O’Hara: No crime in paying for the best
Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers have conspired to send North America’s financial sports market spinning off its axis with an act of such irresponsible money management — locking up a superstar for the rest of his career!!! — that it threatens player-management contract negotiations for decades to come.
That’s the doomsday line we’ve been fed since word leaked that the Tigers and Cabrera had agreed on a contract that will guarantee him $292 million over the next 10 seasons.
How dare the Tigers shatter the going pay rate for a superstar, even one of such elite ability and accomplishments that his contemporaries rank him as the top player in the game today — one who might rank as the best right-handed hitter of all time by career’s end.
While baseball executives outside the Tigers’ franchise were rocked by the size and length of Cabrera’s contract — and knocking it with anonymous comments — the video of the press conference announcing the extension Friday morning at the Tigers’ training compound in Lakeland, Fla., looked more like a coronation.
Cabrera was beaming over being able to finish his career as a Tiger.
"They make you feel comfortable here — like this is your home," Cabrera told reporters.
And Tigers President and GM Dave Dombrowski was relieved that Cabrera could remain a Tiger through 2023. The deal adds eight years to his exhibition contract, with a clause that potentially tacks on two more years.
"If you’re ever going to take a chance … I’d take a chance on him," Dombrowski said at the press conference.
Happy management, happy player.
That doesn’t sound anything close to the narrative in many quarters, where they’re portraying the deal as Gordon Gekko meets Jordan Belfort in "The Wolf of Comerica Park."
I guarantee one thing: No one’s been sold short here. Not Cabrera, who’s even wealthier. And not the Tigers, who have the main man on what has become must-see sports entertainment that regularly draws 3 million fans per season to the downtown venue.
No one should be naive about the reaction to the deal. From a business standpoint, Cabrera’s contract sets the standard for the next superstar’s deal — the way Justin Verlander’s contract was a target for fellow Cy Young winner Max Scherzer in a deal that didn’t get done.
From a performance and production standpoint, Cabrera eventually will be fighting an opponent that never loses. Time always wins over any athlete who tries to beat it. Time is undefeated.
The question is: How long will the battle will last for Cabrera?
There’s no formula to accurately predict that. And really, why should any fan sitting at Comerica Park on a warm summer day in 2014 care about what happens in 2019 or 2021?
What the Tigers have now in Cabrera is a player who’s the best right-handed hitter in baseball and still solidly in his prime. His credentials — three straight battle titles, two straight MVP’s and a Triple Crown in 2012 — already are Hall of Fame worthy.
He’s the face of the Tigers, and that face bears a smile of a man who plays with the joy of a kid.
Cabrera turns 31 on April 18, which means the Tigers probably can count on five to six years of high-quality performance — until he’s 36 or so.
I’d take that window of opportunity from a superstar who can carry a team and win games with one swing of the bat.
What happens after that, as the aging process moves on, takes Cabrera and the Tigers into the realm of the unknown.
But that’s part of the rub in the reaction to the duration of Cabrera’s contract. Critics are acting like it’s an absolute that Cabrera will be a liability any time after his mid-30s.
Nobody beats time, but many of baseball’s stars have extended the battle.
Ted Williams hit .388 at the age of 37 and .328 at 39. He won the battle title both years. In 1960, his last season, he hit 29 home runs at the age of 41. And in Williams’ era, there was no DH, which can add life to a player’s legs.
There are many other examples of longevity among baseball’s position players.
Henry Aaron hit 47 home runs at the age of 37 and 40 at 39. Pete Rose hit .321 at 38 and played in 163 games with 732 plate appearances. Father Time’s tongue was hanging out chasing Rose that year — but eventually won. Rose retired seven years later at 45.
More recently, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter hit .316 in 2012 at 38 and led the American League with 218 hits.
It’s a different sport, but Gordie Howe retired from the Red Wings in 1971 at the age of 42 after scoring 23 goals. Howe then returned in the World Hockey Association two years later and played until he was 51. He made the NHL All-Star Game in his last season.
There’s no telling when time runs out on an athlete — in the long term or the short run.
With Williams, Howe, Aaron, Rose and Jeter, we’re talking about all-time greats and legends of their sport.
If he hasn’t already joined them, Cabrera is banging down the door to join their company.
If you want the best, you have to pay for it. And the Tigers were right to do just that.