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Are the Tigers doing right by Miguel Cabrera?

Feb 25, 2011, 8:08 AM EDT

Miguel Cabrera

Yesterday Miguel Cabrera met the media and the Tigers explained that he’ll begin workouts with the Tigers today.  Some folks have a problem with that. One of them is Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan, who thinks that the Tigers’ failure to force Cabrera into an alcohol treatment program is a major mistake:

The Pussy Cats are, essentially, doubling down on an alcoholic whose sobriety lasted barely a year. There is supportive, and there is coddling, and for somebody who said he has worked with dozens of players with substance-abuse issues, general manager Dave Dombrowski should know better than to skew toward the latter.

Like Passan, I’m inclined to believe that a guy who has had two major alcohol-fueled incidents in a little over a year has a major problem. Those little checklists that are designed to help you figure out if you have an alcohol problem aren’t perfect, but the fact is that Cabrera could check off a great many of the warning signs:

  • He drank scotch when he was pulled over, suggesting that he drinks to deal with problems;
  • By virtue of the incident before the White Sox series in 2009 and his late start to spring training this year, alcohol has interfered with his job;
  • The altercation with his wife showed that it has impacted his personal relationships;
  • The 2009 thing showed he had a damn high tolerance.

Still, I can’t say with any sort of certainty if the Tigers are coddling him like Passan charges.

We’re inclined to believe that someone with the means and the ability to take time off work like Cabrera does should be in some sort of in-patient facility — and my first impulse when Cabrera was arrested was to think that he should go to one — but not every alcoholic is the same. A great many people have successfully dealt with a severe alcohol problem by going to AA or getting counselling or exercising or finding religion or any number of other means.  Utilizing one of these other means — or many of them — doesn’t fit our expectation that celebrities must go into rehab, but it can be done and, in some cases, it may be a more effective way for any one person to deal with it like that rather than to take them out of their life for a 28 days.

I guess my point isn’t that Passan is wrong — he may very well be right — but I think that there are too many variables in play here for those of us outside the situation to be so certain about it.  A team that essentially says “get back on the field” like the Tigers are saying is owed some serious skepticism. But that team also has a huge long-term contract with the guy so even if we were to assume the most selfish of motives on the team’s part, those motives also counsel that they make damn sure that Cabrera doesn’t fall off the wagon again.

The Tigers may be screwing this up. They may also be doing exactly what Cabrera needs.  I’m not sure how anyone besides the Tigers, their doctors or Cabrera can know it. And hell, given how tough a nut to crack alcoholism is, I’m not even sure how they could know it either.

  1. baseballstars - Feb 25, 2011 at 8:42 AM

    There’s no one right way to deal with alcoholism. If the Tigers are overlooking the problem just to please the player, then yes, that’s a problem. But how many of us know what’s really going on behind the scenes?

  2. PanchoHerreraFanClub - Feb 25, 2011 at 8:54 AM

    Of course, the Tigers could be waiting for Cabrera to go Charlie Sheen on them.

  3. yankeesfanlen - Feb 25, 2011 at 8:54 AM

    Jeez, an alcoholic baseball player just when we had this steroids thing fixed….What to do, what to do.

  4. Jonny 5 - Feb 25, 2011 at 9:06 AM

    I have to say this because everyone seems to be looking past this.

    What if the Tigers can’t make him go to rehab? Even if they technically could make him go because of contractual stipulations. What happens if he tells them he’s not going? What happens if he says “ok, I’ll go.” Then doesn’t? The Tigers are not going to go anywhere unless This guy is playing. The last thing they want to do is get into a pissing contest with their best bat who they’re contractually obligated to for 5 more years. Imagine if they end up having to trade him with the salary and alcohol issues it wouldn’t be a bargain deal for them by any means. Detroit wants to kiss this guys butt and hope to keep him happy, they’ll talk big to the public, but behind closed doors they”ll only push this guy as hard as they think they can without pissing him off.

  5. stackers1 - Feb 25, 2011 at 9:21 AM

    If he doesn’t want to stop drinking, forcing him into rehab won’t help. It’s like when people go to AA because a judge makes them go. They get their paper signed & then go out to the bar after the meeting. The Tigers, Dombrowski or even Mrs. Cabrera can’t make him stop if he doesn’t want to. I know this from personal experience & 18 years as a friend of Bill’s.

  6. bcbarney - Feb 25, 2011 at 9:23 AM

    This post is probably the best example of why I started to read Craig. He takes a very measured approach to the situation and doesn’t just start spouting off righteousness like the majority of sportswriters. Well, that and the snark. Keep up the good work Craig!

  7. Professor Longnose - Feb 25, 2011 at 10:16 AM

    Rehab doesn’t work. We put a lot of faith in it, but AA has about the same permanent success rate most other programs to quit drinking: about 5%. If Cabrera recognizes that he has a problem and wants to change, there are things that can be done, but 28 days in a rehab facility is unlikely to have any affect.

  8. davebrownspiral - Feb 25, 2011 at 10:22 AM

    Nobody knows how big the problem is except Cabrera and the Tigers organization. And perhaps getting into the routine of spring training, playing baseball, being around his teammates and people who can look out for him during the course of the season is a better alternative then isolating him and leaving him to his own devices at a rehab facility. I think the old saying, “an idle mind is the devil’s playground” applies to Cabrera here. Keeping Cabrera immersed in his job (in this case baseball) and keeping his mind on the everyday grind that is the season and getting back to normalcy, could be what the Tigers organization thinks is best at this point. Who are we to disagree?

  9. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Feb 25, 2011 at 10:25 AM

    If he hits ball, no one care.

