Here are some of the best Miggy tales

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — Miguel Cabrera is the 28th member of MLB’s 500-homer club. Either late this season or early next, he’ll likely become just the seventh Major Leaguer with 500 career home runs and 3,000 hits. But he’s also one of the game’s great characters, known almost as much for his ability to enjoy the game as for his ability to excel at it.

Nearly everyone who has played with or coached him as a Miggy Story, something for which they remember him. Here’s a sampling of them:

Dontrelle Willis, Cabrera’s teammate, 2003-07 Marlins, 2008-10 Tigers
Willis played with Cabrera for nearly a decade once he joined the Marlins system in a trade from the Cubs in 2002. He earned his first callup to the Marlins on May 9, 2003, just six weeks before Cabrera.

“Two stories come to mind. When I got called up, he was the happiest guy in our locker room,” said Willis, now an analyst for FOX Sports. “He gave me the biggest hug. He gave me $300, because all of us were broke. He told me, ‘I’m next.’ He was the most excited.

“The second story is now. He’s probably my biggest fan on TV. When baseball stops, that’s when your second life begins. He literally sends me pictures of him in the locker room and me on TV [in the background]. It’s cool, man. As much as I’m proud of him, he’s proud of me.”

Willis also has his own story about Cabrera’s first Major League home run, the walk-off drive off Rays reliever Al Levine on June 20, 2003.

“Because I got a chance to play with him in the Minor Leagues, nothing surprised me in the big leagues,” Willis said. “He was having a bad game, 0-for-4 with a strikeout, and he’s the highly touted prospect, the best prospect. I sit on the bench as a rookie telling everybody, ‘Don’t worry, he’s going to get this guy right now.’ And all of a sudden, he hits this ball to dead center and it’s gone. And I’m the only one not excited, because I’ve already seen it.”

Jim Leyland, Miggy’s manager, 2008-13
Leyland likes to say that he had one of the best seats in the house for many of Cabrera’s home runs. But one of his lingering memories is watching him take batting practice.

“I used to get mad at him for doing this, but he was like a big kid,” Leyland said. “The other team would come out to stretch and he’d be hitting in the last group. He’d go through his little routine first, and when he knew the kids were watching him, I would see him hit a ball out to right, right-center, dead center, left-center, left. And those kids were looking with their eyes open. And I’d tell him, ‘Dammit, I don’t want you pulling that.’ He’d come out of the cage winking at me. I told him to just concentrate.

“Every once in a while, he’d put on a show just on purpose for the other team. One right after another. It was unbelievable. It was like shooting 3-pointers around the perimeter, just going from one baseline all the way around to the other baseline. I never saw anybody do that in batting practice.”

Justin Verlander, Cabrera’s teammate, 2008-17
“There’s a batting practice in Minnesota [at Target Field], and I’ve never seen anybody else do this: His last round of hitting, it was three pitches. He went upper deck in right-center field in that corner. The next pitch, he went upper-deck center field over those two guys that are shaking hands. And then he went upper-deck left field. He comes out of the cage laughing, but he knows what he did is pretty badass, even though he plays it down.”

Brad Ausmus, Miggy’s manager, 2014-17
“The thing that stands out most about Miggy, whether it’s in a game or in batting practice, is the second gear after he’s hit the ball that completely takes fielders by surprise or they end up chasing. Most guys hit a line drive and the second baseman is ready to catch it. And with Miggy, he hits a line drive and it picks up speed and it’s over the second baseman’s head. When the ball comes off his bat, there’s a second gear at around 100 feet away from home plate.

“The real truth of it is, I’ve never seen it from any other player. I’d never seen a hitter, [Barry] Bonds and Albert [Pujols] included, that their ball off the bat has a second gear. I didn’t really notice it or appreciate it until I got there.”

Alan Trammell, Tigers special assistant
“When you see Miguel Cabrera take batting practice Day 1 of Spring Training, and you see him take batting practice the last day of the season, it’s going to be the same swing, the same, using the middle of the field, right-center, which is his bread and butter.

