Prince Fielder plays it safe
When asked about former teammate Ryan Braun, Detroit's new slugger offers nothing
The Milwaukee Brewers' fate isn't Prince Fielder's problem anymore.
We get that. We all get that. But it still was pretty darned fascinating to see Fielder stand at his locker at Joker Marchant Stadium on Friday morning, talking about the biggest story in sports -- Non-Linsanity Division -- as if the news about Braun was something that was happening to some casual acquaintance, some dude he barely knew.
Now Prince did say it was "great news." And that he "didn't want him to have to miss those games." And that he was happy for the Brewers because "you don't want to lose a guy like that; he's the MVP."
So it's not as if the Tigers' new cleanup hitter acted as if the massive invasion of roving media inquisitors Friday morning was grilling him about the latest headline concerning some soccer star in Buenos Aires. We'll give him that much.
But less than a minute into the conversation, Prince dropped this line -- about a huge, huge story, one that involved a man he'd spent the last five years playing with, thriving with, winning with:
"I don't really know much about it," he said.
So how was that possible, you wonder? How could Fielder not have spent any time over the last three months following THIS story?
"I have a life too," he said, with a brief chuckle. "I was trying to get a job there for a while. I didn't have much time to get deep into what was going on."
It was an amusing little quip. But it was also a line that gave us a window into the modern American baseball player, not just this particular baseball player.
For the most part, when controversy wells up all around them, they can't run away fast enough.
So if it's really true that a guy like Prince doesn't know much about Ryan Braun's story, it's because he doesn't want to know. It's not, we're pretty sure, because he was too busy pounding the pavement looking for work this winter to fit this complicated research project into his all-consuming schedule.
Remember now, the less a guy like Prince acquaints himself with the thorny details of this story, the easier it is for him to answer the probing questions with three sentences and a cloud of this-ain't-news dust.
Which is pretty much how his four-minute media session on this topic went. Just to give you a little more flavor, here are some more excerpts:
MEDIA: "Did you talk to [Braun] at all?"
PRINCE: "No. Not really."
MEDIA: "Did you text him?"
MEDIA: "When the [test results] came down [last fall], did you feel for him, commiserate with him?"
PRINCE: "I didn't talk to him. (Pause.) I haven't talked to him about it at all."
MEDIA: "No player had ever won this kind of appeal. Were you surprised it came down like this?"
PRINCE: "No. I mean, he said he was innocent. That's what it was. I don't really know."
Even when the most pivotal question of them all came roaring right at him, the tone didn't change.
MEDIA: "Prince, in your mind does this clear Ryan? Or is he just 'not guilty'?"
PRINCE: "I don't know. I don't know. Obviously, it says he's not guilty. It's what it is."
And that was as deep into this crevice as he wanted to climb. We guess, in some ways, it's tough to blame him.
Oh, you should know that there are, in fact, some deep thinkers out there in clubhouses around the game who recognize all the levels to this story, who understand that this development reveals major flaws in baseball's testing system and know it could open a door for more issues with future positive tests down the road.
But guess what? There aren't many. You could probably count them on two hands.
You might have to add a couple of toes at some point, we suppose, if the media can keep the flames on this story burning bright enough and long enough. But for now, we'll stick to our estimate. The guys like that -- the future union leaders of America -- are so embedded in the minority, they're harder to find than a 50-homer man.
And the guys who comprise the rest of the player population? They're much like Prince Fielder.
The less they know, the better.
The fewer questions they can answer, the less likely they are to wind up as the lead topic on somebody's morning-drive-time talk show.
The fewer sound bites they can produce, the easier it will be to avoid being asked to provide more sound bites -- or look into 50 cameras and defend their previous sound bites.
So even though what unfolded in the Tigers' locker room in Joker Marchant Stadium on Friday happened to involve the Brewers' longtime No. 4 hitter talking about the Brewers' longtime No. 3 hitter -- a guy about whom Prince Fielder did say at one point, "We were close" -- it really was a much larger slice of big-picture baseball life.
Players are actually coached these days on how to dodge making headlines at times like this. You know that, right?
Some of them, of course, are more coachable than others. Some of them, in fact, are natural-born non-headline-makers.
And what about Prince? Well, we don't know if he can earn all $214 million the Tigers are about to pay him through the year 2020. But they can definitely invest their media-coaching money elsewhere.
This man has his "I don't really know" answers down cold.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in a new paperback edition in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.
Follow Jayson Stark on Twitter @jaysonst.
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