  10. cur68 - Feb 25, 2011 at 11:14 AM

    This is just my opinion but its based on 1) a large number of family members who were genial alcoholics 2) some who were real unhappy ones 3) a lot (some say too much) of school focused on alcoholism. Miggy has some other problem. That’s why he drinks. He should be a happy drunk with all his dough, all his success. He isn’t. Alcohol reduces your ability to hide behind your self control. Something has happened to this guy and he needs professional help for it. He’ll be ok during the season while he has teammates and baseball to distract him from whatever is going on in his head but in the off season, when he’s got more time to think, fewer things to focus on; problem. Till that is solved, he’ll continue to be like this, and that’s a shame, not only because he is a truly talented ballplayer, but because he could easily get help.

  11. Loren - Feb 25, 2011 at 11:16 AM

    Honestly it seems like spring training could be the perfect environment for rehab. He’s got a very controlled environment with a bunch of supportive teammates and staff. He can throw himself into something (baseball) that gives him something to do other than drink. He’s got paid medical professionals and support staff there to monitor him at all times (presumably even when he leaves the park). If they’re doing this right, I can’t see how sending him to inpatient rehab could be any better.

  12. Utley's Hair - Feb 25, 2011 at 12:41 PM

    I don’t think they can’t force him to get treatment, can they? And even if they did, it won’t work if he doesn’t want to do what it takes. What the Tigers need to do is find a way to make him want to get it done. Maybe in private, they gave him a grace period—dependent on him not screwing up during the season—that expires the day after the team play their last game this season, then he needs to do something?

  13. craggt - Feb 25, 2011 at 12:48 PM

    Let me make one thing very very clear, and these are probably the same thoughts as most of my fellow Tigers fans: We don’t know that Miguel Cabrera is an alcoholic. Going on two benders in 17 months does not make you an alcoholic. How many of us have gotten way too drunk twice in 17 months? *raises hand* Does that mean we’re all alcoholics? No. If getting way too drunk 2 times in 17 months made someone an alcoholic then every college student in america should be going to rehab. For all we know this is the first time he has had a drink since the end of ’09, if thats true then an inpatient facility is a huge leap.

    • Utley's Hair - Feb 25, 2011 at 1:06 PM

      There are widely reported big problems with drinking at colleges.

      And I think taking a swig of something from an open bottle in front of a cop and resisting arrest kinda closes up that “huge leap” a bit, don’t you?

      • cur68 - Feb 25, 2011 at 1:49 PM

        Lessee; drinking alone. Drinking to excess. High tolerance. Driving and drinking. Bizarre behavior. Angry drunk. Uttering threats while drunk. Affecting family life. Affecting work life. Trouble with the law over it. Done it before. Yep. He’s an alcoholic.

      • Utley's Hair - Feb 25, 2011 at 2:15 PM

        Well, there’s that too.

        I was leaving out a bunch of the other facts so as not to overwhelm craggt too much.

        Not to mention that I haven’t gotten “way too drunk” once in the last decade or more, so, no, we’re not all alcoholics. Aw, damn, now I just went ahead and mentioned it….

      • craggt - Feb 25, 2011 at 2:54 PM

        cur68, those things you are describing are not the definition of being an alcoholic. All of those things that you described can be done in one binge. Being an alcoholic means that you are addicted to alcohol none of the things you just listed suggest that he is addicted. We can speculate all we want but we have no idea if he is a alcoholic or not.

  14. kindasporty - Feb 25, 2011 at 2:15 PM

    I hope that Cabrera gets help for his problems on a personal level. But I do know that if I had problems like this that affected my work, they’d simply fire me. Then again I don’t do as much for the people I work for as Miguel Cabrera does for his. Which brings me to my next point. Anything the Tigers do for him to help him will be because they have an investment in him. If this happens after his contract is up and he’s a free agent do you really think the Tigers would help him? Do you really think the Tigers even go very far out of their way to help former Tigers who have retired? No because they don’t have investments in them anymore. But I would say that’s not a completely horrible thing, that’s just life. The only person who really needs to be trying to help Miguel Cabrera and quite honestly the only person who truly can help Miguel Cabrera is Miguel Cabrera himself.

  15. The Rabbit - Feb 25, 2011 at 8:11 PM

    Craig, as usual, your comments are on target.
    It never ceases to amaze me the way writers who have incomplete info and obvious minimal knowledge of particular subjects share their “expert” opinions. That they often offer opinion as fact is the issue…..and this certainly predates and is not restricted to the net and bloggers.
    The underlying causes of addiction are complex. The appropriate treatment if Cabrera believes he has a problem should be determined by Cabrera and his doctors.
    I’d find Passan more credible if he stuck to baseball.

  16. stuckonwords - Feb 26, 2011 at 6:18 AM

    I’ll say that Craig was *far* more level-headed than Passan, but I’m afraid they both missed an important point. The Tigers are out on an island, knowing everyone has been watching to see what they’d do. So the smart thing is to bring in someone outside their organization who will be less “we’re-invested-in-him” biased. It was MLB who made this public statement:

    “Over the past several days, Miguel Cabrera has been evaluated by representatives of the Treatment Board jointly operated by the Commissioner’s Office and the MLBPA, Our Treatment Board is staffed by outstanding doctors who are experts in dealing with addiction issues. Mr. Cabrera has voluntarily cooperated and has been completely forthcoming in this process. [The program] will include supervision as necessary to ensure that he adheres to his program. Mr. Cabrera understands the importance of this program and is fully committed to the program.”

    So tell me…how is it that he’s being “coddled”? They did the best they could, brought in the best available experts (which I concede, didn’t include the brilliant Jeff Passan for some reason) and the Tigers and MLB chose to follow the advice of those experts. So just what exactly is it that the Tigers didn’t do that they were supposed to?

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