope as the photographer is not trying to capture that and most such cards are a snapshot in time just before that starts. Although card #1 - Bryce Harper, does manage to combine the Hitter checking the flight of the ball he just hit, and evidence of running.

Still, seeing the Hitter checking out what the ball is doing, rather than running, seems somewhat wrong to me, as a fan. That is totally unfair on my part, as I am looking at a fixed point in time, rather than a continual segment of time. I bring all this up because as with the previous card for Mike Trout this card supplies a bit of a premonition, though with this card regarding how Fielder would end up leaving Detroit, just a year after this card was produced.

Uniform Hero? Oh yes. Long-time collectors know well how fallible Topps can be on the little things, but they are hardly going to drop the ball on handing out a premium checklist spot for the guy on the wrapper.

Where’d the egg hatch? Milwaukee drafted Fielder in the 1st round in 2002, as the 7th pick. He debuted with the Brewers in 2005.

How about the migrations? Fielder's career really took off in 2007, when he became the youngest player to hit 50 Home Runs. When his initial contract ended in Milwaukee after the 2011 season, there was much wailing and lamentation - Fielder was very popular there, playing for a club and a fanbase that felt reaching the final step of appearing in a World Series was in it's grasp. A few weeks prior, Albert Pujols had finally ended a similar drama in St. Louis by taking a huge(r) offer from the California Angels. Brewers fans at the time liked to note that Pujols was 32 years old already, whereas Fielder was only 27 - perhaps the following saga is on the minds of baseball GMs with money to spend, this offseason.

The Brewers' final re-sign offer was said to be 6 years, $120 Million. Scott Boras turned this down flat. Instead, Detroit Tigers owner Mike Illitch swept in with a 9 year, $214 Million offer (4th largest in MLB history to that point) in the 3rd week of January, 2012 - considered a bit of a late signing at the time, which makes for another interesting comparison to the 2019 offseason. A classic baseball tale that often makes one wonder - do we root for the actual teams, or the different owner / ownership groups? What if Mike Illitch had been born in Wisconsin?

Initial results were wonderful in Motown for Fielder - no one quibbles with a team that appears in a World Series. But for a team that loses the World Series? Oh, yes. Though perhaps not right away.

2013 was another bang-up year in Detroit, with a first place finish and a trip to the ALCS - but a lost ALCS. Immediately afterward, everything unraveled for Fielder and the Detroit Tigers fans, an increasingly public baseball phenomena in the 21st Century. Fielder only hit 25 Home Runs in 2013 - were the Tigers expected to pay $1 Million for each one? More astute fans noted a 120 point drop in his OPS.

But stats don't light up Social Media complaints like video clips and interview soundbites do. Fielder was caught on the basepaths during an ALCS loss in Boston, and that summarized much for the angry fans, despite Fielder's long career of proving his hustle - a career that included not 1 but 2 inside-the-park Home Runs. Worse was to come when a post-season interview seemed to indicate a bit of apathy about the playoff exit on Fielder's part; then the fury really mounted amongst the ever increasing binary fanbase public view of all sports results being Championship OR Suck. I often think pro athletes truly earn their money spouting endlessly repetitive sports cliches in interviews for years on end - but woe to the athlete that breaks the unwritten rules of those largely pointless affairs, as Manny Machado is discovering currently.

But the most important view was held by the man who agreed to give Prince Fielder the $214 Million - Mike Illitch. He let his displeasure be known, somewhat, and his all-timer type GM, Dave Dombrowski, was ordered to work his magic. This soon resulted in an astounding trade of the massive contract with the Tigers receiving Ian Kinsler from the Rangers while agreeing to pay some 25-ish% of Fielder's salary in Texas for the remaining 7 years on his contract.

Fielder's career in Texas was a stop.start.stop affair, with an injury (neck) shortened season in 2014, followed by one of his normal iron man type seasons in 2015, and then finally grinding to a tragic halt in 2016 with a neck/spinal cord injury that prevented further playing. Fielder announced this with a tearful final press conference during the season, wearing a neck brace at the time.

There are several angles to the whole Fielder/Detroit/Texas experience not widely known to observers outside of the Tiger fan base, and some of these partially shaped the club for several seasons to come. One was greatly explained by a trade in July, 2013, though some reasons behind it weren't known until not long after the Fielder trade in November, 2013.

The July trade shipped rising Outfield prospect Avisail Garcia to the White Sox - we will see the results of this trade with a post here for a Tigers card in Update, many years from now. It was widely rumored that a major downer for Fielder, in 2013, was off-field marital problems involving one of his own team-mates. This culminated in a clubhouse fight between him and Garcia, which also dragged in Miguel Cabrera, and led immediately to the Garcia trade. The saddest part of the affair by far was the potential that it contributed to the beginnings of injury trouble for Fielder, and also for surefire future Hall of Famer Cabrera. This is the type of what-happens-in-the-clubhouse-stays-in-the-clubhouse incident that usually only comes out decades later in baseball books, which are usually only written about the greatest All-Timers of the game; it remains a little unclear to me if Miguel Cabrera will some day rate such a tome in the tl;dr century. If only he could have won a World Series in Detroit, too...

As all that salaciousness only slowly became known in the sad post-ALCS loss for the Tiger fanbase, they found a large ray of hope in the Fielder trade. Prince's move would allow Miguel Cabrera to return to First Base, something hopefully good for his playing time longevity, as the Tigers had a hot young hitter available to take over at Third - Nick Castellanos. With the exit of the now unpopular Fielder, the trade largely appeared to be an addition by subtraction effort for many Tigers fans.

