Cecil Grant Fielder was born on September 21, 1963. Chosen in the 31st round of the 1981 draft by the Baltimore Orioles, he did not sign, instead waiting until the Kansas City Royals chose him in the 4th round one year later. He did not make his MLB debut until 1985, and that was with the Toronto Blue Jays. This team had the likes of Willie Upshaw and Fred McGriff to cover first base and designated hitter, leaving Cecil with precious little opportunity to gain experience. By the end of the 1988 season, he was ready to move anywhere to get a chance to play more baseball.
The Hanshin Tigers, who had released slugger Randy Bass in 1988, were looking for someone to fill the void left by Bass and the retirement of #4 hitter Masayuki Kakefu. With the promise of plenty of playing time and a slot in the heart of the order, Cecil signed on with Hanshin in the 1988 offseason.
As is typical with foreign players coming over to Japan, spring training was not an easy adjustment for the hefty righty. He struggled mightily with Japanese pitching, giving fans, the media and even manager Minoru Murayama the impression that the Tigers had made yet another poor decision in signing a foreigner to big money. However, early in the season, the home run production began.
On Opening Day (April 8 in Hiroshima), with runners on first and second base and no outs in the top of the 8th, Fielder hit the go-ahead home run to the upper deck of the left field stands. His stock rose quickly and all fears that he was another dud vanished.
He once hit three home runs in a single game against the Taiyo Whales (now Yokohama DeNA BayStars), including two that left the stadium altogether. In was even rumored that one of those balls was found near Kannai Station, a good 8-minute walk from the stadium. Over the course of the season, Fielder hit 14 home runs against the Whales alone. Unfortunately, he was unable to produce big numbers against the Tigers’ chief rivals, the Yomiuri Giants, against whom he managed just three round-trippers.
His huge swing and monster home runs (as well as his hulking, grizzly appearance) earned him the nickname “wild bear” (荒熊) among fans. He was extremely popular, and one of the few bright spots on a team that was in the first years of its 18-year “dark ages.” In fact, he was in the running for the home run title until September 14 (he had 38 home runs at the time, neck and neck with eventual HR king Larry Parrish of the Yakult Swallows). That day, facing the Giants, he became angry with himself for striking out. He slammed his bat to the ground, and it bounced back off the turf, hitting and breaking a bone in his right pinky finger, ending his season. The team hoped to sign him on for 1990, but when Fielder’s demands reached them (5 years and a huge increase from the $1 million he had earned in 1989), the team ceased negotiations.
Fielder signed on with the Detroit Tigers of the American League and made an instant impact. For three consecutive years, he led the league in runs batted in, and in 1990 became the first player in 13 years to record over 50 home runs. He would finish second in the MVP voting in each of his first two years with the Detroit Tigers, and ultimately went on to win a World Series ring with the New York Yankees in 1996.
He currently spends his time coaching and directing Little League baseball in California.
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