DETROIT – The dumping of Prince Fielder cut this city deep.
Sure, it was simply a Major League Baseball trade. It happens all the time. Bigger and better stars have been moved, run out of town, shipped elsewhere. Heck, Babe Ruth was sold by the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees.
And in this case, the Detroit Tigers made a business decision in trading Fielder, a slugging first baseman, to the Texas Rangers for second baseman Ian Kinsler.
But when Fielder signed a free agent contract with the Tigers two years ago, it was a big deal, especially in the black community. Some barbershops were abuzz. There was a sense of pride and a good feeling that one of the city's own had made it big, really big.
Although Prince wasn't born here, he was raised in the D. Prince's dad, Cecil, was the Tigers' big slugger in the early '90s. When Prince was mashing home runs in a local Little League, Cecil was the highest-paid player in the sport and hitting eye-popping home runs on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull.
So many felt like Prince was one of their own. They even remembered when Prince, at just 13, hit a home run out of the old Tiger Stadium. It was a story for the ages.
So when Tigers' owner Mike Ilitch announced that he was bringing home a native son to be the missing piece to finally deliver this city a World Series title for the first time since 1984, peeps got excited.
The Tigers not only grabbed an African-American baseball star – and there are fewer and fewer these days – but they also paid him in record-setting fashion. Fielder got a nine-year, $214-million deal, the fifth-largest contract in the history of sports.
Fielder's name was on the tongue of Detroiters, many who were themselves struggling in a community hit hard by the recession.
It came across of a ray of hope, that things aren't totally dead in a city on life support. It was more than just about baseball and money for Fielder. It was a sense of pride that a brother FINALLY got paid.
The history of blacks and baseball in Motown isn't a good one. The Tigers were second-to-last in integrating and didn't get their first black player until 11 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. And back then, owner Walter Briggs didn't want black fans to come to the games.
Now, Fielder is gone. Just like that, the rug pulled from underneath him after just two seasons.
Sure, Fielder was terrible in postseason this year. Despite having 25 homers and 106 RBI in the regular season, Fielder had NO homers and NO RBI in the playoffs.
It seems impossible that an RBI machine was shutdown completely. It made many fans – both black and white – angry. It made Fielder public enemy No. 1 on sports-talk radio.
Then Fielder – a quiet, laidback guy – committed the worst sin: He didn't cry or criticize himself for his horrible postseason performance. Fielder was asked if he was disappointed that his team wasn't playing in a Game 7.
He simply shrugged and said to reporters in Boston, "It's not really, man. For me, it's over. I got kids I gotta take care of. I got things to take care of. For me, it's over, bro."
It came off as uncaring, not a good-look for fans who live and die by Tigers games. They just had their dreams crushed, and Fielder sounded like he didn't give a damn.
Let's not forget that Tigers fans not only expected to go to the World Series for a second straight year, but to actually win it in 2013. After all, most MLB experts picked the Tigers before the season to do just that. Instead, they were eliminated in by the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series in six games. Worse, it didn't seem to bother Fielder one bit.
Still, some in the black community are sad Fielder is gone, that he was shipped out of town too fast and not given a chance to finish the job he was brought here to do.
The Tigers, on paper, aren't better without him. And the city folks that rejoiced his arrival, now can't be happy with his departure.
This one hurts.