“Whoever helped him, taught him, he does that as well as anybody that’s ever played the game. And it’s remarkable to see a player that will not give away an at-bat. That’s the thing that really stands out. He stays with that plan.”

Torii Hunter, Cabrera’s teammate, 2013-14
Hunter was in his first season as a Tiger when he saw Cabrera homer twice off Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera during a three-game series at Yankee Stadium in August 2013. The first of them was a game-tying shot with two outs in the ninth.

“All you’ve gotta do is look at [the first] Mariano Rivera [home run] and that’ll let you know what a battler he is. I was able to see that at-bat, which is probably one of the best at-bats I’ve seen in my entire life. He battled him. [Rivera] put a bruise on his knee, carved him up with a sinker and a cutter.

“That’s the only person I’ve seen do that. And after those two [homers], that three-game set, I became a fan of his, and I’m not a fan of too many people. I became a fan because of his craft. And so for him to get 500 home runs, he’s one of the best right-handed hitters I’ve ever seen.”

Ron Gardenhire, Miggy’s manager, 2018-20
Gardenhire managed against Cabrera for seven seasons with the Twins before getting a chance to manage him for three years.

“He’s one of the guys that would look in the dugout when he’s stepping to home plate. He would always look at me, like, ‘What are you going to do?’ And I would look down. I kind of learned from Tom Kelly, the more people you walk, the more you let score. I remember him staring at me and smiling real big. He’s just got that charisma, not many people can match it.”

Gardenhire was ejected from 84 games as a Major League manager, including eight with the Tigers in 2019. Some of those involved him picking up an argument to keep Cabrera in the game, knowing he was their best chance to win.

There’s one in Houston. Something happens in the field and Miggy comes into the dugout and Jose Altuve is on deck. And he’s laughing at Miggy, because Miggy had been on the field in an argument. And the home-plate umpire, Alfonso Marquez, kept looking over. And Miggy was talking to Altuve, who was on deck, and the umpire threw him out. And I went out and said, ‘He wasn’t even talking to you. He was talking to Altuve!’ And I was laughing, and he threw me out.”

J.D. Martinez, Cabrera’s teammate, 2014-17 Tigers
Not only were Cabrera and Martinez teammates in Detroit, they’re fellow South Florida residents who will work out together sometimes in the offseason. Few know better than Martinez what Cabrera puts himself through physically to get ready for a season, and what he endures to get through it.

“There’s something to say about the guys that push their body when they’re hurt for the team to win, and then pay the toll on the back end,” Martinez said. “I’m not saying that’s what’s happened with him, but I think he grinded out during those years. I think a lot of those little aches, those injuries that he had kind of caught up. He pushed through a lot of those things.

“When I was here, I was always scared. I couldn’t ever take a day off. Miggy’s going out there with a broken foot. How am I supposed to take a day off? Are you kidding me? I remember when we were in Minnesota and Nick [Castellanos] fouled a ball off his foot and the next day he didn’t play. Miggy was [ticked]. And Nick’s like, ‘I don’t get it.’ I’m like, ‘The guy’s out there playing with a broken foot, bro. He’s got freaking bone spurs everywhere. You foul a ball off your foot and you can’t play? It better be broken.’

“It’s crazy, though, because nowadays, it’s just the opposite. Now they have rest days for players. That’s not how it was when I was here. The veterans raised me here.”

Torii Hunter
“He’s funny as hell, like really funny in that clubhouse. We would have story time 45 minutes before the game, how we pumped ourselves up before the game. We’d have to come up with a slogan. And he was excited to do it. Him participating in almost everything we did, wearing the Zumba pants and having fun with it [in 2014]. And Miguel participated in our team parties and team dinners and everything. Superstars don’t have to do that, but he did it.

“Moments like that, it’s amazing to me. I know his character, I know his heart and it’s a great heart.”

