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Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera must face the challenges of alcohol abuse, but …

Published: Friday, February 18, 2011, 12:12 PM     Updated: Friday, February 18, 2011, 12:59 PM


Steve Kornacki



In this Oct. 1, 2009 file photo, Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera is shown against the Minnesota Twins in Detroit. Cabrera was arrested late Wednesday on charges of drunk driving and two counts of resisting an officer without violence in St. Lucie County, Fla.

LAKELAND, Fla. — Miguel Cabrera will come into town soon and apologize. He will say that he is taking steps to address his alcohol problem, which became evident Wednesday night, when he was arrested and charged with DUI, resisting an officer without violence and having an open bottle of James Buchanan Scotch in his Land Rover.

Teammates will shake his hand and hug him. It will be a feel-good moment. The hard part will come later, when the embarrassment wanes and he feels that urge. He is assured the support of everyone involved with the Detroit Tigers, but he’s the only one who can make changes that stick.

Third baseman Brandon Inge has the biggest impact in the clubhouse of anyone on the club, and said he will see to it that Cabrera gets the teammate support required.

“It’s going to be easy for us to handle this,” Inge said. “It’s not going to be a distraction. He’s one of the better teammates I’ve ever played with. Yet, I know everybody is going to blow this out of proportion.”

Several national media outlets had reporters show up Friday to cover the Cabrera story, and it will be a hot story for a couple days. But then somebody will cause a stir at another camp, and there will be a bigger story to follow.

And once Cabrera talks about this, everything will settle down until his appearance date with the 19th Judicial Court of Florida in Fort Pierce. Prosector Gayle Braun told me Friday that no date has been set, but added that one will be assigned his case soon.

Cabrera went through this last year, but without the legal realities. He was coming off the embarrassing end to the 2009 season, when an all-night drinking binge resulted in a fight with his wife and her 911 call to Birmingham Police. That resulted in him being held at the jail until Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski picked him up, but no charges resulted.

And once Cabrera faced the questions and got on a roll in a 2010 season during which he became the American League’s most feared hitter, all the negatives became positives. He was lauded for overcoming his problem with offseason counseling.

And Cabrera, 27, has the potential to exceed the .328 average, 38 homers and 126 RBIs he put up last year, according to Tigers manager Jim Leyland.

“I know for a fact that Miguel Cabrera is in the best shape he’s been,” said Leyland. “He’s stronger than he’s ever been, and he’s quicker than he’s ever been…You can talk to Miguel Cabrera, but I think Miguel Cabrera is going to have the biggest year of his life.”

But he also needs to excel in life outside of baseball, and that is where the rub comes. Producing tends to give the impression that all else is well in your world, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Inge was asked if he was concerned about that attitude allowing his good friend a free pass that might not be in his best interests.

“To be honest with you, most of baseball is that way,” Inge said. “If you produce, there is not concern that something’s wrong with you. If you don’t produce, they wonder what’s wrong with you.”

Inge said he felt the club helped Cabrera get through last year and thrive.

“You are going to want to crawl in a hole,” he said. “But that’s why we want to make him comfortable…We want him to feel like he’s at home. We’re not mad at him and we’ve not disappointed in him, and it’s something we’ll handle in our clubhouse.”

We’re not sure why Cabrera was driving down a lonesome road drinking scotch 96 miles away from his home in Boca Raton. But perhaps — despite a daily workout regimen and tending to a wife and two young daughters — the big slugger had too much time on his hands.

“Baseball is his life,” Inge said. “It’s his passion, and he’s like a kid. Being back in baseball is going to be very good for him.”

That is true.

What remains to be seen, and what is most important, is how Cabrera addresses his drinking problem. Addressing the baseball with the power of his bat really is secondary right now.

I wish I believed those were the priorities, but Inge touched on the reality of the situation. The bottom line is production — always has been, always will be.

Hit 536 home runs like Mickey Mantle, stay out of jail, and everybody’s happy.

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