Was Miguel Cabrera right when he said that Detroit fans don’t respect a player who plays injured? Since reading the quote, spoken nearly two weeks ago, I’ve come back to the question again and again in my mind.
“When you are doing bad, they crush you,” is what he said. “They crush you. They say you are bad. They say you should go home. You don’t deserve anything. You are old. So I say, OK, I’m done playing hurt. Now I am going to take my time.”
When I hear that, first I wonder who he is listening to. I wonder why he is listening to them.
Maybe I’m missing something. I don’t listen to a lot of reactions on sports radio. I don’t sit by the dugout at Comerica Park to hear what’s shouted. Certainly some number of fans must be telling Cabrera he’s horrible. It takes about three seconds looking at any form of social media to know that a certain percentage of people among us want to prop themselves up by tearing others down.
But fans tearing down Miguel Cabrera en masse? Is that really happening beyond the loud shouting of a few voices?
So when I hear Cabrera appear to call out the fans, next I wonder why.
It’s impossible to truly get inside Cabrera’s head. He doesn’t want you there. And, honestly, we have no claim to open access to it, anyway.
Cabrera is a 35-year-old man who happens to perform a form of entertainment very well, and he’s compensated very well for it.
Some people seem to believe that because they’ve bought tickets that pay for a miniscule amount of his salary, they’ve bought the whole dang man himself.
They haven’t. Cabrera’s life off the field is his business. It might affect his play on the field, but that’s a matter to be taken up between him and his manager, between him and his teammates.
If you tell someone professional athletes have the same hopes, fears and doubts as you and me, you might hear the response that a few million dollars a year should make it a whole lot easier to stomach. But it doesn’t necessarily work that way. They’re human.
For years, Cabrera must have felt indomitable. When the Tigers traded for him more than a decade ago, and then signed him to extensions, we all knew how lucky we’d be to watch what promised to be one of the best right-handed hitters in the history of the game wearing the Old English D, playing baseball year after year in our town.
He didn’t let us down. In 2012, at age 29, he carried the whole sport on his back for a journey toward a feat that hadn’t been seen in generations of baseball players: a triple crown. He earned two MVP awards, which seem to pale in comparison.
He was one of the organization’s two superstars who’ll forever be associated with one of the brightest periods of baseball in Detroit history, the playoffs a yearly given, not a once-in-a-while hope.
Then his body began to betray him, as it betrays everyone as they age. Suddenly he’s indomitable no more, and his career’s peak is in the past. Aging is something we all do but few accept gracefully, denying it, raging against it when we can’t do the things we used to.
As Cabrera’s injuries piled up, each a little different, he played through them because even hurt he could pull his team along behind him toward yet another playoff run.
Fans cheered him, gave him ovations. I don’t remember many showering him with disrespect. A few, maybe, but on the whole? Disrespect for playing injured?
If there’s one message I sensed, it’s that they wanted just to see him get healthy.
Finally, I think maybe there’s some disappointment. From Cabrera. From the fans. It’s no fun on the way down.
The past few years didn’t exactly go like everyone wanted. There’s no Hollywood ending to be found. No flags flying above Comerica Park with a year that will be remembered and recited for a century of Detroit baseball fans to come. And it was disappointing, the ending as a diaspora of fan favorites were traded around the baseball world.
We all rode this thing up, and now we’re riding it down. Maybe Cabrera’s feeling a little hurt and disappointed that it doesn’t quite feel like everyone’s in it together, after he gave so much for so many years.
Few fans, I think as I talk to them, are mad at Cabrera. Maybe some social media haters, but not the people I’ve spoken to.
Maybe what he takes for a lack of respect for his playing hurt is actually the hope that he’ll do what he’s doing now – taking his time getting healthy – so he can be the “Miggy” everyone loves for just a little while longer. So if fans want to see him rest a little more, maybe play a little more DH to stay healthy, it’s not a criticism. They just don’t want the end to come any faster than it has to.
It might be hard to ignore the loudest critics – he’s human. But Cabrera has to remember, those aren’t the people he’s playing for. At least, they shouldn’t be.
He and Tigers fans have too much invested in this relationship to let it all fall apart just as times get their toughest.
Kurt Mensching can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.