When I was in high school during the mid-1990s, we had what would now be called a strength-and-conditioning coach. He was an ex-coach/administrator who volunteered to help around the edges of the program because he loved athletic competition.
Gradually, his passion became a magnet for those willing to walk the line. Our weight room's popularity increased and guys from rival schools started showing up during the summer months.
I will always remember the literal shock of walking through the door and, for a briefly unguarded moment, locking eyes with a power forward and starting pitcher from our bitterest rival—the only private school in our league and thus, the only one that could recruit student-athletes with impunity.
This guy had exchanged elbows with me on the court and plunked me three times in one at-bat—the umpire said the first didn't hit me, the second I dove into, and the third was on ball four. Now I was supposed to share MY weight room and gym with him?
Coach made it clear the answer was, "Yes."
That was the end of it.
The man was someone you listened to if you had brain cells to rub together. Not only that, he was old school to the core—I think I remember one misinformed soul challenging his chain of command, and there's a very good reason the scene was never repeated.
I mention this as background because, until recently, I always remembered him as a paradox.
Here was a guy who lived for sports enough to make it his vocation, was sincere in his desire and ability to shape young talent, and yet he proudly refused to follow the professional leagues. At all. He kept a loose handle on college ball and then completely tuned the alumni out.
This apparent contradiction had always baffled me. Unfortunately, I'm now beginning to understand it.
Not that there's any danger of me following his lead.
I love baseball and the San Francisco Giants far too deeply to ever turn a blind eye to Major League Baseball. Even so, I find myself spending more and more time disgusted by what I see, read, and hear about the diamond and the revelations who patrol it.
Take the latest entry into the Show's Hall of Absurdly Shameful Selfish Asses, Miguel Cabrera.
Until last week, the general consensus around this 26-year-old monster was unadulterated and incredulous appreciation. The Venezuelan had done nothing but rake (OK, maybe a little eating too) once he broke on the Big League scene at a tender 20 years of age.
Cabrera's impact was immediate and it has been persistent.
During his rookie campaign in 2003, he became one of the offensive leaders on a Florida Marlins squad that won the World Series despite playing only 87 games as the team's third baseman.
Since that truncated first season when he joined up at the end of June, the current Detroit Tiger has been a model of brutal consistency.
Check some of Miguel's minimums for his six full years—157 games played, 576 at-bats, 85 runs scored, 31 doubles, 26 home runs, 103 runs batted in, a .292 batting average, and an .878 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Again, those are minimums from his various bodies of work, not his worst single year.
Like I said, incredible.
Unfortunately, the dude just threw a disastrous monkey wrench into the gears that had been propelling his career at such a meteoric clip.
By now, you know the story—with the Tigers' season slipping away and only two games to save the other 160, Miguel Cabrera went out boozing. Hard. He came back late, got in a light tussle with his wife, and the cops took him away. No charges were filed, so it's safe to say nothing as horrible as domestic violence transpired, but that's about all the All-Star can say in his defense.
Because on Saturday morning, with a definitive game to be played later that day, Cabrera's blood alcohol content was .26. Folks, that's not a simple bender—that's falling down, blacked-out WASTED. Even if Miggy can hold his liquor.
And the hangover? Whoo boy...
Think about that—Miguel Cabrera was the best player on a team desperate to avoid a catastrophic meltdown, representing a city (Detroit) that's gotten hammered from all sides in recent months, and he's partying like a college frat boy after finals the morning of the biggest game of the year.
Oh, and what about Ernie Harwell?
That would be the Tigers' sure-fire Hall-of-Fame play-by-play announcer of 42 years who revealed 2009 would be his last behind the microphone due to a terminal case of bile duct cancer. Wouldn't it have been a storybook ending to have sent him out with one last stab at the brass ring?
Instead of thinking about his teammates, or the city that so needed a boost, or the legendary icon on his last legs, Cabrera thought about himself. Whether it was to dull the pressure of the moment or for a more insidious purpose, the alcohol served the interests of only one individual—Miguel Cabrera.
For all his assurances to the contrary, the wunderkind's escapades certainly looked to be costly.
The big fella went 0-for-4 and stranded six runners in a Tiggers' loss that erased the last of a division-lead Detroit held since July 24. The defeat allowed the Minnesota Twins to pull even atop the American League Central, officially killing a deficit that had been seven games as recently as late August.
Detroit would bounce back to win on Sunday, no thanks to Cabrera who wore the collar once again. But the club would drop the one-game playoff forced by the Twins. Miguel did his part in the tiebreaker with a two-run bomb, but it was too late—the Twinkies had the magic, the momentum, and the home-field advantage.
The Tigers had two hands wrapped around their collective throat and an albatross circling overhead in the form of Cabrera's blunder.
For Minnesota, it was a division title, a first-round date with the New York Yankees in baseball's second season, and another week of baseball life. For Detroit, it was more heart-break and woe, and no ride into the sunset for Harwell.
As a general rule, organizations win and lose together, but there are exceptions.
When one individual does something so extraordinarily extreme on either end of the spectrum, he or she can rightfully demand more adulation in victory or more scorn in defeat.
When the extreme is positive, it reinforces the team dynamic. When it's negative, it eats away at the team's fabric like a starved moth.
Miguel Cabrera better stay away from open flames.
Sadly, he's just the latest in a growing subset of professional athletes whose behavior clearly indicates our "team" sports are being hijacked by individuals with no regard for the cooperative concept.
By individuals infatuated with their own reflections.
They haven't finished the job yet, but if they do, maybe I'll find a weight room to run...