JEFF SEIDEL: Tremendous work ethic, natural talent makes Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera one of MLB’s best

“What impresses you the most about Miguel Cabrera?”

I posed that question to Cabrera’s new hitting coach, as well as his new manager. I asked somebody who used to pitch against him, as well as well as a guy who still plays against him. I asked his teammates, not to mention a legend who is in the Hall of Fame.

Then, something surprising happened. Each person said something different. Each answer revealed a different perspective about Cabrera.

When I asked Al Kaline about Cabrera, Mr. Tiger paused and went speechless.

“I can’t get the words out to express it,” Kaline said.

Here was Mr. 3,000 Hits struggling to talk about Mr. 2,000 Hits; and he was stumped, as if the question came in high and tight and jammed him on the spot.

“I can’t fathom how one person can be this good for such a long period of time,” Kaline said, starting to find the words. “I guess the answer that most people give is the way he uses the whole field and he hits with power and gets base hits even though he can’t run well. He’s not a speed demon.”

Last week, Cabrera became just the ninth player in Major League history to get his 2,000th hit before he turned 31, joining a list that is impressive on its own: Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Mel Ott, Hank Aaron, Joe Medwick, Jimmie Foxx, Robin Yount and Alex Rodriguez.

Now, you can slide Cabrera right in there with them.

“In my mind, he’s a Hall of Famer right now, even if he doesn’t play another game,” Kaline said. “I’m not going to put him up as the best all-time hitter. Not yet. But if he continues to do it for another couple of years, I have to put him up in that category.”

I asked Torii Hunter and he took his answer in the opposite direction, as if he were taking a pitch the other way with power, which also happens to be one of Cabrera’s most impressive strengths.

“You know what?” Hunter said, letting out a sigh. “I’ve had a chance to see something different with this guy. It’s the way he carries himself. With all the accolades – Triple Crown, MVP, big contract, everything – this guy is so humble and so charitable and so down to earth. And another thing: He works hard. Behind the scenes, he is in the cage and working hard. Things you don’t see. But you see the results. Trust me. He’s doing some amazing things behind the scenes. He works his butt off.”

Cabrera won the Triple Crown in 2012, and he would have won it again last year, but Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis hit 53 home runs – 20 more than his career high — to win the home run title. So I asked Davis the same question: “What impresses you the most about Cabrera?”

And yes, at that moment, I felt like I was asking an up-and-coming pop star to comment on the Rolling Stones at the height of their career.

“I can only pick one?” Davis asked. “The thing that impresses me the most is the balance when he hits. It’s something we don’t talk about a lot. Being a bigger guy, you see guys falling all over the place. But he always looks like he always has his feet under him.”

Now, it was time to switch things up. To get a fresh viewpoint.

What does Wally Joyner see? What impresses the new Tigers hitting coach?

“What I’ve been most impressed with is his attitude and his desire to be normal, just one of the guys,” Joyner said. “His true desire to respect others and to give everybody the respect they deserve. You don’t see that very often, especially with famous, successful people. Sometimes, it goes to their head.”

Funny. The hitting coach didn’t even talk about Cabrera’s hitting.

But his new manager did.

“Certainly, his hitting has impressed me the most,” Tigers skipper Brad Ausmus said. “What I didn’t know was how high his baseball IQ was. Playing against the guy, three games at a time, you don’t necessarily see that all the time. But after being around the guy on a regular basis, you see it very readily.”

Now, let’s move to the other side of the field. What does a pitcher admire about Cabrera? I asked Joba Chamberlain, who played against Cabrera for years, but they are now teammates. Chamberlain had a hard time picking one thing. He rattled off a long list: Cabrera’s approach and the way he looks so relaxed, but he settled on his ability to adjust. “The other day, a reliever came in, and he threw a 0-1 curveball and Cabrera swung and missed,” Chamberlain said. “Then, he got the base hit off a curveball to center. The adjustment that he made in that at bat, it’s tough to explain to people, but it’s that kind of adjustment that is so impressive.”

“Would you be more scared to face him now?” I asked.

“Now that I know more?” Chamberlain asked. “Yeah.”

And that’s an interesting statement, considering Cabrera just about owned Chamberlain when they were opponents. They faced each other 14 times and Cabrera had seven hits.

Finally, I wanted to ask somebody who has seen Cabrera from the start, which brought me to Alex Gonzalez, the Tigers new shortstop. Gonzalez was on the Florida Marlins when Cabrera made his MLB debut against Tampa Bay on Friday, June 20, 2003. In fact, Gonzalez was on second base when Cabrera got his first MLB hit, a 2-run home run that won the game in the 11th inning.

“He got called up from Double-A,” Gonzalez said. “It’s amazing when you get called up and you’re a kid like that and you hit a home run. Walk off. It’s unbelievable. The guy can do anything he wants.”

So after asking a bunch of people the same question, the answers were sprayed all over the field: It’s his ability to hit, his mental approach, his off the field presence, his hard work, his IQ and humble personality.

And maybe, that’s the most impressive thing of all. The fact that the list is so long.


Posted by Tribune News Services

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