Miguel Cabrera(notes) was 75 miles from home late Wednesday night, taking pulls from a bottle of whisky, being obstinate with the men who had come to save the rest of us from him, his Land Rover dead on the side of the road.
A police report did not indicate where he was headed in what officers determined was a drunken and profane stupor, or where he’d come from.
Perhaps, through the haze, Miguel Cabrera knew exactly where he was. We might better conclude he was – and is – desperately lost.
He will turn 28 in April.
He possesses bat speed gifted from the baseball gods.
He’s been granted an organization that cares for him, whose general manager picked him up from jail one morning just 17 months ago, then applauded his decision to seek offseason counseling for alcohol abuse.
The Detroit Tigers were rewarded with yet another fine season by Cabrera, who’d likely have been the American League MVP had the rest of the Tigers not collapsed around him.
And yet two days before he was supposed to be on a baseball field in Lakeland, Fla., to begin spring training, Cabrera was some 110 miles away, standing handcuffed on the shoulder of Okeechobee Road and demanding of his arresters, “Do you know who I am?”
At that very moment, sadly, the officers had a far clearer notion of that than Cabrera did.
In fact, in a portion of the police report headed, “Psychophysical Evaluations,” an officer checked the boxes that come morning would tell Jose Miguel Cabrera exactly who he is.
Odor of Breath: Strong.
Condition of Eyes: Bloodshot, Watery, Glassy.
Speech: Slurred, Incoherent, Accent.
Condition of Face: Flushed.
Attitude: Cocky, Combative, Argumentative, Belligerent.
A year ago almost to the day, arriving to spring training after three months of what he said was therapy, abstinence and cleanup, Cabrera told reporters, “Drinking was a problem. Right now I feel really good. What happened last year is not gonna happen again. I feel like a new man. … It’s a beautiful life right now.”
We hoped he was right. The Tigers hoped he was right. Probably, Cabrera hoped he was right.
A month later, however, he snapped to those same reporters, “You guys write in the paper ‘alcoholic.’ That’s not right. I don’t know how to explain, but it’s not an alcohol problem.”
Then he batted .328, hit 38 home runs and drove in 126 runs. Life, presumably, was still beautiful.
On the very morning the Detroit papers carried stories of pitchers and catchers in Lakeland awaiting the arrival of their cleanup hitter, Cabrera’s mug shot dominated those pages. His face carried an expression not of combativeness or belligerence, but of carefree mirth. You wonder, in that moment, if he had the slightest idea who he is.
What led Cabrera to that stretch of road Wednesday night – both physically and metaphorically – is for Cabrera to sort through, assuming he’s game for it. He and his wife, the woman with whom he argued after drinking himself to combativeness and belligerence in the fall of 2009, had their second child last spring. The Tigers stuck by him, as they should have, and still owe him $107 million over the next five seasons. Teammates stuck by him, in spite of his grossly unprofessional contribution to their collapse that final weekend of ’09.
What they received in return was the comfort that Cabrera might become a better man for it, a better husband and father. Perhaps, too, he’d be a better ballplayer for it, and they did indeed receive 126 RBIs for their support.
Except now the image of Cabrera is of a man taking knee spikes from a cop while being shoved into the backseat of a police cruiser, pleading, “You don’t know anything about my problems,” then refusing to submit to a breath test.
I have no idea if Cabrera is an alcoholic. What I do know is he needs help that won’t come from batting practice.
Those 17 months ago the Tigers picked up Cabrera from jail and fewer than 12 hours later delivered him to their starting lineup. They probably got that wrong. Their opportunity now is to tend to Cabrera first, their lineup second.
Presumably, he’ll need more counseling. Perhaps, he’ll need time away from his job to get it right.
And, hopefully, the next time Cabrera asks the question – “Do you know who I am?” – he’ll have an answer he and the Tigers can be proud of.