A little more than a year ago, I heard Miguel Cabrera talk about how he had changed his life. I wanted to believe him.
He said he hadn’t touched a drink in months — since the October 2009 binge that led to a 6 a.m. altercation during which he hit his wife. He credited counseling sessions for helping him to get his life in order. He talked about wanting to become a better husband and father.
He was done with booze.
“It’s a beautiful life right now,” Cabrera told us then. “Everything is coming through perfect. I’m happy.”
Now, at the start of a new season, everything is far from perfect for Cabrera. And when it comes to alcohol, who can ever take him at his word again?
Cabrera, 27, was arrested late Wednesday night in Fort Pierce, Fla., and charged with driving under the influence. He was also charged with two counts of resisting arrest. And here we thought Albert Pujols was the biggest baseball distraction in southeastern Florida.
The details of Cabrera’s episode, according to the police report, are head-shaking and sad:
• When an officer asked who was with him, Cabrera responded, “I am going to f—— kill him.” (He was alone in the vehicle.)
• Cabrera drank from a bottle of James Buchanan’s Scotch Whisky on the roadside, in the presence of at least one officer.
• Cabrera refused to obey instructions from officers, at one point saying, “Do you know who I am? You don’t know anything about my problems.” When one officer asked Cabrera to get into a patrol vehicle, Cabrera replied, “F— you.”
• An officer administered three or four “knee spikes” into Cabrera’s left thigh in order to get him into the patrol car.
• According to the psychophysical evaluation of Cabrera, he was cocky, combative, argumentative and belligerent.
If the Tigers’ media guide already went to press, I hope for their sake that Justin Verlander is on the cover.
The Tigers bungled the immediate aftermath of Cabrera’s 2009 episode, allowing him to play the final three games of what became a historic collapse. The team made up for that by assisting with the development of a plan to treat Cabrera’s substance abuse during the 2009-10 offseason.
Cabrera rewarded them with an All-Star season and MVP-caliber numbers in 2010. He was supposedly sober, too. But it was hard to know for sure if Cabrera’s drinking problems were completely under control. Now we have the answer.
Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers’ club president/general manager, used the word “alcoholism” in discussing Cabrera last year, but Cabrera has never been comfortable attaching that term to his problem. Now, he must come to grips with the extent of his problem.
How many times has he had a drink in the past 16 months? Did he continue his counseling sessions as diligently this winter (and in-season) as he did last winter? Did those around him — family, friends, teammates, club officials — suspect he had fallen off the wagon?
The Tigers must find those answers, because it’s incumbent on them to develop a new, even more comprehensive plan to deal with Cabrera’s substance abuse. The organization has no other choice. Wednesday’s incident has rendered Cabrera untradeable, at least in the short term, and he’s guaranteed $106 million in base salary through 2015.
If the program requires him to miss the start of the season, so be it. Cabrera is supposed to report to Lakeland, Fla., with the rest of the Detroit position players Friday. Full-squad workouts begin for the Tigers on Saturday, but that is of secondary importance right now.
The Tigers were aware Cabrera had a drinking problem — though perhaps not on this level — when they acquired him from Florida in 2007 and signed him to the mega-money contract. To some degree, the professional fates of Dombrowski and Jim Leyland — who are in the final year of their contracts — are tied to keeping Cabrera straight.
The Tigers didn’t create this problem. But they must take more extreme measures to fix it. Their efforts so far, while extensive and well-intentioned, have been ultimately ineffective.
Perhaps Cabrera needs a full-time mentor, the kind Josh Hamilton has in Johnny Narron. “I’m with him and I’m for him 24 hours a day,” Narron told MLB.com last year.
One of Narron’s duties is to effectively keep Hamilton, who has battled drug and alcohol addictions, from going out at night when the team is on the road. At this point, it’s not absurd to suggest that Cabrera requires a similar level of supervision or monitoring when he’s not at the ballpark.
Going back to last winter’s program isn’t a viable option. Cabrera obviously needs something more. Addiction is an ever-present threat, capable of ruining lives and careers at any moment. And it doesn’t give a damn when pitchers and catchers report.