For Cabrera, one bad scratch deserves another
If Miguel Cabrera hadn't been partying on Saturday morning, maybe the Tigers would have celebrated with champagne one day later.
Cabrera was intoxicated when he arrived at his Birmingham, Mich., home at 6 a.m. Saturday, according to Birmingham Police statements to the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press. Soon afterward, police responded to a call from his wife, Rosangel, saying that the two were involved in a physical altercation.
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Ultimately, no charges were filed. But Cabrera registered a .26 blood alcohol concentration on a breath test administered by police at the station.
Think about that for a moment.
Some 13 hours before the first pitch of his team's most important game to date, Cabrera was "highly intoxicated," according to the police report. And even though Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski was the one who reportedly picked up Cabrera at the police station in that inebriated state, the team enabled him to play that night.
And I would say they got the outcome they deserved: The baseball gods made certain that Cabrera came up with at least one man on base every time, and he never delivered. He went 0-for-4 and stranded six men. The Tigers lost, 5-1.
With one gap double from Cabrera, their cleanup hitter and supposed Most Valuable Player candidate, perhaps they would have won. That fact might gnaw at the Tigers and their fans all winter, because they remain one victory shy of clinching the American League Central. To get it, they will need to beat the Twins at the Metrodome in a one-game playoff on Tuesday.
And if the Tigers are interested in preserving their integrity, Cabrera won't be in the lineup when the nation tunes in to see who will earn the right to face the New York Yankees.
Sadly, the team expects him to play. Dombrowski said in a telephone interview Monday morning that Cabrera won't be suspended.
If Cabrera's actions don't violate a team code of conduct, then I don't know what does. I wonder how Ryan Raburn, Clete Thomas and Marcus Thames are feeling now. With a quick move of Carlos Guillen to first base, one of them could have started in left field and displaced Cabrera in the lineup. Instead, the Tigers stuck with a dishonest slugger who was hung over — at best.
The only semi-acceptable way for Cabrera to be in uniform tomorrow would be through a full pregame mea culpa in which he apologizes to Dombrowski, team owner Mike Ilitch, manager Jim Leyland, his teammates and the Detroit fans.
The Tigers issued a statement on his behalf late Monday afternoon, but it hardly offered a full explanation. In it, he says, "There was an incident that took place on Saturday and it is a personal matter. I am sorry this has become a distraction, and I apologize to the Tigers, my teammates, and all of the fans. I would appreciate it if you would respect my family's privacy as I prepare for our next game."
Apparently, it took him more than 48 hours — and a series of media reports — to realize that he made a mistake. And I won't be convinced that he's truly sorry until I hear it from him.
He can't hide behind an ongoing investigation, because there isn't one. He was wasted, not arrested. As far as I can tell, there is no legal reason for him to avoid comment. He should admit the grave mistake and ask forgiveness from the people who have placed their trust, support and dollars in him.
You might have heard that money is tight in Michigan these days. Not the best time for a rich athlete to act as if the world is his frat house.
But it's hard to say when we might hear any sort of explanation from Cabrera. When I first asked him about the scratches along the left side of his face on Saturday afternoon, he claimed that a dog was responsible. Then he declined comment after that game, before Sunday's game and again after Sunday's game.
Now, Dombrowski said he doesn't expect his superstar to address the media before Tuesday's game.
A brilliant public relations strategy, to be sure: ignore the media before the game, lose to the Twins, dodge the reporters one more time and fly away for the winter.
One wonders what might happen if the Tigers actually win the game. Cabrera would show up Wednesday at Yankee Stadium, where I'm sure the media won't have any interest in the story.
If Alex Rodriguez can sit before all the world's cameras and admit to using steroids, surely Cabrera can take responsibility for one ill-timed night of binge drinking.
But barring any explanation from Cabrera, it's impossible to know if he feels as ashamed as he should. His teammates should be excited about Tuesday. It's their chance to reach the postseason, one year after finishing in last place. Instead, the revelations about Cabrera's behavior on Friday night and Saturday morning will serve as a sad sideshow.
Maybe he felt the weight of his contract — his seven-year, $141 million deal is the largest in club history — and wanted to party the pressure away. Maybe he has an alcohol problem that should be handled with the proper sensitivity and medical care.
Cabrera's reputation as a partier was well-known in baseball circles long before that contract made him Detroit's franchise player. But his lifestyle hasn't been brought up often in Detroit, because he's generally produced. The Tigers have to hope that the embarrassment of this incident might bring about a meaningful change in his life.
For now, though, people across Michigan should be justifiably infuriated: At a time when the team and its fans needed him most, Cabrera drank away his chance at performing in a big game. And the Tigers' enabling response has only worsened the situation.
When asked Monday morning if Cabrera ran afoul of team rules, Dombrowski wouldn't say.
"I have a lot of thoughts on this," Dombrowski said, "but I'm not going to comment any further."
Maybe Dombrowski is thinking about the six years and $126 million remaining on Cabrera's contract after this year, about how Cabrera has been branded as one prominent face of the franchise, about what sort of outrage this is causing among players in his clubhouse.
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Ilitch needs postseason revenues to justify the fact that Cabrera's pal Magglio Ordoñez will earn $18 million next year. He could have used a 2-for-4 night from Cabrera on Saturday. How do you think he feels right about now?
Perhaps Ilitch, who declined comment through a spokesperson, would be worried about Cabrera's health. Even those of us criticizing Cabrera need to keep that in mind. If he has a drinking problem, then the Tigers are putting him in jeopardy by keeping him in their lineup in these pressure-packed games.
But if this is a matter of being selfish, and enjoying every bacchanal that Birmingham has to offer, then it's the Tigers who are in jeopardy.
The Tigers should have seized this opportunity to demand accountability from Cabrera, the stakes of their next game be damned. Instead, they took a passive approach that called their principles into question — and maybe left Cabrera with the impression that his behavior wasn't so reprehensible after all.
If the Tigers play without Cabrera on Tuesday, they might lose the game. But if they win while pretending nothing happened, they will lose something more important.