September 21 – Happy Birthday Cecil Fielder
If you’re a Yankee fan who is at least twenty years old, you probably remember Cecil Fielder well. He was born on today’s date in 1963, in Los Angeles. The Yankees acquired the slugging first baseman from Detroit during the 1996 season in a move designed to get some right-handed power on their bench. Fielder filled that role perfectly, blasting 13 home runs and driving in 68 in just 98 games.
When starting first baseman, Tino Martinez slumped in the AL playoffs and New York fell behind 2-0 in the ’96 World Series against the Braves, Joe Torre started Fielder at first in the DH-less games in Atlanta and benched Martinez. Cecil responded with an overall .391 average in that Series and because Tino ended up hitting just .091 against Atlanta, many Big Apple sports pundits predicted Fielder would see a lot more action at first base for New York, in ’97. That rumor gained even more traction during the off-season, when the Yankee front-office let it be known that they were considering offering the big guy a three-year contract extension.
That’s when Fielder and his agent over-played their hand and started making some hefty demands involving dollars. The Yankees backed off and New York fans responded to Fielder’s whining by turning on the huge slugger when the 97 season got underway. Fielder’s Yankee fate was sealed when he broke his thumb that July while Martinez was simultaneously in the process of putting together the season of his life, hitting 44 homers and driving in 141 runs. The Yankees’ released Cecil following their playoff loss that year to the Indians.
Since that time, published reports alleging Fielder had severe gambling problems certainly help explain why Fielder seemed to behave so greedily during that 1996 off-season negotiation. We also have since learned that Cecil’s look-alike son Prince, now a big league slugger in his own right, had pretty much disowned the elder Fielder years ago, disgusted with his Father’s gambling habits and resulting money problems. I read one article that claimed Cecil took half of Prince’s bonus money when his son signed with the Brewers.
Too bad for the Fielders and too bad for Major League Baseball. After all, these two guys are the only father and son combination to both hit fifty home runs in a big league season. They should be doing commercials together. Cecil earned close to $50 million playing the game and as soon as Prince signs his next contract he’ll get at least double if not triple that amount, for sure. Ordinary fans struggling to pay their property taxes, health insurance premiums and grocery bills have a real difficult time comprehending how money ever gets to be a divisive issue with athletes who have so God darn much of it, especially when those athletes are father and son.
In any event, the Yankees might not have won that 1996 World Championship without Cecil Fielder. I hope he gets his priorities and his problems straightened out and finds some peace in the years ahead.
Fielder shares his September 21st birthday with another former big league star who got traded to the Yankees late in his career and who also had to do battle with a debilitating personal demon. This long-ago Yankee outfielder was also born on this date.