Prince Fielder was really good, but not a Hall of Famer

Prince Fielder is the best first baseman in Milwaukee Brewers history. I say that with all apologies to the beloved Cecil Cooper and George Scott‘s sideburns.

Nearly 1000 of his 1645 hits came as a Brewer, and concerns about his durability were completely shut out when he missed a total of 11 games in his time in Miller Park. He slashed .282/.390/.540 and has the franchise record for OPS. Combined with Ryan Braun in the lineup, the Brewers boasted as formidable a 1-2 punch as any contemporaries in the National League.

Fielder, despite massive popularity and a career worthy of being beloved in the Brew City, simply is not a Hall of Famer, neither by the standards for the franchise which he called home for the majority of his career nor the standards by which HoFers–even obscure, Veterans Committee types–hold.

His hit total is 79th all-time for his position; of Hall of Famers, only Frank Chance and Hank Greenberg have fewer (and Charlie Comiskey is in the Hall for his contributions off the field.) His 319 home runs–tied with estranged father, Cecil–is far below surefire contemporaries; Jeff Bagwell had 449, Albert Pujols has over 600. Lesser candidates like Paul Konerko have more. A great hitter, his .283 batting average is well-below Hall standards. Tony Perez‘ career average was .277, but he had over a thousand more hits. Thome hit .276, but also hit nearly twice as many home runs.

A WAR shy of 24 will deter most sabermetricians, many of whom won’t pay attention until a player crosses 60. The Hall of Fame average WAR for a first baseman is 66.8; his closest contemporary is Todd Helton at 61.2. Joey Votto is at 58.

Prince Fielder enjoyed a great, but brief, career. He was on his way to a Hall of Fame career and it was cut short by a freak neck injury.

Earlier this week, I wrote of nostalgia bias with regard to Kirby Puckett against Joe Mauer. Those who suggest Fielder should be headed for Cooperstown as anything but a paying visitor or VIP guest suffer from similar rosy recollection. Of all people, I get it: the Brewers were a moribund franchise when they drafted Fielder and he was a key contributor to the Brewers’ renaissance in the aughts. We remember him as part of why we fell in love with the Brewers. Well, you might: for me, falling in love with the Brewers was falling in love with Jeromy Burnitz and Tyler Houston (fun fact: I had a Tyler Houston Brewers jersey for a long time.) Needless to say, there wasn’t much to love in those fallow years.

The romantic side of me would argue strongly that, had Fielder let the money go and chose to stay in Milwaukee, Braun would have never run afoul of the CBA and the two of them would have carried each other into Cooperstown. That’s poetic, and it makes for a great story, but it’s unrealistic because getting to the Hall of Fame is unrealistic. And I’m a big hall guy! I’m not Bob Costas, wanting to revise history and pull the immortal from Elysium. Even by my more-liberal standards, Prince Fielder’s career body of work cannot justify a reasonable argument for induction.

Further, nobody leaves that much money on the table to stay home. Baseball is a business, both for a franchise and for the free agent. Your feelings toward Prince were unrequited and you’re going to have to live with that. Tuesday night’s enshrinement onto the Wall of Honor was like two old loves reconnecting again under the best of circumstances. ‘It’s good to see you,’ share some memories, crack an old joke or two, smile warmly, remember fondly and, at the end of the night, you go your separate ways.

You loved each other, but it wasn’t meant to be.

The same could be said for Prince Fielder.

Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.

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