Let’s get one thing out of the way, right now.
Miguel Cabrera is no Bobby Layne.
Layne, the liquor-guzzling quarterback for the Lions in the 1950s, was a drunk, but a happy, functioning drunk.
Layne’s drinking binges were legendary, and almost romanticized.
Rookie DT Alex Karras was assigned to Layne—literally—during Alex’s first training camp in 1958. It was Karras’s duty to drive Layne around town, usually to the watering holes in Pontiac, and not only act as Bobby’s chauffeur, but to be Layne’s drinking buddy, too.
Karras couldn’t keep up with Layne in the liquor consumption department. No one could.
Layne, Karras said, would drink the night away, pay the house band to keep playing even when they were tired, and would hang halfway out of the car on the ride home, screaming the words to the song “Ida Red.”
After a night of partying—this went on several days a week—the two would return to the dormitories at Cranbrook, with time for maybe an hour or two of sleep.
Then it was back onto the practice field for workouts in the hot summer’s sun.
“Bobby didn’t need sleep,” Karras once recalled. “He’d be in the shower, singing, fresh as a daisy, and I’d be trying not to throw up.”
Karras still can’t believe he made the Lions squad in his rookie year because Layne abused him more than the practices did.
“I was awful,” Karras said of his performance during camp and the exhibition season.
Layne could hold his booze. There are tales, confirmed, of him taking a few nips at halftime and leading the Lions to victory in the fourth quarter.
And, in Bobby’s words, “I always came in through the front door. I never sneaked in the back.”
In other words, Bobby couldn’t care less who knew that he’d been drinking.
One teammate said of Layne’s leadership in those salad days of Lions football of the 1950s, “When Bobby said ‘block’, you blocked. And when he said ‘drink,’ you drank.”
Cabrera, the Tigers’ troubled young superstar first baseman, can’t hold his booze, isn’t a happy drunk, and his binges are far from romantic. Maybe legendary, but in an Ichabod Crane sort of way.
I draw the comparison in a preemptive strike manner, in case you hear of any goofball trying to put Layne and Cabrera in the same boat.
If anyone says, “Miggy is just like Bobby Layne. Nobody cared if Bobby drank,” you have my permission to smack them across the puss.
Layne didn’t run afoul of the law. He didn’t drink and drive. He didn’t beat his wife. He didn’t get himself so soused that he couldn’t help his team during a key game.
Layne never got belligerent with the cops. He didn’t scream, “Do you know who I am?!” to the police. He didn’t yell frightening things like, “I’m going to kill him!”
Cabrera needs help, clearly. Again, you have my permission to punch any bozo who tries to brush Cabrera’s incidents of October 2009 and Wednesday night in Fort Pierce, Florida off as “isolated.”
Yeah, maybe isolated in terms of public displays of drunkenness, but do you really think that the only times Cabrera drinks to excess have been these two high profile instances?
Lord knows how much Cabrera has gotten shnockered since becoming a big league ballplayer. Now, what he does in the privacy of his own home is his business. But it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a serious problem with the bottle.
Ryne Duren, the flamboyant relief pitcher of the ’50s and ’60s, who was an avowed alcoholic, once said he could look at a team photo of his Yankees teammates and circle “at least” eight or ten fellow drunks.
Drinking in baseball goes back, really, to the days when Alexander Cartwright designed the first diamond in the mid-1800s.
But this thing with Cabrera goes beyond the “boys will be boys” mentality, when folks winked at the players who boozed it up. The writers of the day sometimes drank with them, in the drinking cars of the trains that carried the teams from Boston to St. Louis or wherever.
This thing with Cabrera is sinister. It’s dark and it’s scary and it holds the life of a young man in its mitts, not merely a career.
Tigers fans, if they have a decent bone in their bodies, ought to not give a damn whether Miguel Cabrera suits up for the Tigers ever again. They shouldn’t care whether he hits another home run. They ought not fret what that does to the team’s chances of making the playoffs.
Baseball is just a game. The issue isn’t whether Miguel Cabrera plays baseball again, or when.
It’s whether he can re-claim his life.
Shame on anyone who’s worried about the Tigers’ chances in 2011 without Cabrera.
This is a young man’s life we’re talking about.