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A week after DUI arrest, Cabrera’s return to baseball seems hasty

LAKELAND, Fla. — On a perfect, warm weekday afternoon in Tigertown, the groundscrew sweeped the infield and stenciled the Old English “D” behind home plate, and Miguel Cabrera rejoined the Detroit Tigers as autograph seekers staked out the clubhouse door. All seemed well under the Florida sun.

That summary skips over some of the day’s chronology — Cabrera met the media for the first time since his DUI arrest a week ago, and Major League Baseball announced a treatment plan for the slugger — but the end result is the same.

Detroit’s $152 million franchise player has been cleared for all baseball activity and thus will be in camp tomorrow, ready to play at the discretion of manager Jim Leyland.

MLB’s statement came from the desk of executive vice president Rob Manfred, and it announced a “multifaceted, professionally-administered program for Mr. Cabrera, which will include supervision as is necessary to ensure that he adheres to the program.” Future incidents could involve “more serious consequences.” The Tigers would support the league’s initiative.

What that means in actuality is unclear. General manager David Dombrowski said he had seen the program and that it was “very thorough” but said he could not elaborate except to indicate that it would not involve intake into a rehab facility or cause Cabrera to miss any time. There will be no suspension for misconduct. For now Cabrera is a Tiger and ready to play ball.

It is impossible to judge the severity of someone else’s illness or addiction from afar — especially in this case when details were not disclosed and the player himself declined to explicitly admit he had a problem with alcohol — but the public nature and reported details of his two alcohol-related incidents of the past 16 months make it hard to imagine that the chosen course of actions is enough.

It was early Oct. 2009 when Cabrera was taken to a police station in the wee hours of the morning — just before the Tigers played an important series to determine whether they’d make the playoffs — after he reportedly got into a fight with his wife and at the time had a steep blood-alcohol level. For comparison’s sake, it was three times the legal limit for driving.

Last year, however, outwardly appeared to be a feel-good story, as Cabrera arrived at spring training and said he had stopped drinking. He was regularly seeing a counselor. He then went out and had an MVP-caliber season with a .328 average, 38 home runs and 126 RBIs. Most importantly, he appeared to be healthy and in a good place.

But that image was shattered last week when Cabrera was arrested on suspicion of DUI as he drove to begin spring training. Cabrera reportedly smelled of alcohol and even took a swig from a bottle of scotch when police approached his broken-down car, stranded by the side of the road some 110 miles from his destination of Lakeland. He allegedly invoked the famous arrogant athlete defense of “do you know who I am?”

In Cabrera’s first incident, he was not charged but police responded to an alleged domestic dispute. In the second incident, his court date is March 16, but drinking and driving is another very serious and very dangerous incident and needs to be treated that way.

Cabrera began his remarks on Thursday afternoon by apologizing to his teammates, fans, family and the Tigers. He sounded heartfelt and sincere. He then switched from English to his native Spanish (with Detroit’s assistant general manager, Al Avila, serving as translator), the language he felt most comfortable with for discussing a delicate — and legal — matter. In Spanish he apologized to and even thanked the police in Fort Pierce who arrested for the way they handled everything.

“It was one bad decision on my part,” Cabrera said, as relayed by Avila. “I will continue my treatment and do everything the doctors ask of me.”

That’s about the time that his comments grew lacking. When asked for clarification that this was indeed the only time he had a drink since his last arrest, Cabrera did not directly answer the question (at least not as translated by Avila).

Cabrera pledged that he’d try his best going forward — “I will work hard to regain that respect,” he said, according to Avila — but fell short of saying he had a problem with alcohol. When asked if he was ready to admit that he was an alcoholic, a word he previously had been reluctant to use, Cabrera said he was not a doctor and that they would be best to diagnose the situation.

Life for Cabrera will certainly be different, though to what extent we do not know. Cabrera and Dombrowski both declined to discuss specifics of the treatment program, saying it was “confidential.” The one aspect that was acknowledged was the possibility of Cabrera having a sponsor or chaperone of sorts to keep tabs on him, much like the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton — who has openly discussed his problems with alcohol and drugs — has wherever he goes.

Dombrowski, speaking on behalf of the Tigers, said he hopes fans see how sincere Cabrera is and how committed he is to making his treatment work. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what no one is able to see, given how little about his treatment was actually discussed.

As the formal remarks of the press conference wrapped up on the field of Joker Marchant Stadium, it was hard to ignore that a camera-toting, middle-aged fan wearing a home Tigers jersey — Cabrera’s jersey, of course — had walked over to the nearby stands and peered inside the stadium at the assembled media near the first-base dugout.

Afterwards, three other fans stood near the clubhouse door, holding artifacts for Cabrera to sign. Asked for their thoughts on the recent events, a man in his 20s who later identified himself as Jason from Lakeland, said, “Glad to have him back.”

Indeed, Cabrera is back, just eight days after his second alcohol-related incident in 16 months. It’s Feb. 24. You’d think he could put off baseball a little while longer and make sure his head is right.

One of the last questions asked of him was whether he was ready to play baseball. Perking up, Cabrera reverted to English and said he had been working out.

It’s hardly like he left at all. And on a day when Cabrera wasn’t ready to concede he had a problem with alcohol, his hasty return to baseball is, quite clearly, a problem of insufficient accountability.

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