Empty Throne in Milwaukee
By Jeff Dunlap, Media and Community Outreach Assistant
I was sitting at my desk the other day, working on a project that will keep me busy all year long, when at 2:16 my phone vibrated. I ignored the text and kept working until I felt it vibrate again. Two texts within a minute warranted me checking my phone…
Text one from my buddy Mike: “Dude 9 yrs $214”
Text two from my buddy Randy: “tigers”
My stomach literally dropped. These two simple texts explained what I knew was coming but refused to believe, even without mentioning his name I knew… Prince Fielder was not coming back to Milwaukee.
As many know, it hasn’t always been homeruns and division titles for the Brewers. I grew up cheering for Jim Ganter, Greg Vaughn, Pat Listach, Jeff Cirillo, John Jaha, Darryl Hamilton, and Cal Eldred. The most entertaining part of Brewer games in the 90s was Bernie Brewer sliding from the top of a keg into a beer mug (still the most disappointing thing about new Miller Park is they converted this amazing keg slide into “Bernie’s Clubhouse”). I grew up cheering for players 95% of people outside the city of Milwaukee didn’t know of, players who didn’t have a winning season from ’92-’07.
The first year I truly began to love baseball was ’98 (the best baseball season of ALL time). The Brewers defensive alignment that year, 1-9, was: Cal Eldred, Mike Matheny, Mark Loretta, Fernando Vina, Jeff Cirillo, Jose Valentin, Geoff Jenkins, Marquis Grissom, and Jeremy Burnitz with John Jaha sharing time at first base with Loretta… these players combined for a 74-88 record in ‘98. I was ecstatic.
Being excited over a 74-88 record can paint a picture for those out there who don’t understand what it’s like to love a team that quite simply, sucks. However, in 2002 things began to change. As documented in the book “Moneyball” Prince Fielder was considered by many teams as being too fat. However, when the Brewers pick came along, they went with the hefty lefty and sparked the Brewers resurgence in baseball. From 2000-2005 the Brewers selected, Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Yovani Gallardo, and Ryan Braun in consecutive drafts. The most important of those draft picks being The Prince himself, anchoring what would become one of the best young teams in all of baseball.
The Prince deal itself is no surprise. You knew the slugger was going to get paid. Even the duration of the contract, while slightly surprising, is not ridiculous. What is strange, and bothersome as a Brewers fan, is the team he went to. A team with one of the best hitting first basemen in baseball. A team that within a year will have to fit 3 players for only two positions. Prince himself came out and publicly stated that he wanted to play first base, that he wouldn’t DH. Yet, he will have to DH at times his first year and most likely much more in the following years when Victor Martinez returns. Now, for those that think Prince can’t play first, I have seen Prince play. I can promise any doubting fan that Prince is an athlete, regardless of how he looks. The man is not slow, and has become an average first baseman defensively. Too much stock is put into his weight and its affect on his position. You can either make the athletic plays or you can’t, Prince can. I believe Prince can and should play first, and I thought he felt the same way, but the fact is he signed with a team that is going to DH him.
As a fan I may sound bitter, and that’s because I am. I finally have a team that I can watch win some games and then, POOF! its best hitter is gone. I know why, I even understand it. Hell, I might have done the same thing. The thing about it though, is that I’m a Brewers fan. A die hard Brewers fan. I built their new stadium (the state increased taxes in the 5 surrounding counties to pay for the stadium, one of which I lived in), I’ve bought tickets, I’ve bought merchandise, and I’ve watched them lose for YEARS. This gives me the right to be upset when one of the best players in the game up and moves to Detroit…. I mean come on, Detroit? This wasn’t a “he wants to win now” situation. If Prince wanted to win now he could and should have stayed in Milwaukee. The Crew plays in a worse division with a better team top to bottom. Even with Prince’s departure the Crew is in line to compete for another Division title. All of which means that his decision was based on money.
As stated earlier, I understand going somewhere else for more money. In almost every other profession in the world you go where the money is. The Brewers could have probably offered a contract of 6-8 years around 20 million dollars. That’s 160 million dollars. Some of you might be saying, “Well that’s 40 to 50 extra million dollars”, but what can you possible do with 200 million dollars that you can’t do with 160? As an accountant taking a new job and higher salary may change your lifestyle quite a bit, but when you’re dealing with such monstrous contracts aren’t there more important things, especially in baseball?
Ryan Braun signed the biggest contract for a player with less than 1 year major league service in 2008, but that contract was widely considered “team friendly”. It was a 45 million dollar 7 year extension. 45 million dollars for 7 years for RYAN BRAUN. It is your right to prematurely judge and dislike Ryan Braun over his apparent drug test failure, but there can be no argument that Braun is one of the best players in the game just as Prince is. Yet, when Braun signed that first contract extension he was asked why he didn’t wait, and most likely receive a larger contract. His reply was simple, “For me to have the opportunity to secure my future financially is something that means a lot to me. I just feel like I was ready to make the commitment to the city of Milwaukee.” Was Prince not going to be financially secure in Milwaukee? He must have not have been willing to make a commitment to the City of Milwaukee. This is not fine with me, not after what the Brewers and the city of Milwaukee have done for him.
Baseball and its contracts cannot be compared to any other profession. Financial security and lifestyle are not a problem for baseball stars. Their massive contracts have guaranteed them a lifestyle that many of us can only dream of. With this type of security, legacy and commitment to not only the game, but a city should matter. However, the truth about these superstars, role models, sport gods, or whatever you may call them is that they are people. Some are nice others are mean. Some are humble others are cocky. Some are loyal, others simply are not.
Prince Fielder was an important, if not the most important, piece in turning Milwaukee’s franchise around. I recognize it, and I thank him a million times over for his contribution. I’ll give him a standing ovation on his first at bat back in Milwaukee. However, I will not show him unconditional love as a Brewers fan because he’s not a Brewer. He made a choice to sign in Detroit, just as Braun made a choice to stay in Milwaukee, just as I have made a choice to be upset and bitter about his departure. I’m a fan, I get to do that.
Jeff has begun his first year with the Crawdads as a Media and Community Outreach Assistant. The Waukesha, WI native attended school at Northeastern University where he played varsity baseball for the Huskies while earning his degree in Communications. Jeff is an avid Wisconsin sports fan and enjoys staying active any way possible.