About the only thing remotely showy about Miguel Cabrera is his nickname — Miggy — and even that is just a bland derivative. As a physical specimen, he lets a paunch spill over his belt buckle, making him a 255-pound softie in the rock-hard-abs world of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. If you’re looking for a beautiful athlete, a dynamic force of nature, see Yasiel Puig in Hollywood.
A talker? If he wasn’t asked questions, Cabrera might never acknowledge his own existence. “I’m here to play baseball and win games,” he said the other day to one of his growing media throngs. “The other stuff, I don’t worry about.”
The other stuff, we worry about. We worry about showering enough reverence upon baseball’s greatest hitter, a historical landmark in the otherwise grim streets of downtown Detroit. It isn’t premature to ask if Cabrera, just 30, is destined to finish his career as baseball’s all-time elite right-handed raker. The conversation within that category includes a Mt. Rushmore of clout — Henry Aaron or Willie Mays (pick your legend) own an honor that might have been claimed by Alex Rodriguez or Manny Ramirez if they weren’t PED-scarred rockheads. But it will be difficult to deny Cabrera the lead in the pantheon if he repeats an accomplishment thought impossible the first time.
Though he’s limping around on a sore leg, hip and abdomen, MC Hammer — the original and his gaudy harem pants are long gone — is threatening to become the first player to win back-to-back Triple Crowns. He leads the American League in batting average and RBIs and lurks menacingly in the home-run race behind Baltimore come-lately Chris Davis, who’s still viewed as a fluke of sorts who could fade any day. Always known as a natural who could hit in a coma, Cabrera is making baseball people faint by mauling pitches that few other major-league hitters could even touch, much less deposit over the fence. He has a way of turning every ballgame into his personal batting-practice session, routinely dominating in what seems another MVP season. No one is entirely certain if Detroit played in the World Series last year; it was over that quickly, before Cabrera could make a dent in San Francisco pitching. Don’t be surprised if the Tigers return — and win it this time — because a legend is carrying a team already loaded with prime starting pitching.
“It’s hard to believe, really, what we are seeing, to be honest with you,” said Cabrera’s manager, Jim Leyland. “I mean, this is my 50th year (in the game). I don’t get too giddy about anything, but I’m not sure I’ve seen what’s going last year and this year. I’m seeing things that are a little mind-boggling.”
Cabrera at least tried to explain it.
“Magic,” he said, which, for him, is quotation gold.
Though the following statement always should be attached to a qualifier, Cabrera doesn’t evoke the appearance of a PED user. His problems have involved alcohol, including a drunk-driving arrest two years ago in which Cabrera, according to police in Florida, told officers on the scene to “(expletive) shoot me. Kill me.” He then told them, “Do you know who I am? I’m Miguel Cabrera. I play for the Detroit Tigers. You don’t know my family.” The Tigers asked him to get help and stuck by him. Today, he is a different man, devoted to his family and profession, a far cry from when team president Dave Dombrowski bailed Cabrera out of jail after an alleged altercation with his wife.
Now, he’s in the zenith of his career, the only player in major-league history to amass, according to STATS LLC, at least 1,962 hits, 410 doubles, 361 homers and 1,243 RBIs at his age. Feel free to project where Miggy ends in each category. Recently, he ended a classic at-bat against Mariano RIvera with a two-run, game-tying homer.
“It was a battle,” Cabrera told reporters. “He’s the best of all time. When you see a pitcher like that, you want to get lucky. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. You want to stay positive. I was lucky.”
His humility is refreshing, even charming, but it can’t hide the truth. If anyone is lucky, it’s us for being able to watch him.