NOTE: The piece planned to cover Andy Dirks is postponed, and will be postponed so long as he continues to hit. Go Dirks!
In an interview with Torii Hunter earlier this week he suggested that Prince Fielder‘s struggles at the plate might be due to undisclosed issues in his personal life. A little investigative reporting by Larry Brown Sports uncovered Prince Fielder’s pending divorce and the story has since been picked up far and wide.
The timing fits – if you’re looking for an explanation for why Prince isn’t hitting. He filed for divorce on May 28, and at that point had a .275/.402/.495 batting line through 49 games. In the 70 games since, that batting line is .254/.316/.389 – which is more like what you would expect from Omar Infante. If this is, in fact, throwing him off his game then you’d assume that he’d eventually get his head straight and return to normal, but… Getting divorced isn’t like getting dumped, the process drags on and messes with a person’s head for the duration – before the process of “healing” will ever even start. It’s possible or probable that any impact this is having on his game will be over by next April but not by next month.
Sports fans have a history of amazing tolerance for indiscretions in player’s private lives, so long as they continue to produce on the field (compare, for example, the reactions within the organization and outside to Miguel Cabrera‘s personal problems vs. Dmitri Young‘s). The thing is, fans (and organizations) also have demonstrated an amazing lack of empathy for players whose personal problems (not “indiscretions”, largely things beyond the player’s control) do affect their performance on the field. The argument that gets made is that so-and-so can’t let things affect their performance at work, and if they weren’t doing their job they’d get fired. I think that’s a bunch of bull. Professional athletics are nearly unique among occupations in terms of just how obvious your poor performance is at any given moment and obvious not just to your boss and co-workers but to millions of fans as well. If a guy driving a cab isn’t quite his usual productive self for a few months, you’re unlikely to ever notice – which is good, because there are things that can happen to you or people that you love that you just cannot block out no matter how much importance you put on your job. Your boss and your co-workers are likely to show some compassion, despite your poor performance, because they know you and like you as a person. Jim Leyland and Torii Hunter will cut Fielder some slack. Dave Dombrowski and Mike Ilitch might do the same (what choice do they have).
But that doesn’t go for fans… fans care about your production at work, like a shareholder would, and they can see every minute detail about what you do for the firm from day to day. But, unlike Jim Leyland for example, that is the only way that fans interact with a player. They don’t know and like Prince Fielder – they know and like Prince Fielder’s bat. And so, fans are unlikely to be cutting Fielder any slack anytime soon – and if you think I’m too cynical think back on all the calls to bench and/or cut Magglio Ordonez when his wife was battling cancer. I too relate to Fielder through his stats and what he contributes to the team that I – as a fan – have a vested interest in. My natural instinct is to say “get over it Prince, you’re still young and rich”, but I’ll be trying to fight it and cut the guy some slack just like Torii Hunter asked.