"The other thing is that he used to be much more introverted," Inge continues. "He kept to himself and had good days and bad days, and it was easy to tell the bad days. Now he's outgoing. I've seen him talk to the media more this year than the other years combined. We have great chemistry on this team, and he's a big part of it."
Cabrera explains, "Before, when I didn't have men on base, I always tried to hit home runs. Right now I work the count, take a walk, get a base hit, and if you make a mistake, I can hit a home run. I have the same approach every time.
"People tell me, Don't throw away at bats, because when you throw away at bats, you throw away games. And one game you throw away may make the difference in the season."
Last year the Tigers missed the postseason by one game, losing a tiebreaker to the Twins and becoming the first team to squander a three-game lead with four to play. Cabrera, who played the 161st game 12 hours after he was bailed out of jail, put up much bigger numbers on the breathalyzer (.260) than he did at the plate in Detroit's last four regularly scheduled games (.067). The morning after the playoff, he was in Dombrowski's office at Comerica Park along with one of his agents, Diego Benz.
"He was very open that he needed to do something," Dombrowski says. Cabrera entered an alcohol-abuse treatment program in Miami, which included sessions with a doctor up to four times a week at up to three hours per session, Dombrowski told the Detroit Free Press. Meanwhile, several clubs called Detroit with offers to trade for Cabrera, sensing an opportunity to acquire an impact hitter at a reduced price. "I said we're just not interested," Dombrowski says.
Cabrera disclosed his treatment to the public last January at the Tigers' annual fan festival. "The fans have been great," he says. "They see me, how I act with everybody. I was clean with everything. They see the truth. They see I was working. They see I was O.K."
Dombrowski says Cabrera's treatment continues. "Any individual who goes through this, you know a follow-up is attached," he says. "If you know you have an addiction, you know that you have to fight it every day."
Cabrera has played in the spotlight since he was 16, when the Dodgers, Red Sox, Braves, Twins and Marlins were eager to sign him. Dodgers scouts Camilio Pascual and Jack Zduriencek (now the Mariners' general manager) sat in Cabrera's home in Maracay, Venezuela, at five minutes before midnight on July 2, 1999, the start of the signing period. They offered him $2 million. Midnight came and went without a deal. Cabrera's mother said she would call them the next morning.
"The next day at the hotel the elevator doors opened, and we saw guys from the Marlins," Zduriencek said. "The Marlins? Right then we didn't have a good feeling. We didn't expect the Marlins. His mother didn't call us back until the afternoon, and she said he was signing with a different team."
Florida's payroll at the time was $21 million, second lowest in baseball. But the reports on Cabrera were so glowing that John Henry, then the Marlins' owner, and Dombrowski, at the time their G.M., authorized a splurge. One Florida scout, Miguel Garcia, had known Cabrera since he was 13 and had developed a bond with his family. Because of that relationship, Cabrera signed with the Marlins for $1.8 million. The Yankees never made an offer.