November 20, 2013 at 1:00 am

John Niyo

Prince's parting was largely of his own making

Detroit — If it wasn’t tough for Prince Fielder, the way this past season ended, then it certainly makes it easy now for the fans in Detroit, the way he’s leaving.

Fielder’s brief tenure as the Tigers’ cleanup hitter and the highest-paid player in franchise history finished amid a cascade of boos in Comerica Park and that infamous third-base flop at Fenway Park. But it also ended with a series of puzzling postgame interview sessions that revealed Fielder as either tone deaf or just plain dumb.

And while this deal makes plenty of sense — and cents — for the Tigers, unloading Fielder’s burdensome contract and freeing up room on and off the field, it also puts an end to a relationship that had grown increasingly awkward.

Not to make light of Fielder’s own marital troubles, but there may have been irreconcilable differences here in Detroit, too.

“It’s not really tough for me,” Fielder told us after the Game 6 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park, an hour or so after his final weak ground-out and not long after manager Jim Leyland had told the team of his retirement plans. “It’s over. I’ve got kids I’ve got to take care of. I’ve got things I’ve got to take care of. For me, it’s over, bro.”

Fatherhood comes first

It is in Detroit, mercifully. Less than two years after owner Mike Ilitch struck a deal to bring Fielder back “home” — he’d practically grown up in the Tiger Stadium clubhouse — he paid him to leave Wednesday, sending Fielder and a $30 million promissory note to the Rangers in exchange for second baseman Ian Kinsler.

Again, there are baseball reasons that made this deal a no-brainer for the Tigers, from the roster and payroll flexibility — Max Scherzer and Fielder both happen to be Scott Boras clients, of course — to the infield reshuffling and defensive improvements.

But you can’t help but wonder if comments like that from Fielder as the Tigers came up short again in the postseason — after they “let one get away,” as Leyland put it — might’ve helped expedite this. I mean, here was a guy with a $214 million contract in a bankrupt city, an overweight slugger whose bat had gone silent in two consecutive playoff runs, shrugging off a crushing defeat in the AL Championship Series like it was a canceled lunch date.

In the right context, it made a little more sense, as Fielder went on to talk about his responsibilities as a father.

“You’ve got to be a man about it,” he said of accepting defeat. “I’ve got kids. If I’m sitting around pouting, how am I going to tell them to keep their chins up or their heads up when something doesn’t go their way?”

But it wasn’t just that one sound byte that swayed public opinion in Detroit. The boos preceded that final night, just as the struggles at the plate had for much of the season. And it reached a tipping point earlier in the ALCS, as Fielder kept slapping first-pitch grounders and then shrugging off questions about his lack of production.

Never the right fit

In 24 playoff games for the Tigers over two seasons, Fielder produced just one home run and three RBIs — and none of either this October — giving him an anemic .196/.267/.239 postseason slash line that would’ve embarrassed a utility infielder, much less an All-Star power hitter.

And yet his nonchalant explanation after Game 3 against the Red Sox last month was, “If they throw a mistake, I hit it. If not, I won’t.” That comment didn’t sit well with other leaders in the Tigers clubhouse, and though Fielder’s work ethic was never questioned — “He played hard, he played every day,” Dombrowski said — it’s not hard to understand why.

Prince Fielder wasn’t brought here simply to hit mistakes.

And whether or not bringing him here in the first place was a mistake — Fielder didn’t enjoy hitting at Comerica Park and never seemed all that comfortable here — Wednesday night certainly felt like acknowledgment of one, on both sides.

And looking back, it’s as if Fielder were offering a prediction, not an explanation, after that final loss. Still in his uniform in the cramped visitors’ clubhouse in Boston, he shrugged, “Yeah. Definitely. It’s over.”

Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder walks away from the stands after he fails to catch on a foul ball in the ninth inning in Game 2 of the AL Championship Series in Boston Oct. 13. / Robin Buckson / The Detroit News
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