He may be a Triple Crown winner and last year’s American League MVP, but the Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera isn’t all that interested in talking about himself or about being arguably one of the best players in Major League Baseball. Rather, he’d like to talk about his team — and that’s just fine with us.When it comes to superstar athletes, Miguel Cabrera fits the bill in name — and stats — only. If you’re looking for a self-promoter or a spotlight fiend, then you best keep on walking. Cabrera — he’s not biting.
“We’re a team. We’re here because we’re a team,” Cabrera says, when asked, in so many words, why he cares not to discuss himself. “You win games with 25 guys. You don’t win games by yourself. So I think that’s unfair when people ask you about you, you, you and not ask about your teammates.”
It’s a refreshingly humble statement, really, for an easy-on-the-eyes professional athlete banking $21 million a year and headed, in all likelihood, for baseball’s Hall of Fame. And those are fair words, too, when you consider the Detroit Tigers have their share of dynamic personalities — hello, Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder and Torii Hunter — and more-than-realistic 2013 World Series aspirations.
But when you’re not-so-arguably the best hitter in the game — so darnfeared that opposing pitchers would rather face a four-time All-Star infielder — and fresh off accomplishing one of the sport’s most historic feats, well, like it or not, you’re the story. Just ask around. When you do, you’ll notice two things: Eyes light up and voices get excited when the question pertains to Cabrera.
“He’ll be the best player I get to play with,” says Tigers catcher Alex Avila, who, because he comes from a baseball family, was just a kid when he was first introduced to Cabrera. “He’s one of those guys where you retire his number on the wall and you make a statue. People always talk about how they watched Al Kaline and [Mickey] Lolich and all the Tigers greats. … He’ll be one of our guys for our generation.”
That’s because already, at 29, Cabrera has accomplished so much.
Since being traded from the Florida (now Miami) Marlins to the Tigers before the 2008 season, Cabrera has led the American League in each of the three Triple Crown categories (batting average, home runs and RBIs) at least once, and in 2012, he was tops in all three, making him baseball’s first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox in 1967. It also was the first Triple Crown by a Tiger since Ty Cobb did it, oh, just a few years back (1909).
Cabrera’s performance was impressively carried out not only as he was playing (complaint free) through a bum ankle much of the year but also as the Tigers were tackling one pressure game after another in September before winning the American League Central Division title over the Chicago White Sox. It also earned Cabrera AL Most Valuable Player honors. He edged out rookie Mike Trout, the 21-year-old Los Angeles Angels outfielder who turned in a historic season of his own to win the award. (Editor’s Note: For more on Trout, read "League of Champion.")
There are several grateful pitchers with the Tigers — grateful, of course, that they don’t have to face star slugger Miguel Cabrera. But what if they did? How would they get him out?
“I’d go with my best pitch,” says team veteran Rick Porcello, “and pray!”
Ace Justin Verlander, who, with both an MVP award and a Cy Young award to his credit, has little trouble getting to anyone — and wants no part of this hypothetical. “I don’t want to,” he says, smiling at the idea of pitching to Cabrera. “I don’t have to.”
Catcher Alex Avila, who’s often responsible for setting up the game plan to get opposing hitters out, has no clue either. And it’s because there are no evident weak spots in Cabrera’s swing. “There are times when he’s on a hot streak, [opponents] will come up to me and ask how to get him out,” Avila says. “Just from talking to other catchers and pitchers, if it’s hard and inside, he’ll turn on it and hit it over the left-field fence. OK, so down and away with an off-speed pitch? But he’s so strong, he’ll go over the right-field fence.”
Late in the season, Avila heard opposing players talking about getting Cabrera to chase high fastballs. So they threw one up around his neck. And predictably, it landed in the stands.