02/21/11 10:36 AM EST
Fielder's power surge electrified Detroit
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
Yet, over the last two decades or so, very few who wore the old English D made as big of an impact as his mighty swing. And very few single seasons from a Tigers player meant more for the city of Detroit.
Before 50-homer seasons became an annual mark in the late 1990s and early 2000s, sometimes like a 20-win season, Fielder made it a piece of history. No one had crossed that milestone in 13 years, a longer drought than at any other time in modern baseball history, until Fielder hit 51 home runs in 1990. No Tiger had done it in 52 years since Hank Greenberg set the team standard.
It was the home-run chase of its corner of time, a day-to-day chronicle that picked up attention as he headed into the summer and didn't end until the season's final day. And it came from a previously anonymous slugger who had spent the previous year slugging homers in Japan.
"I probably couldn't have went to bed and dreamed," Fielder told the New York Times that year, "something like this would happen to me."
Credit for bringing Fielder to the Motor City went to then-general manager Bill Lajoie, who -- as one of his final signings in his job -- inked him to a three-year contract to boost a team that lost 103 games the previous season. Credit for the season goes to Fielder, who went to Japan a year earlier looking for a chance to prove himself after earning just 506 at-bats over four seasons in Toronto.
Fielder was at double-digit homers in early May thanks to a three-homer outburst on May 6 at Toronto, and entered Memorial Day with 18 homers.
But the real drama came at the end. With nine home runs in August, he entered September on the walkway towards history. But after reaching 49 home runs with a week left in the season and attracting international media attention, he encountered a power outage, going 2-for-20 with seven strikeouts. He went into the season finale still needing one home run for 50.
Fielder, with the pressure of the world on him, homered twice for 51. His single-season effort in some ways marked the hitting equivalent of Mark Fidrych's magical rookie campaign of 1976.
It wasn't just that Fielder hit home runs. He crushed them. And while he couldn't repeat history, he went on to hit 44 in 1991 and 245 over his Tigers career before he was traded to the Yankees in 1996.
With that power came new standards for RBIs. He led the league in RBIs in 1990, '91 and '92, something nobody had done in the American League since Babe Ruth. Nobody has done it since.
A generation later, Fielder still ranks among the standards for power. His home-run total ranks fifth in Tigers history behind Al Kaline, Norm Cash, Hank Greenberg and Willie Horton. And his 1990 and '91 seasons rank second and fourth, respectively, among the top 10 single-season performances for homers.