Thursday, February 17, 2011

Cabrera, La Russa vs. Union, & Heyward in the 100

Since I already jinxed the weather in my excitement about spring training yesterday, I've decided another baseball post is a-ok for this cold, winter day. Three stories didn't make it into yesterday's post, one because it hadn't happened yet, the other two because they hadn't caught my eye yet.

If you haven't followed baseball over the past two seasons, you probably don't know about the personal struggles of Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera. During the 2009 season, the Detroit Tigers had a great run and as the end of the regular season neared an end, the Tigers looked to be the runaway winners of the American League Central. But then they started losing and the Minnesota Twins quickly made up the distance and caught the Tigers. Both teams had an 86-76 record going into a tie breaker and the Tigers choked. The Twins went to the playoffs and the Tigers went home defeated. One player, Miguel Cabrera, was taking more heat from the press than any other Tiger. The reason? A few nights before the tiebreaker, Miguel Cabrera got incredibly drunk, stayed out all night and then had a fight with his wife when he got home. The police were called, Miguel's blood alcohol content was .26, and when he arrived at the stadium for a game later that day that the Tigers needed to win to stay in the postseason chase, he had noticeable scratches on his face from the altercation.

Fast forward to the 2010 season and we were all happy for Cabrera who seemed to have beat his demons in the off season. In addition to a stint in rehab, Miguel and his wife had a baby girl and appeared to have everything worked out. For much of the 2010 season, Cabrera was in the American League MVP discussion. A .328 batting average, 38 home runs and 126 RBIs, signaled what many thought was a return to form for Cabrera. He was selected to represent the Tigers in the All Star Game and there was an obvious improvement in Cabrera's defense at first base (Cabrera had spent time in left and right field and most notably at third base). The player who was once hailed as one of the best young players in the game seemed to have gotten his life back on track.

Until this morning. This morning police in St. Lucie County, Florida, came across Miguel Cabrera as the car he was driving was smoking. Inside the car was an obviously drunk Cabrera, still swigging from an open bottle of scotch. After asking the cop, "do you know who I am?" and assuring the officer that he had no idea of Cabrera's problems, he was arrested for driving under the influence. So far, the Tigers have not announced any action they will be taking against Cabrera.

Remember back in August when Glenn Beck held his rally on the Mall in Washington, D.C.? Remember when he gave out those bizarre medals of merit and invited St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa to introduce slugging first baseman Albert Pujols who would be receiving a medal for his work off the baseball diamond? Most people said then that Pujols agreed to it because he trusted La Russa and that Pujols didn't think it was at all political. Some baseball fans, including me, lost a great deal of respect for La Russa & Pujols because of the rally. And nobody ever really figured out what the motive was for La Russa & Pujols other than they were asked and they obliged.

Then something interesting surfaced during the contract negotiations (or lack thereof) between Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals, negotiations that officially ended yesterday until after the 2011 season. Tony La Russa, in defense of Albert Pujols, said that the Major League Baseball Players' Association--the player union--was putting undue pressure on Pujols to make a precedent setting deal with the Cardinals. La Russa said that the union didn't employ "arm-twisting, [but] dropping anvils on your back" and that was exactly what was happening to Albert. It is very unclear what exactly La Russa's complaint amounts to because he says the union is pressuring Albert and the union (and others in MLB circles) say that the union hadn't been involved in the negotiations between Albert and the Cards.

Even though Pujols says he has no hard feelings toward the Cardinals after not reaching a deal, Tony La Russa isn't backing off his statements about the union which leads me to wonder what La Russa's problem really is. Is it possible that La Russa, like thousands of conservatives, doesn't see the need for a union of any type? Is it possible that the anti-union sentiment that is sweeping statehouses across this country is something La Russa is intimately familiar with? I'm not ruling it out. La Russa has been around the game for a very long time (third all-time in wins by a manager) and it wouldn't surprise me to find that he still holds some animosity toward the players' union since the days of the the 1990s baseball strike.

While 30,000 people are protesting at the Wisconsin state capitol over one of the most damaging anti-union bills in the country, is it too far out of the realm of possibilities that there's anti-union sentiment in baseball circles as well? Probably not.

One last thing that I noticed today while I was looking at theGrio's 100: History Makers in the Making. The superb Black History Month project at picked Atlanta Braves right fielder Jason Heyward as one of their history makers in the making. Yep, they think that Heyward, runner-up for 2010's National League Rookie of the Year, is bringing blacks back to baseball and I have to agree with them. Major League Baseball has been working very hard to bring blacks back to the game, both to the stands and to the teams themselves. The RBI program (Reviving Baseball in Inner cities) has made great strides, but so have high profile players like Heyward, CC Sabathia, Matt Kemp, and Jimmy Rollins. As theGrio notes, the number of black players has decreased since the 1975 season when the number was at an all-time high of 27%. Today 8.4% of Major League Baseball players are black. Not only is it awesome to see a player emerge that can bring more people to the game, it really couldn't be happening to a better guy. By all accounts, Jason Heyward is credit to the Atlanta Braves and the game as a whole.

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