Whether in their highlights or their shortcomings, this has been a season unlike any other for the Detroit Tigers.
Their rise from last place a year ago, spurred on by a battered city that is the unwelcome home of America's sagging economy, has been inspiring. The late-season collapse that has left them facing a one-game playoff for the AL Central title on Tuesday night is surprising. But the latest round of bad news for the Tigers is downright shocking.
To recap: According to a story in the Detroit Free Press, the Tigers' 26-year-old star first baseman Miguel Cabrera:
• Was out partying the night before an absolutely crucial game in a pennant race with members of the opposing team.
• Got so drunk that he had a blood-alcohol content of .26 -- more than three times the legal limit for driving -- after police were finally able to administer a test.
• The test came after he had a loud disagreement with his wife that, according to the newspaper, led to a physical altercation.
• And finally, he had to be picked up at the police station by Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski less than 12 hours before the first pitch against the White Sox.
Stupidity, thy name is Miguel.
It's no secret that as long as baseball players and alcohol have existed, there have been baseball players making bad decisions because of alcohol. Saints they ain't. Given the checkered history of baseball heroes who all too often remind us of their human flaws, it takes something pretty extraordinary to cause brows to arch, jaws to drop and blogs to erupt, but Cabrera has managed to do just that. He has also given his bosses reason to get rid of him (though it's doubtful they will), his teammates reason to doubt him and his fans reason to desert him.
This is not the kind of alcohol-fueled incident that will one day be spoken of with a smile, like the rumor that Grover Cleveland Alexander was massively hung over when he entered Game 7 of the 1926 World Series and struck out future Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded. Or that Mickey Mantle hit a home run by "swinging at the one in the middle," or that David Wells claimed to still be feeling the effects of a late night out when he toed the rubber before his perfect game in 1998.
In fact, the only thing higher than the level of outrage that Tigers fans must feel toward their once-beloved star is Cabrera's blood alcohol content, which was so elevated it almost mandated a trip to a hospital. The hangover probably helps explain how Cabrera went 0 for 4 and left six runners on base in Saturday night's 5-1 loss to Chicago.
The domestic dispute is surely the worst part of this, but without proper evidence to say what really happened, all we can say for sure is that Rosangel Cabrera, who called 911, isn't the only wife who wouldn't take kindly to her husband coming home in the wee hours of the morning, drunk and loud enough to wake up their sleeping infant. That aside, there is enough wrongdoing here from strictly a professional sense to haunt Cabrera for some time.
It's a shame. Cabrera has always been a better player than for which he's been given credit. Over the past six seasons, he ranks in the top 16 in the majors in batting average, home runs, RBIs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, yet he is rarely mentioned as one of the game's truly elite sluggers. The Tigers' season would already be over were it not for his .323/.395/.541 season that included 33 home runs and 101 RBIs and made him the only consistent hitter in the lineup.
Yet for all his exploits, his public persona remains largely undefined, and this incident will now paint a very unflattering image of the Tigers slugger. It's likely to do significant damage to him within his own organization too. Tigers manager Jim Leyland is a famously no-nonsense type who speaks his mind and demands maturity and accountability, yet even he was kept in the dark about why his cleanup hitter showed up at the ballpark with cuts and bruises on his face. Someone as old school as Leyland is won't appreciate Cabrera fraternizing after hours with players from another team, the same players Cabrera should have been more concerned with beating on Saturday than partying with on Friday.
As for Cabrera's teammates, fellow big leaguers can be a pretty forgiving lot. (Let he who is without drunken sin toss the first empty.) But Cabrera seems completely undeserving of sympathy in this case. Being friends with players on the other side is one thing. Getting drunk with them before an enormous game in the midst of a tight playoff race is quite another. Rookie pitcher Alfredo Figaro, who started Saturday's game, must have appreciated knowing that one of his key teammates thought so much of him that he got hammered before Figaro attempted to save the club's season from spiraling down the drain.
Owner Mike Ilitch must have likewise been overjoyed to learn that the man he gave over $150 million just 18 months ago was trying to boost the sagging local economy by drinking his opponents under the table. Dombrowski must have been similarly upset to get a phone call telling him to head to a police station Saturday morning to pick up his most important offensive player.
Despite all the justifiable outrage that is coming Cabrera's way, there isn't much anyone can do at this point. The Tigers can't suspend him, because his bat is too important to their chances of securing the AL Central title Tuesday night. And as unfair as Cabrera's actions were to his teammates, it would unfair to deprive them of having their most dangerous offensive player in the lineup for such a critical game.
Even when the season ends, the Tigers are likely stuck with Cabrera. His contract and, frankly, his talent are too massive to trade, and they aren't going to just cut him loose.
And then, as always in sports, there are the fans. Much has been made this year of the way the city of Detroit has rallied around the Tigers, using their exploits as an escape from a faltering economy. The same fans who once cheered Cabrera and took refuge in his play must now feel cheated. They, like the rest of the Tigers organization, have been robbed of the one thing every athlete must, at minimum, give every night: their best effort.