It probably hasn't been an ideal start to your Thursday if your a Tigers fan. As dozens upon dozens of media outlets have surely made you aware by now, Miguel Cabrera has been arrested on a DUI charge. Obviously this isn't Cabrera's first run-in with alcohol related issues - he infamously had a physical altercation with his wife after drinking during the stretch run of the 2009 season. The Tigers would collapse down the stretch, blowing a significant division lead to the Twins, and lose in an epic 163rd game.
Following the 2009 debacle, Cabrera checked himself into rehab and got help, admitting, "My drinking was a problem..." The flip side to all of that negativity was his resurgence in 2010. A slimmed down, and reportedly sober Cabrera would go on to have an MVP-worthy season, posting a .328/.420/.622 triple slash line, nearly single handedly keeping the Tigers relevant with a 6.2 WAR season.
Last night's arrest however might be more even more troubling. Not only is he drinking again, but it's not in the, "have one or two and call it a night," kind of way that is more socially acceptable. No, according to police reports Cabrera was so intoxicated that when confronted by police, he made the baffling decision to take a pull directly from the bottle of whiskey he had in his possession. Then he decided to become belligerent (as drunks will do) and resist officers. Thankfully to say the situation didn't get too ugly, and Cabrera was detained after a minimal struggle.
Legally speaking, there is some doubt to the DUI charge - there is speculation that he might not have been driving - but he's still in violation of open-container laws regardless. Of course, the actual charges should probably mean less to us than the actions themselves. If Cabrera WAS driving, he was endangering peoples lives. Let's not forget the tragic death of top Angels prospect Nick Adenhart last year. If he wasn't driving, then exhibiting such poor decision making as to drink in front of an officer isn't significantly more comforting.
I'm not in a position to diagnose Cabrera with alcoholism and I have no intentions of leveling that charge on him, but regardless of whether his issues are the result of a diagnosable disease, or just the really bad decision making of a 27 year old young man, they're issues that need to be dealt with. How they will be dealt with in the future is something the franchise and more importantly, Cabrera himself, need to approach carefully.
The Tigers for their part, have said nothing. They've closed off the doors to the locker room to reporters and are doing a good job of circling the wagons, protecting Cabrera and the rest of the team for as long as possible from the media maelstrom that's sure to swallow up too much of the Tigers pre-season coverage.
Ultimately however, something will need to be done. When the Twins Justin Morneau suffered a concussion last season, the Twins made the difficult decision to sit him for the rest of the year, rather than trying to force him back into action and put him in a position where he could hurt himself further. Morneau had arguably been baseball's best player to that point, having accumulated a staggering 5.3 WAR in just over half a season. Their decision wasn't one made solely out of care for their player - it was an economic decision too. The Twins are tied into Morneau for the next three seasons at 14m per year and it was important for them to protect that investment.
While the Cabrera and Morneau situations aren't exactly the same, they share similarities. Both teams are in a position where losing either player for a significant period of time would deprive them of their best offensive weapon, and both teams have significant investments in the players future. Ultimately, they're forced into a position where caring for the player (and by extension their long-term investment) and trying to win are in short-term conflict.
The Twins made the decision to give Morneau all the time he needed to get over his concussion symptoms. It was a gutsy call that worked out - the Twins won 94 games and made the playoffs even while missing Morneau for half a year. How long will the Tigers give Cabrera to deal with his demons? Can they afford to give him much time?
It's difficult if not impossible to say, and how you feel about it will depend on your views of alcoholism, and sports in general. There will certainly be those who feel his drinking is a personal problem that is none of his teams concern and who are concerned only with his performance on the field. There will be some who feel differently.
For my part, I just care about the human being. Cabrera is my senior by all of 67 days. He could be me (if I was significantly larger and vastly more athletically talented). Even though I drink maybe once a month, I know that I still make the occasional mistake with alcohol, and maybe have one too many. Baseball is littered with stories of players who's alcoholism went untreated, and turned into issues with other drugs - the 70s and 80s are filled with stories - and ultimately ruined careers. Thankfully societies approach to substance abuse has advanced by leaps and bounds since those days. I have high hopes for Cabrera both on the field and off. But for his sake, and that of the franchise, let's hope he gets all the help and support he needs.
Corey Ettinger is a proud contributor to both 612Sports.net, 312Sports.com, and 313sports.com. He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Coreyettinger for the latest updates, random thoughts and general tomfoolery.