“For me personally, I think one of my coolest moments with Miggy was when he won the Triple Crown [in 2012] and cemented it [in Kansas City]. As a starting pitcher, I wasn’t pitching that day, didn’t have anything to do. There were a few of us who were monitoring if there was anybody else who could possibly catch him that day. I was really nervous. I asked him for something from that game, because I think it’s pretty rare in this game when you reach a milestone like that that you know may never happen again. I’m like, ‘Miggy, man, no matter what, can I get anything from this game? I don’t need you to sign it. I just need something from you to remember this by.’

“Leyland did a great job of taking Miggy out of the game once we realized everything was secured, gives him the spotlight. And when he came in the dugout, he gathered his stuff, and he wasn’t emotional or anything, he was just happy-go-lucky. And he grabbed his helmet and gave me to me. I didn’t expect it to be then, I expected it to be later. And I still have it. I cherish it.”

“After that, we sat in the locker room, and we had the game pretty in hand or we clinched the playoffs, so they took a few of the guys and we went into the locker room, had a few cigars and took it all in. Miggy didn’t do a lot of talking, but we sure let him know about how special it was to us. Miggy doesn’t really like to talk too much about that stuff, so Prince [Fielder] and I did the talking for him, like this is so [freaking] cool.

“I’ll never forget that, after this man completed a feat that I don’t even know too many people thought was possible. To be able to be part of something that is that rare and special, as an outsider, that was special to me.

“Miggy’s just a big kid. He’s just so lighthearted. Really, that’s my best experience with Miguel. He’s the best hitter hands down I’ve ever seen and ever played with.”

Akil Baddoo, Cabrera’s teammate, 2021
Baddoo is part of the next generation of players interacting with a legend they grew up watching.

“I mean, I grew up watching him and playing with him on my video games,” Baddoo said. “I tell him all the time, but I think he’s like annoyed with me.

“I was like, ‘Miggy, you know you’re like the GOAT, right?’ And he’s like, ‘Man, shut up, man.’ He doesn’t like when I compliment him all the time, but I always tell him, ‘Man, I was playing with you in my Home Run Derby on ‘MLB: The Show.’ He’s like, ‘Wrong person, man.’ I was like, ‘All right, Miggy, I’ll shut up.’”

Erasmo Ramírez, Cabrera’s teammate, 2021
Ramírez became a teammate of Cabrera this year after giving up a tape-measure home run off the camera porch in center field in 2016.

“I tried to sneak a fastball, and he sent it all the way to center field and the camera guy [in the camera porch above the shrubs]. I’m never going to forget it, because I almost said, ‘Up!’ [like it was a popup.] Yeah, right. It’s way gone. Oh my god, really? I tried to sneak out the 94 [mph], but no, not to Miggy that time. My mistake.

“So I’m always reminding him, ‘Hey, I remember when you hit me, but I remember when I got you, too.”

Jose Altuve, Houston Astros, Cabrera’s friend/opponent
“We talk a lot. We’ve played against each other for a while now. I think one time — 2013, 2014 — I called him and I told him that I was having trouble with the slider, because sometimes I try to hit it the other way and sometimes I try to pull it, and neither would work. I asked Miggy and he said, ‘If you see the slider, try to hit it hard.’

“I thought it was really funny because he couldn’t explain how to hit. He just knows how to hit but doesn’t know how to teach. And it was funny, him telling me this, ‘Just hit it somewhere.’ I was expecting something else. … It kind of worked. I was just trying to hit it hard.”

Spencer Torkelson, Tigers top prospect
“I don’t know who was in the cage with him, but he was hitting ground balls to the right side and line drives to the right side. And they’re like, ‘Hey, why are you hitting everything on the ground or line drives to the right side?’ And he said, ‘Because I want to be a good hitter,’ and he laughed. And I’m like, yeah, he’s a pretty damn good hitter, so I’m going to start hitting balls to the right side in batting practice.”

Riley Greene, Tigers outfield prospect
“One thing I remember is his routine in the cage. He had a plan and he knew what he was doing. And he hit every ball the other way on a line, probably 100-plus exit velo every time. He has a plan whenever he’s in the cage. That was big for me to see, just because having that routine and sticking to it, I think makes you a better hitter all around.

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