This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
Miguel Cabrera was known in his prime for incredible stretch runs in a season on his way to glory, whether he was carrying the Tigers to a postseason berth, slugging his way to a Triple Crown or swinging his way to a batting title. So with Miggy entering his final month as a Major League player, perhaps it’s fitting that we’ll be seeing tributes in various forms trying to encapsulate his incredible career into various formats, a task almost as mammoth as some of those stretch runs.
Bally Sports Detroit takes on the challenge with an hour-long video special. “Miguel Cabrera, One of a Kind” airs on Bally Sports Detroit beginning tonight at 10 p.m. ET, following the Yankees-Tigers game. The award-winning production crew at the network tries to cover the magnificence of Cabrera’s 21-year career in its entirety, not just his Tigers tenure. It’s a one-episode special, not a mini-series, so it’s quite a task. But with minimal narration and short interview setups, the special leverages the network’s massive archive of game footage and past interviews, weaves in recent interviews with ex-teammates and former decision-makers and hones in on the strength of the documentary.
Even better, the special occasionally features Miggy watching and reacting to some of his former teammates’ interviews as they talk about him. It’s a technique we’ve seen used in other sports biodocs in recent years, and it helps bring Cabrera out of his shell a bit on a topic he’s normally reticent to discuss — himself.
Among the familiar faces discussing Miggy are Jim Leyland, Victor Martinez, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Alex Avila, Nick Castellanos, J.D. Martinez and Cameron Maybin. Dave Dombrowski discusses at length the trade that brought Cabrera to Detroit after the 2007 season, and Maybin — who was part of the prospect package that went to Florida in the deal — tips his cap to Dombrowski for a smart move.
“I didn’t know about the cold here, bro,” Cabrera joked about coming to Detroit. “When I come in here the first time, I say, ‘Why they trade me?’”
Former Marlins president David Samson appears and discusses the circumstances behind the deal.
“The concern was that we were trading a Hall of Famer, but I really didn’t think it would end the way it did with the way the trade happened,” Samson said. “I didn’t realize that I would be famous for making the worst trade in the history of baseball.”
Dombrowski goes over familiar ground, but also references the injuries Cabrera played through during his prime years to try to push the Tigers over the top. Dombrowski recalls suggesting Cabrera see a doctor about the groin injury that hampered him down the stretch in 2013, only for Cabrera to agree on the condition that they let him keep playing no matter what.
Some of the surprise stars cover new ground. Dontrelle Willis plays a starring role discussing Cabrera’s early years with the Marlins. Pudge Rodriguez tells of early batting cage sessions with Cabrera in Florida. Former MLB slugger Adrián González tells stories from the Marlins system as Miggy’s roommate and playing basketball together. Mike Lowell recalls being a veteran on that 2003 Marlins squad watching Cabrera carry the team.
But the biggest star, of course, is Cabrera, both in new interviews and archived ones. The latter is like stepping through time and watching the various stages of Miggy’s young face, at one point flipping through like a photo album. The new interviews show off Cabrera’s sharp memory, even for his home run in his MLB debut.
“I was chasing everything,” he said of that game. “I sat in the dugout and I said, ‘Come on, let’s go out there and make contact.’”
As he watches footage of his famous 2003 World Series at-bat against Roger Clemens, he smiles after Clemens throws up and in to him.
“I stare at him,” Cabrera laughs. “What am I doing?”
All of this reinforces a poignant quote that comes through at the end.
“Playing in the big leagues is quick,” Cabrera said at one point. “It’s going fast, so you have to take a moment and enjoy this game.”
Sounds like something he could have said last week, but it’s an archived interview from a younger-looking Miggy.