Miguel Cabrera: We Hardly Know Ye
The most powerful slugger in Detroit since Cecil Fielder was clearing the left field roof off the defending World Series MVP is an outsider.
The man who even the great Hank Greenberg might not have anything on, isn't even the most popular player in his own infield, let alone on his team, and certainly not in the city.
I'm too young to remember Greenberg---yes, there are players that were even before this old goat's time---but I certainly recall Fielder, aka Big Daddy.
A Cecil Fielder at-bat was a time-stopping affair. It was as if God himself said, "Simon says FREEZE." For when Big Daddy strode to the plate, a grizzly bear of a man with Popeye biceps, Tigers fans at the ballpark and watching on TV---the true fans, anyway---stopped whatever they were doing to watch.
If you listened closely, you could hear all the "In a minute, honey"s by enraptured husbands as their wives dared to talk to them while Big Daddy went mano-a-mano with the opposing pitcher.
Fielder lost a lot of those battles---he struck out with Austin Jackson-like consistency---but when he won? Baseballs disappeared into the wild blue yonder, like when they flew over roofs.
I remember when Fielder took Oakland's Dave Stewart, who at the time was among the nastiest of right-handers, over the left field roof at Michigan and Trumbull, no minor feat. Plenty of guys drove the ball over the less imposing right field roof (I saw Kirk Gibson do that in person and I can still see the baseball as it made its trajectory), but to slam it the other way, for a right-handed hitter, was one of the most impressive things a hitter could do in baseball. You'd only need one hand to count the guys who did it.
We knew Cecil. We knew he had a pudgy son named Prince, who swung lefty. I remember Prince, who was in grade school at the time, strutting around in his Tigers jersey, with a paunch even back then.
There was a photo snapped of Fielder, not long after he took Stewart out of the ballpark, as he walked on the roof of Tiger Stadium at the approximate location where the baseball he slammed skimmed off, onto the street below. Big Daddy carried a bat in one hand and was smoking a cigar, fat like he was.
Fielder was on TV, he was in magazine and newspaper ads. He was winning RBI titles and hitting 50 home runs and he was by far the most exciting player to watch at the plate for the Tigers in those days---the early-1990s.
But we felt we knew him a little bit, too. He was interviewed, for one. His quotes made their way into the newspapers the next morning. The press could carry on a conversation with him, easily.
Then there's Miguel Cabrera.
Cabrera is one of the very best players in all of baseball. You could make an argument that he's No. 1, but you couldn't make a credible one that he's not among the top three.
A Cabrera at-bat, at least for me, has the same time-stopping ability as those by Fielder. I have literally stopped in my tracks when I've peeked at the television while walking by, seeing Cabrera at the dish. I don't dare miss a pitch.
But Cabrera is unknown to the folks in Detroit. After the final pitch of every season, he vanishes---not to be seen again until the following February. He's not on TV, he's not quoted. We don't know much about his family, unless they somehow appear in a police blotter tracking his escapades.
He doesn't do appearances, not even for charity. He's as much of a Detroiter as we are Venezuelans.
Fielder, in his prime years here, owned Detroit. Cabrera, in his prime years now in Detroit, is just a guy who we cheer, or in some cases, revile.
I once wrote that we didn't know Lou Whitaker, either---and Sweet Lou played almost 20 years here. So the enigmatic athlete hardly begins in Detroit with Miguel Cabrera.
And Whitaker spoke perfectly good English.
Ahhh...NOW we're getting somewhere.
Call me a bigot, call me ignorant, call me a racist moron. That's OK.
But I submit to you that until Miguel Cabrera gets a better handle on the English language, then he'll never be anything more in Detroit than an immensely talented man who might as well be playing in a plastic bubble.
He doesn't speak to us because he doesn't speak, period. English, that is.
He's misplaced in Detroit. Frankly, he's better suited for the fan base in Miami, from where he came. Cabrera is a hero in his own country but a total stranger in his own city.
In most cities, the star athlete on the team is the one the press goes to most often for a few words for the morning edition, or the late night game recaps on the Internet.
Not in Detroit, when it comes to baseball.
Cabrera is a rotten interview because he doesn't speak our language. His take on all things Tigers ought to be well-known and often analyzed. Folks ought to be at the water cooler, discussing Cabrera's latest thoughts.
That's what we did with Isiah Thomas. That's what we did with Steve Yzerman.
I truly believe that Tigers fans would dearly love to get to know their superstar player. I think they'd like seeing him around town, handing out Thanksgiving turkeys, talking to kids at school, what have you.
This guy is the most dynamic player the Tigers have had in eons---on the field.
Off it, he's a perceived drunk and a potential menace to society.
We love the idea of Miguel Cabrera being on our team. But we don't love him. In fact, there's a bunch of us who may not even like him, because he's not that likeable of a guy, frankly.
Which is all such a shame, because we probably have him figured out all wrong. His teammates liken him to a big, cuddly bear. That may be the case---they ought to know, after all.
But we don't see that side because we don't see him. All we see is a big, talented man wearing a Tigers uniform. That may be enough for some, but it falls way short for most.
We don't know Miguel Cabrera because we never hear from him. This is his fourth season as a Tiger and the man is a blank canvas, save for some splotches that have been tossed onto it.
And this is the way it will stay, for as long as Miguel's English remains as rotten as last month's Easter eggs.