By: Holly Horning
We now have the decisive clue. The clue that answers many of the questions and pleas from fans about Miguel Cabrera. Questions and comments about Miggy not stepping up, not being a team leader, not being clutch – as well as issues surrounding his need to socialize during games.
The clue came in the form of video during the most exciting and miraculous game last week. A do-or-die game in the late innings. And it was a picture of the Tigers’ dugout and every player intense and on edge – except Miggy. Cabrera was banging on a Gatorade keg like it was a drum, bopping his head in rhythm to his own private music. And smiling. Was he somewhere else or was he loving how the game was being played?
Next to him was the antithesis to his personality – VMart. Victor, who was gripping the railing and had the most focused, intense gaze. His eyes were laser-focused and burning holes into the opposition. Victor looked dangerous and locked into the moment. It was almost comical to see the extreme differences between these two men.
It has always been said that Miggy loves baseball. He loves to play it and he has loads of fun. But loving baseball doesn’t necessarily mean that you are highly competitive, have a burning desire to win or are a born leader.
Baseball in Venezuela has distinctive cultural differences from the American version which helps explain why Miggy interacts with players and fans. His Venezuelan background contributes to his habits of schmoozing with players and fans alike. But the extremes to which he goes may be more personality-based.
Maybe being highly competitive and overly serious makes the game less enjoyable for Miggy. Or maybe, he dislikes or wants to avoid the pressure. Or, maybe Miggy simply doesn’t perform well under pressure. Maybe all of the above.
Given this, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Miggy is not a vocal or spiritual leader of the team. Many assume that the great players should be the leaders, but studies show it’s the opposite. Highly-talented individuals spend their time working at being great. Lesser players are more focused overall on the team. The truly great leaders in baseball history were not-so-great as players.
Leading the team could also have taken away the joy of the game for Miggy. And historically, many have painted him as a hard-to-handle personality who marches to his own drum and often has to be reined in. Not exactly the personality of someone who leads.
Any one of these is a plausible explanation, considering that most have characterized Cabrera as a pure talent. Someone who excels at the sport because it comes naturally to him as opposed to others who have to work very hard at perfecting their craft.
Wanting to avoid pressure could also explain why Miggy did not perform well against the White Sox in the infamous 2009 series at the end of the year. The same series where he was out late partying with the opposition and then later arrested. Maybe the “do-or-die” series was too much for him. Maybe this was his way of coping.
From 2009 through 2011, his troubled years, a glance at the Tigers’ roster shows that Miggy was the franchise star expected to carry this team on a daily basis. Maybe there was too much pressure or expectations placed upon him and he didn’t have an appropriate coping mechanism. His problems disappeared in 2012 with the addition of several other high-profile players. Guys who were able to share the load.
Cabrera’s stats may also support his desire to avoid pressure. Offensive records show that he is less successful in bringing in runners during crucial situations – esp. instances with RISP, runners on third and with 2 outs. The more crucial the situation, the lower his success rate. A constant complaint from fans has been that Miggy “isn’t clutch” and hits for the stats and not for the team.
Given the stats and history, Miggy is the perfect candidate to work with a sports psychologist. But based upon what we see and read about his personality, we know he’s unlikely to make that move. But this doesn’t mean that the Tigers should give up. In the past, they’ve found other players who have had varying degrees of success keeping him focused and more successful at the plate in pressure-filled situations.
But they don’t have that person now. In a year where starting pitching has become problematic, they need Miggy more than ever to step up at the plate in the most important situations.