DETROIT — Instead of honing his swing this offseason, Miguel Cabrera focused on getting sober. "My drinking was a problem, and I feel good without it. I feel like a new man," he said Thursday.
The Detroit Tigers slugger spent three months in an outpatient treatment program for alcoholism following a much-publicized drinking binge during the final weekend of last season, a program that general manager Dave Dombrowski said will continue into spring training and the upcoming season.
"I've worked very hard with my doctors and my family this winter, and I'm going to keep working," Cabrera said as the Tigers started their Winter Caravan through Michigan.
Cabrera said he has turned his life around. He said he hasn't had a drink since he was taken into custody by police after a domestic-abuse complaint was filed by his wife in the early morning of Oct. 3 – hours before a crucial game against the Chicago White Sox.
The All-Star first baseman with a $152.3 million contract got drunk enough between Friday night's game and Saturday morning to have what police said was a 0.26 blood-alcohol reading – three times above Michigan's legal limit for driving – and a bruised and cut left cheek.
Cabrera said he feels as though he let down his teammates that weekend and he intends to make up for it this season. He acknowledged there have been games in the past when his performance was affected by booze.
"I never played drunk, but there were times where I was very tired or my body just felt lazy," said Cabrera, who went to a treatment program in Miami this offseason. "I don't feel that way anymore."
Last year, the Tigers were trying to hold off Minnesota and clinch the AL Central title when Cabrera created a stir on the final weekend of the season.
Police said he arrived at his suburban Detroit home at 5 a.m. on Saturday and got into a fight with his wife, who called 911. Cabrera was taken to a police station, where Dombrowski picked him up.
The GM later acknowledged being angry and sad to get a call at 7:30 a.m. to come get Cabrera.
The slugger went 0 for 4 and stranded six runners in a 5-1 loss to Chicago on Saturday night, a game that started about 12 hours after Cabrera left the police station.
"That night, I was trying to hit a five-run homer every time I came up, because I knew I had made a horrible mistake and I wanted to fix it," Cabrera said. "I was just putting too much pressure on myself."
On Friday night, he had gone 0 for 4 and left four runners on base in an 8-0 defeat against the White Sox. He went hitless in three at-bats Sunday, a 5-3 Tigers win that left them tied with the Twins for first place.
Two days later, Minnesota won a one-game tiebreaker at home for the division crown, beating Detroit 6-5 in 12 innings. Cabrera hit a two-run homer and doubled in that game to help the Tigers open a 3-0 lead, but it wasn't enough.
Before the game, he apologized to his teammates for being drunk the previous weekend.
Still, the entire ordeal overshadowed what had been a strong performance by Cabrera in the second season of an eight-year contract. He ranked among AL leaders with a .324 batting average, 34 home runs and 103 RBIs.
With the collapse, Detroit earned an unwanted place in baseball history, becoming the first team to miss the playoffs after having a three-game lead with four games left.
"That still hurts," Cabrera said. "We'd been ahead in the division all year and we were ready for the playoffs, and it just disappeared."
Cabrera is under contract through 2015 at an average salary of just more than $20 million, and Dombrowski was pleased that the team didn't have to force him into a treatment program.
"This was not a battle at all," the GM said. "Miguel recognized the issue and understood that something needed to be done. I met with him and his representative the day after the season, and we put together a plan. Miguel followed that plan and continues to follow it."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he was "thrilled" that Cabrera chose to address the situation openly on Thursday.
"I think it is great. I'm a firm believer that the best policy in a situation like this is to tell the truth and get it over with," Leyland said. "Now it is out there, and he won't have to worry about the media hunting around to try to find out what really happened."
Cabrera knows that he will have to win over fans who were angered in October, but Leyland doesn't think there will be a problem in the Tigers' clubhouse.
"This is a wonderful kid, and we all know that," Leyland said. "He's been forgiven by every teammate and by every coach."
Detroit ace Justin Verlander agreed.
"I haven't spoken to Miguel yet, so I don't want to say too much, but I can't imagine there would be any lingering issues," he said. "He's a great guy that is dealing with a problem, and we'll support him."