A final bit of mysteriousness surrounds the financial impact facing the Tigers for paying all that money ( > $40 Million) for him to play in Texas. This probably became a bit of a wash for Detroit, due to Fielder's career ending injury, as there was surely injury insurance on a guaranteed contract that large. However no one really knows how the Fielder and Kinsler contracts were composed in that regard, and which team ultimately paid out how much in the situation.

All of this was hardly a storybook season of triumphs Topps likely had in mind when they selected Prince Fielder to appear on so much baseball card packaging. I would like to see another Detroit Tiger on a Topps wrapper some day, I guess.

Don’t flip over real Turtles.
This card back perhaps reveals a selection factor for just why Topps went all-out with Fielder and their 2013 Series One baseball cards, something so unique in the history of the Detroit Tigers. Fans love the long ball, and so does Topps - win the Home Run Derby, and you will appear on a whole lot of baseball cards.

The 7 Lead Leader in Italics recorded here tie Fielder with his former teammate Ryan Braun, and Ryan Howard as well, for a lead among card backs in this set. Not recorded by Topps is the probable League Lead in "Wt" where Fielder bests Howard by 35. Perhaps that could serve as a tie-breaker.

Can the Turtle Catch the Rabbit?

CAREER CHASE: With 260 home runs, Fielder is 502 away from Barry Bonds' all-time record of 762.

Plenty of fans (well, aside from a few in Detroit) would have rooted for the usually affable Prince Fielder to win this particular race, and this is the only likely comparison in a baseball card back trivia contest like this one.

Fielder would finish his career with 319 Home Runs.

Subspecies? Though I would like to see a baseball card of Prince Fielder about to crush the fans along the rail while chasing a foul ball for a potential "Great Catch" short print, such was not to be.

But a 'wrapper man' is surely going to receive other such photo variation efforts in 2010s style Topps Baseball cards, and this same card does appear in Opening Day and Chrome. For his Chrome card, a truly unique card exists that I wish I could honestly show you from my own collection. This will likely arrive at Sea Turtle HQ some day, as after the sad end to his now non-Hall-of-Fame career track, his rare cards are generally available on collector markets.

That will also probably become the case for the "Sunglasses" variant inserted in Series 2 packs, but will remain a challenge for the "Postseason" variant to his Opening Day card, which are made in very limited quantities.

2013 Opening Day does supply the 2 cards that I like the most as a memento of his time in Detroit, beyond all the Series One ephemera at least. I was surprised this far more memorable "moon shot" style image wasn't used on this checklist:

I also like this card quite a bit for a nice memory of Prince Fielder -

This dynamic duo would also appear on 2 more cards in '13 Opening Day in the 'Superstar Celebration' inserts, but that type of checklist could well supply the most scarce (for a non 1/1 at least) baseball card of Prince Fielder, ever. For some reason, the "Play Hard" inserts created for Fielder and Cabrera had to be pulled from the product shortly after production began. The few cards already manufactured were immediately punched with a large hole in them - but a few escaped into the wild nonetheless.

The Play Hard inserts do manage to capture Fielder on another card, a Buster Posey card:
That card probably illustrates the true beginnings of the disenchantment with Prince Fielder among so many Tigers fans, as it shows him being tagged out in Game 2 of the 2012 World Series, with his foot probably about a foot away from Home Plate when the tag was applied. Baseball fans are legendary Captain Hindsights however, and this sin was unforgivable in a World Series. (It also supplied a long-held grudge for such fans against Third Base coach Gene LaMont, who waved him Home on the play; 3B coaches are only ever remembered for each and every mistake they make in such decisions.)

I would also be remiss in this post in not considering the most common 2013 Topps Baseball 'Sea Turtle' image of Prince Fielder of all of them:
Note that for some reason, this is not the same image as used on card #28. We have the same far-away eyes view after a ball was probably hit a very long ways, but here Fielder is wearing his road uniform, and full long sleeves. The additional follow-through might well make for a farther hit ball, who knows.

Perhaps some other baseball card blog could take up the mysteries of who appears on each Series of Topps Baseball each year, and the image used, etc., and whether that bodes good or bad for that player, that year. It worked out much better for the Series 2 cover boy, that I can tell you; we'll take a look at that some 300 or so posts from now.

And lastly, I also must share another bit of Sea Turtle baseball card history that I will probably literally never have enough physical space under my control to ever own:
This promotional event for the 2013 Topps Baseball cards created the largest baseball card the world has ever seen, and likely ever will see, at 84 feet x 60 feet.

Here is one more image of it, for a tiny bit of perspective here -
At press time here at Sea Turtle HQ, no word can be found on the fate of this 3,240 pound creation. Can you find the largest Sea Turtle card ever made? Don't try and bring it over to my house. Though perhaps it would be kind of cool to have the 10' x 30' panel of just the Sea Turtle.

Bling That Shell A card for the player on the wrapper surely deserves an epic parallel in the all-parallel set, you might suggest? Yes, I would say it does. For now, I only have the Toys R Us Purple parallel to show you, which scans a little better than it appears in hand. As you can probably tell by now I drive the project on the parallel color / Sea Turtle contrast created, so I would like to upgrade. The 2013 Factory Set Orange would be quite a bit more apropos here, some day, and a Pink wouldn't bother me, neither...

This card completes a binder page, so it is time to take a look at that. A few more Turtles have arrived here at HQ to assume their positions in the project, so look for a few updated links for the Page 2 cards in a blog post coming soon.

Until then, here are the Page 3 results:

Blog Update Highlight So, what will I display these colorful pages in? Naturally for all my cool picture trading card product needs, I would first consider What Would Topps Do? And this is surely the perfect card page in this set to share this handy 2013 Topps creation, a product they made for several sets for several years, but one I have not kept up with as to current availabilities / existence. For my 2013 All-Parallel set, this 3-ring binder will some day be the perfect Home:

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