The Words Get Out: Miguel Cabrera and the Life of Language

photo by Kevin.Ward

“You don’t know anything about my problems.” – Miguel Cabrera

“I am a rock, I am an island.” – Paul Simon

Cabrera’s words read like a motto of the disenfranchised, like a stray line of dialogue from a John Hughes movie. It is both juvenile and heartbreaking to hear someone express their feeling that no other person could understand the depths of their sorrow; expressing, as it were, the failure of all art, literature, and philosophy to bridge the divide between human rocks and islands. Cabrera, with his hull scraping bottom, thought compassion a myth.

I don’t pretend to know anything about Cabrera’s experience, but I don’t think that precludes the above reading of his words. When he spoke them out loud to the cops, he entered them into the public forum, just as good as a published book that’s on a library shelf.

We each take the same risk when we start a conversation at a party: that our words will escape our lips, drop to the floor, run down the hall, and clamber out the window into the world. It is the fee for admission to society, now more than ever. The saving grace may be that there are so many public conversations going on at a given point that our particular individual embarrassments are swallowed up in the ocean of radio traffic.

The exception being if you are famous, and troubled. I heard the news about Cabrera’s DUI arrest, and I was, at first, disappointed. I recently researched his past issues with booze, and felt that he had made the necessary alterations, and that he was happy with himself. In January of 2010, Cabrera told Detroit Free-Press columnist Michael Rosenberg, “I think it’s going to be a new season, a new life for me. I’m going to be a better dad, better person, better player, better with the fans.”

Then I read the quotation, his declaration of independence from the human family. It thrummed like the final phrase of a hard novel. It probably didn’t feel poetic at the time, an allegedly drunk young man bucking against authority, broke down, frustrated, caught. The tension of the traffic stop, the space between the cop and the baseball player collapsed, thrumming with potential calamity. Cabrera allegedly wandered into the road a few times, upset, swearing. Then the comment, the lash-out, uttered once and repeated. It goes into a report, is spread by the news.

The phrase becomes its own text, subject to public dissection like a frog carcass splayed out on a tin.

“Do you know who I am? You don’t know anything about my problems.”

A question asked, and answered by the asker, as he, at that time, saw fit.

5 Responses to “The Words Get Out: Miguel Cabrera and the Life of Language”

  • I like the idea of Miguel Cabrera as John Hughes character. He has a bit of Judd Nelson in him, I think.

  • what strikes me over and over again (and I’ve probably said it here before too) is how we react to the off hand (off field) utterings and actions of athletes versus other media stars– film stars, tv celebrities, rock/pop stars, etc. And its an effect that is compounded for baseball players vs. basketball and football players who are more likely to be treated more like other stars. For so long, we have expected that what we know about athletes to be that which they give us on the field or in the locker room/press conference. There are exceptions (Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio especially in the Marilyn years) and I think this is changing as NBA/NFL athletes become more conventional stars, MLB is following. However, critical inquiries into figures like Cabrera and Milton Bradley, into the ways in which athletes have personae that reflect both athletic performance (what in media studies we might call the text) and off field behavior (what we might call extratextual), are still few and far between (and are the reasons why I love this blog so much!).

    What I think is further interesting is the fact that posts like these (and also like the Iracane/Calcaterra commentary on Brandon Phillips last year) seem to so often come in reference to B (or C)-list athlete-celebrities. In the past, I’ve thought most about sports celebrity/stardom in relation to the perennial all-stars or big time free agents like A-Rod/Jeter or Cliff Lee/Ryan Howard/Chase Utley, and though I’m not sure what it is, there is something really unique about sports stardom in the place of these kinds of second or third tier stars and their unique brand of celebrity and scandal. Perhaps what there is to be said is about how these players act as foils for the big-time heroes? They enact scandal, enact humanity, so that the real stars can stay superhuman? Something about how the characters in the baseball drama play their parts?

  • mabel, I think it’s generally a slippery slope to try and attribute motivations to athletes, or to anybody, really, at such a far remove. As you allude to, though, what fascinates me, and us, is the “literary” quality that quotations and actions can take on once they enter the public awareness. The process of life becoming text.

    People get DUIs all the time, and say stupid stuff all the time. But it will always be more interesting, and become a text, when those who have achieved what we perceive to be great things get a DUI and say crazy stuff.

  • What a beautiful post, Ted. The first paragraph is dynamite, and it flows from there. I’m fascinated by how great wealth appears to widen one’s options and potential connections to the world but in practice serves to isolate the holder of the wealth. I’m working on something along those lines; would love to share it with you and Eric when it’s done.

  • Thanks, Larry. I wonder what combination of wealth and fame brings one to ask the police if they know who he is. After all, a wealthy dentist would be unlikely to say something so quintessentially celeb-based.

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