Everyone remembers Cecil Fielder as a member of the New York Yankees, even though he was only on the team for a year and a half. In his brief time in the Bronx he had a profound effect on the 1996 World Series champions, but it took awhile for him to get that opportunity.
Originally drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the fourth round of the 1982 amateur draft, he was traded a year later to the Toronto Blue Jays for outfielder Leon Roberts. Fielder would make his major league debut in 1985 at the age of 21, but he could only manage a .781 OPS in 220 games over four years. In order to get more playing time, Fielder decided to leave Toronto and MLB behind for Japan and the 1989 Hanshin Tigers. It proved to be the best decision he would ever make in his professional career as the 25-year-old first baseman hit a monstrous .302/.403/.628 and slugged 38 home runs to earn the attention of Major League Baseball again.
He signed with the Detroit Tigers and went on to hit .258/.351/.498 with 245 home runs over parts of the next seven seasons, topping out in 1990 with 51, the second-most in Tigers history. He was an All-Star in 1990, 1991, and 1993, won the Silver Slugger at first base from 90-91, and received MVP votes from 1990 through 1993, coming in second behind Rickey Henderson in '90 and Cal Ripken Jr. in '91. He also led MLB in home runs in 1990 and 1991, making him a true offensive force in the early '90s.
Results: 53 G, .260/.342/.395, 8 2B, 13 HR, 108 OPS+, 0.2 WAR
By 1996, Fielder was 32 and still OPSing over .800 with about 30 home runs a season. The Yankees had a commanding 10-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles at the trade deadline, while the Tigers were easily the worst team in baseball with a 35-72 record. Despite their success, New York was eager to upgrade over their current designated hitter Ruben Sierra, who was hitting just .258/.327/.403 with 11 home runs. The two teams made a deal on deadline day to send Sierra and pitching prospect Matt Drews to Detroit in return for Fielder. Sierra would only OPS .616 the rest of the season for the Tigers before he was traded away in the offseason. Drews, a former first-round pick and Baseball America's 12th best prospect in baseball before the season, never reaching the majors before retiring in 2000 at the age of 25.
Fielder, on the other hand, thrived in a winning environment and batted .260/.342/.495 with 13 home runs down the stretch. He had two two-home run games and drove in four RBI on two separate occasions. He was an easy upgrade over Sierra and proved to be a key addition after a resurgent Baltimore team nearly usurped the American League East title from a Yankees team that was only three games over .500 in the second half of the season. In the ALDS that year, Fielder collected four hits in 12 at-bats while collecting four RBI and hitting a home run on their way to a 3–1 series victory. During the infamous ALCS against the Orioles, he only managed three hits in 22 plate-appearances, but he made them count by hitting two home runs, walking four times, and bringing in a total of eight RBI. His biggest moment was perhaps in the decisive game five when he hit a three-run home run off Scott Erickson and then Darryl Strawberry hit one of his own to go back-to-back in the third inning.
During the World Series against the Braves, he hit .391/.440/.478, despite being relegated to pinch-hitting for a good portion of the series. In Game Three, he helped create a key run late in the contest to secure New York's first win of the series. In Game Four, down 6–0 in the sixth inning, Fielder put the Yankees on the board with two on and no out. That three-run inning helped keep the Yankees in the game until Jim Leyritz's three-run home run off Mark Wohlers tied the game. New York then took the win in extra innings.
Fielder was actually responsible for maybe the biggest run of the series when he brought in the lone run of Game Five. Andy Pettitte and John Smoltz traded zeros into the eighth inning, but after Charlie Hayes reached on an error in the fourth, Fielder was able to knock in the unearned run with a double. That win set them up for their series clinching Game Six two nights later.
What did he do after?
Fielder remained a Yankee in 1997, but it was clear he wasn't the same power hitter he once was. He hit .260/.358/.410, but only managed 13 home runs all season at the age of 33. He also played in 98 games, missing eight weeks of the season with a thumb injury. He returned in mid-September and seemed to be fine, but ended up struggling in the ALDS against the Cleveland Indians before the Yankees were eliminated. Fielder spent the 1998 season with the Anaheim Angels and Indians, hitting only .233/.324/.401 with a mere 17 home runs. The man who once hit 51 home runs and averaged around 30 a season was gone. At the age of 35, his career was over and the big man retired from baseball.
His baseball legacy now lives on in his son Prince Fielder, but the Yankees have never forgotten what he did for them over such a small period of time. You can accuse Yankees fans of being a lot of things, but if you help win a championship, you'll never be forgotten. Fielder has been part of Old Timers' Day and many Yankee events over the years After years spent toiling for respect and finally getting what he deserved, the 1996 season proved to be the cherry on top of a great career.