Prince shows vulnerability after being workhorse
Slugger scheduled to have season-ending surgery for herniated disc in neck
Not that long ago, Prince Fielder seemed to be indestructible. Seasons went by in which he played not only every game, but every inning.
Now, with a herniated disc in his neck, Fielder appears to be much more mortal. Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels announced in a conference call Thursday that Fielder is scheduled for season-ending surgery next week. Fielder will seek a second opinion, but it appears that the surgery is a near certainty.
Fielder had apparently been bothered by pain and stiffness in his neck for some time but had not informed the Rangers about his condition until last month.
He was initially treated with oral anti-inflammatory medication, but that did not work. Last week, he had an injection, and subsequently tried to return to the lineup Tuesday night, but he was scratched after experiencing significant weakness in his left side.
This condition had to affect Fielder's performance. His slash line for this season -- .247/.360/.360 -- looks like somebody else's work. He is .285/.388/.522 in his career.
Fielder has been, over time, one of the most dangerous power hitters in the game. It is no coincidence that he batted directly behind a Most Valuable Player Award winner in each of the last three seasons -- Ryan Braun in Milwaukee in 2011 and then Miguel Cabrera in Detroit in the last two seasons.
Each of those teams, with Fielder in the cleanup spot, qualified for the postseason, with the 2012 Tigers reaching the World Series.
Beyond Fielder's power was his staying power. He did not look like a candidate for playing every single day. He can be charitably described as rotund. He is listed as 5-foot-11 and 275 pounds. The height might be a liberal estimate; the weight might be on the conservative side.
But the point was that for years, Prince always answered the bell. From 2006 through 2013, he never played fewer than 157 games. And for four seasons, including the last three in a row, he played the entire 162 games.
And the way he played was extraordinary, too. He pulled considerable bulk around, but he ran out every grounder, every popup, every fly ball. Ned Yost, who now manages the Royals, and who managed Fielder during the player's formative years with the Brewers, said, "When other guys see Prince playing that way, the right way, they have to be thinking, 'I should be playing like that, too.'"
These traits, and the fact that he had helped the Milwaukee club to its best regular season in franchise history, made Fielder a highly salable commodity when he hit the free-agent market after the 2011 season.
This was why the Tigers were willing to climb the heights of the pay scale to obtain Fielder, signing him to a contract for $214 million over nine years. It was why the Rangers were willing to take on the vast majority of that financial obligation two years later, as well as giving up a very worthwhile Ian Kinsler in a trade with Detroit.
There should not be an "I told you so" chorus with the advent of Fielder's injury. There wasn't anything on his Major League record to support the notion that one of his seasons would end in May. There were a lot of people saying, "a guy with that body won't last forever." But the guys with perfect bodies don't last forever, either. Fielder, conversely, was known for some time as being a vegetarian. A rather large vegetarian, but still a vegetarian.
The Rangers have had no luck but bad luck on the injury front this season. Matt Harrison's entire career may be in jeopardy. Martin Perez just had Tommy John surgery and is out for the season. Geovany Soto has not played yet this season. Derek Holland tripped over his dog on a stairway, his left knee required surgery and he may not be back until midseason. Jurickson Profar may be out for the year. And this is just a sampling of a long and truly painful list of Rangers injuries this year.
The injury to Fielder hurts the club as much as anything. But knowing the way he has conducted the rest of his career, Fielder will come back from his surgery as fully as is humanly possible. He just turned 30 two weeks ago. His career does not have to be in irreversible decline. And he has demonstrated on a daily basis how much he wants to play baseball and play it the right way.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.