His Act Cleaned Up, Miguel Cabrera Near Triple Crown Pace
Inge said Cabrera, the slugging first baseman, has changed the off-field behavior that used to damage both himself and his team. "He had a problem and he took it upon himself to fix it," Inge said. "He's a full-fledged different person. He cleaned himself up."
Boesch did not know the old Cabrera. He said he has experienced him only as a mature mentor who has helped Boesch's successful debut. "No one else has taken me under their wing like Miggy," Boesch said. "He's a great character guy. I don't care what anyone says about him."
Along with almost everyone else around the Tigers, they agree that Cabrera has become a positive influence for a contending team and could be the Most Valuable Player in the American League, particularly if the Tigers win the division title that eluded them last season when Cabrera's alcohol problem became manifest.
After defeating the Mets, 6-5, Thursday night at Citi Field, the Tigers headed for a three-game series in Atlanta a half-game behind division-leading Minnesota in the American League Central. Cabrera had two hits and drove in a run with a sacrifice fly Thursday to raise his average to .328 and his RBI total to 61, the most in the major leagues. His 19 home runs are second in the majors behind Jose Bautista of Toronto.
"I wake up every day and thank God for giving me the opportunity to do what I do," Cabrera said.
His problem last season was not waking up but getting to bed. On the final weekend of the regular season, while the Tigers were squandering what had been a seven-game divisional lead, Cabrera was taken into police custody in suburban Detroit after fighting with his wife after a night of drinking with rivals from the Chicago White Sox following a night game.
Cabrera played the next night with scratches on his face and bruises on his reputation and went 0-for-11 for the weekend. Following a loss to the Twins in a one-game playoff, Cabrera apologized for his actions, began counseling and vowed to change.
"My drinking was a problem and I feel good without it, I feel like a new man," Cabrera told reporters last winter. "I never played drunk, but there were times when I was very tired or my body just felt lazy."
Statistics showed that Cabrera hit 25 points better in night games last season and 22 points better at night for his career, which began in Florida in 2003. This year, he is hitting .339 in daylight and .320 under the lights. Inge, a third baseman and nine-year veteran, said of Cabrera "you could tell he was tired some days" in past seasons and that not all players who vow to change their ways are successful.
"A lot of guys will say they've fixed their problem but they still dabble here and there with the same demons," Inge said. But Inge said Cabrera has convinced him of the transformation by the way he acts. "Before, he kind of kept to himself," Inge said. "He never used to talk and joke with the media. Now, in the clubhouse, he's great, always upbeat and moving around, talking to everybody."
This week in New York, Cabrera could often be heard laughing, singing and chatting in both English and Spanish with teammates and reporters. Johnny Damon, a veteran who joined the Tigers this season from the Yankees, said of Cabrera "The guys gravitate to him. He knows he has to start playing a leadership role here. He's got his life in order."
Damon said Cabrera -- 27 years old and under a long-term contract -- might show people he is the best hitter they've ever seen. Jose Valverde, the Tigers' closer, said Cabrera is "from another planet" and he meant it as a compliment. Cabrera often inspires hyperbolic words. Jim Leyland, the Tigers' manager, has said more than once that Cabrera might make the Hall of Fame. Joe Torre, the manager of Los Angeles Dodgers, once called the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Cabrera a "mountain of a man." Torre was there when Cabrera's career was only in its foothills.
When Cabrera was a Marlins rookie, in the 2003 World Series, he faced Roger Clemens of the Yankees, who brushed him back with a fastball. Cabrera glared at Clemens, dug back in and hit a home run and the Marlins went on to win the World Series.
Cabrera's size, position and power often inspire comparisons to Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals, who has won the MVP award three times in the National League. Cabrera's eyes brightened when the idea was voiced to him but said he is not yet worthy.
"To hear my name close to him, I'm excited for that," Cabrera said. "What he can do, nobody can do. Maybe, one day, I can have one year like what he has done for 10 years -- 45 home runs, .330 average, 140 RBI. Maybe. I don't know. Some day."