It’s time to lay off Miguel Cabrera

Can we lay off Miguel Cabrera?

Last week Miggy was in the news because of comments he made in an interview about playing hurt. Cabrera, who’s currently on the disabled list, told reporters that he’s done playing when he isn’t healthy.

“I went through that last year, so I don’t want to do the same thing,” Cabrera told reporters on May 16. “Nobody appreciates you when you play hurt, so I’m going to take my time and play when I’m good. I played hurt a lot of years here in Detroit. They don’t appreciate that.”

The quote quickly made the way around social media and the airwaves, and some people were unhappy about it. But not for any good reason.

You see, Cabrera was smiling when he made the quote, and while the sentiment was true (he doesn’t want to play when he’s less than 100 percent), his “shot” at Detroit fans wasn’t a shot at all. That part of the comment was made to stress the point that fans don’t always appreciate the lessened production from an unhealthy player. Cabrera wanted to point out that fans don’t like it when an injured player doesn’t produce. His comments are true, but they’re definitely not a shot at Detroit and the fans.

You wouldn’t know that from talk radio. If you listened to sports talk radio (God help you if you do), you’d think Cabrera had spray painted the Joe Louis fist statue with graffiti or dissed Detroit coney dogs. The outrage!

Sports talk radio is designed to create drama. It’s like a 15-year old girl in her first relationship. Sports talk radio is designed for the lowest common denominator, it’s not interested in nuance. Sports talk radio is to entertainment and news what Hot Pockets are to dinner. You can consume it, but you’ll get a helluva stomach ache.

Hotttt Pocket! Hotttt Take!

The timing of Cabrera’s pronouncement was unfortunate. He’s currently embroiled in a very ugly and public airing of his dirty laundry from an extramarital affair. I couldn’t care less about that subject. That’s personal business for Mr. and Mrs. Cabrera. I’ve never made hay about that sort of thing and I never will. But wouldn’t you know it? A few days later more “drama” landed at Miggy’s feet.

An unnamed source in the front office of the Miami Marlins told a reporter that Cabrera has told him he’d like to return to the Marlins. According to this shadowy figure, Cabrera has told him many times over the last few years that he’s “ready to come home.” Those words are in quotes only because that’s what the source said. I don’t know if Miggy ever said them. And I don’t care. It’s a non-story. A non-controversy.

I’ve probably watched 1,200 baseball games that Miguel Cabrera has played for the Tigers. Many of you have watched as many or more. Once you see Miggy that often, you get to know him. You know that he’s one of the smartest baseball players to ever come along. You know he loves to hit. You know it’s hard as hell to sneak a fastball past him. You know he  loves to talk to baserunners at first base and that he likes to goof around a little when the game is in a lull. You know he doesn’t take kindly to pitchers buzzing his head and that he’ll defend his team and teammates. You know that he understands the rules so well that he once came to bat in Chicago and realized immediately that the batters’ box was drawn too small. You know that he has tremendous gap power to the opposite field and that despite his average speed and big build he’s one of the best baserunners the team has had in years. You know he’s a revering alcoholic and that he’s had some personal issues off the field. You know he won two MVP awards and four batting titles and became the first triple crown winner in baseball in 45 years. You know he loves to play in the All-Star Game and that he loves kids. You know he’s played hurt several times, including for three months in 2013 when he won his second MVP and helped the team to their third straight division title. You know that he played hurt the following year too and still led the league with 52 doubles, and that he was suffering from a sports hernia for almost entire year in 2017 but didn’t make excuses and never publicized it, determined to stay in the lineup because he wanted to earn his salary.

And another thing we know about Miggy is that he loves people. I don’t doubt for a second that at some point in the last 11 years since arriving in Detroit, Cabrera has told someone in south Florida that he’d love to come back. Just like any of us would to a former employer who treated us well, where we have good memories. The Marlins signed Miggy when he was 16. He played for the Marlins in the World Series when he was a rookie, hitting a memorable home run off Roger Clemens and three more in the NL Championship Series. Of course there’s part of Miggy that would like to return to warm Miami, or at least say that he would. So what?

Let’s call this what it really is: piling on a superstar in the latter stages of his career. Some short-sighted and selfish fans got on Cabrera in ’17 because his production plummeted. The man could hardly run and his back hurt so bad that if any of us had that sort of pain we’d be crying like little children, but Miggy played 130 games and soldiered on. Still, there were people who wrote him off. He was finished, they said.

Miggy spent the off-season working with a new trainer, the same trainer who’s worked with Lebron James for years. He lost weight and he gained core strength. He reported to spring training ready to avenge his worst year ever. He was hitting a lot like the old Miggy when he started to feel some tightness in his hips and back and suffered a hamstring injury. His average was over .300, his on-base percentage over .400 and his slugging percentage over the .500 mark. His home run power was down early, but Miggy often warms up when the weather warms up.

This time when he started to feel uncomfortable in his back and hips, Miggy stopped. He’s not 25 years old anymore. He’s not a stubborn young man. He’s a veteran and he’s learned that playing hurt can only make things worse. He hasn’t played since May 3 but his name has sure been in the news. Because people feed off drama, even when it’s not real.

Cabrera was just starting to round into MVP form when he went on the DL: he hit .429 with 12 RBIs and 8 extra-base hits in his last 12 games before his body started to bark at him. Now he’s heeding the warnings, he’s seen specialists, he’s had X-rays, he’s taking rest and recuperating. When he comes back he’ll be far closer to 100 percent.

That’s a switch from the Miggy we saw in his prime and last year, when he limped onto the diamond even if he could barely move. He always figured if he could swing a bat it was his job to help his team, his teammates, and to entertain the fans.

Those fans need to listen to what Cabrera said.

“I played hurt a lot of years here in Detroit. They don’t appreciate that.”

Most fans do appreciate it, Miggy. But there are too many who don’t. It’s time for Detroit fans to recognize that Miguel Cabrera has sacrificed a lot to play hurt. Look around baseball and you’ll see a lot of stars who gladly escape to the disabled list when they feel any discomfort. Players who cheat and cheat the fans and their team for a big salary.

Miguel Cabrera has given the Tigers and this city everything he’s got for more than a decade. Sure he’s been paid handsomely for his efforts, but the investment has paid off in a big way. We’ve all enjoyed the thrills, magic moments, and the winning. The least we can do is pay the man respect for all he’s done.

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About Dan Holmes

The editor of Detroit Athletic Co. blog, is the author of Ty Cobb: A Biography. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, and worked for Major League Baseball as a web producer. He contributed to Sock it to 'Em Tigers: The Incredible Story of the 1968 Detroit Tigers, and Deadball Stars of the American League. Follow him on Twitter at @thedanholmes or visit his personal blog at danholmes.com.