Archive for Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tigers need to ask tough questions

October 6, 2009


— Forget, for a moment, that Miguel Cabrera apparently got into a physical altercation with his wife. We don’t know exactly what happened, and because neither Cabrera nor his wife apparently wants to cooperate with police, we might never know.

He was not arrested, and no charges were filed. For the record, Birmingham, Mich., police determined that Cabrera and his wife were “aggressors” in an incident Saturday morning. I’m not saying he’s completely innocent, and I’m not saying he hit her. I’m saying we don’t know.

Concentrate, instead, on this:

The Tigers’ best player had a blood-alcohol content of .26, more than three times the legal limit, according to police.

At 6 a.m.

On the morning of what was, effectively, a playoff game.

Miguel Cabrera has put up some big numbers in his career. But .26 might be the most remarkable.

I don’t know what the Tigers will say about this when they meet the media at the Metrodome today. But I have a pretty good idea of what they will not say: that they are shocked; that he is the last guy on the team they would expect to drink so late at night, so late in the season.

In the days of Bobby Layne and Mickey Mantle, athletes were expected to play hard on the field, play hard all night, and then come back the next morning, in whatever condition they were in, and do it all again.

But the financial stakes are greater now.

Cabrera, 26, has played at least 157 games in every season since 2004. He never asks out of the lineup, never complains about injuries, even when they are legitimate — he played his way through a painful hamstring injury in June.

He produced at an MVP-caliber level for the Tigers this year.

The Tigers gave up a ton to get Cabrera: their best position prospect (Cameron Maybin), their best pitching prospect (Andrew Miller), $153.3 million (Cabrera’s contract) and their senses (hey, they gave Dontrelle Willis $30 million at around the same time).

So far, it has all been worth it. Cabrera has been an elite player. Maybin and Miller have not panned out yet.

But Tigers president Dave Dombrowski should be nervous. His franchise is on the hook for the next six years of Cabrera, at roughly $20 million per year.

And when you invest that much in a player, you are investing in the person, too. It is one thing for Cabrera to press in big situations, as he did this week (swinging at the first pitch way too often) and, frankly, throughout the year. As a player, he can work on that.

But when you have a person who thinks it is OK to have a .26 blood-alcohol content at 6 a.m. on one of the most important days of the year, he either has a problem or doesn’t understand what is at stake — or both.

I don’t have all the answers here. But whenever this season ends, Dombrowski and his staff need to ask some hard questions of Miguel Cabrera. A lot of ballplayers enjoy the nightlife, and this isn’t a moral judgment. It’s about an investment. The Tigers have to do what they can to make sure they keep getting their money’s worth from Cabrera.

And Cabrera needs to listen, for his own sake. Not to me. Maybe not even to the Tigers.

To himself.

This is what he said after Friday night’s game:

“Right now, I’m focused on the next game. I’m going to my house right now and go relax.”


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