(Reuters) - Miguel Cabrera is the talk of Major League Baseball (MLB) after becoming the first player in 45 years to hit for the Triple Crown on Wednesday, but the Detroit Tigers slugger was not part of any champagne-filled celebration.
Mindful that Cabrera has had a well-publicized battle with alcohol, tubs of ice in the Detroit clubhouse are stocked with alcohol-free beverages just as they were on Tuesday when the Tigers secured a second consecutive division crown.
After winning the battle of the bottle, Cabrera has won a place in the record books with a season for the ages that could one day propel him into the Hall of Fame as chants of “MVP, MVP, MVP” are finally drowning out whispers that the 29-year-old Venezuelan was a superb athlete but troubled man.
The seven-time All-Star has 321 home runs and 1,123 RBI in 10 major league seasons, underlining his value by helping the Florida Marlins to a World Series title in his rookie year.
But away from the ballpark, Cabrera has made headlines with a string of worrying drink-related offences.
Despite the red flags, Detroit traded for the big-hitting infielder in 2007 and signed him to an extension that made him the fourth-highest paid MLB player at the time, a clear gamble that his off-field problems were a thing of the past.
They were not.
In October 2009, with Detroit battling for the AL Central crown, Cabrera’s wife filed a domestic violence complaint against him after an alleged night of drinking that resulted in an off-season spent in an alcohol treatment program.
Prior to 2011 Spring Training, Cabrera was in trouble again, arrested on charges of drunk driving and resisting arrest.
But Cabrera rewarded the patience and loyalty of the Tigers organization by carrying the team through large stretches of a challenging 162-game regular season.
When Detroit signed prized off-season free agent Prince Fielder, Cabrera graciously accepted a move from first base to third base to accommodate the new arrival.
Combining the brute power of a classic slugger and the pure finesse of a leadoff hitter, Cabrera is now the first player to lead his league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
Perhaps Cabrera’s most remarkable quality has been his consistency. He has driven in over 100 runs in each of the last nine seasons and hit more than 30 homers in eight of those.
“He’s a once-in-a-lifetime player,” gushed Tigers General Manager Dave Dombrowski, who knew better than anyone about the tremendous upside Cabrera could bring to a team having signed him to the Marlins as a raw 16-year-old talent.
Cabrera arrived on the major league scene with a bang, slamming a walk-off home run in his Marlins debut in 2003. In his first game with Detroit in 2008, he celebrated his arrival again with a home run.
Tigers fans hope there will be plenty more to reasons to party in the coming weeks as Detroit makes a run at the Motor City’s first World Series title since 1984.
But if the Tigers do win the Fall Classic, any celebration involving Cabrera will be quenched by non-alcoholic drinks.
“He had problems, well-documented, and he’s turned things around,” said Tigers ace Justin Verlander. “He doesn’t drink anymore, he doesn’t go out, and he doesn’t get in trouble.”
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue