DETROIT -- In the end, the Tigers couldn't win. Miguel Cabrera came close.
The man regarded by many as the American League's most dangerous hitter couldn't overcome the notion that a Most Valuable Player has to come from a winning team, but he still earned his share of respect. Cabrera finished second in voting for AL MVP behind Texas' Josh Hamilton.
Hamilton received 22 of 28 first-place votes and 358 points to earn his first MVP honor. Cabrera received five first-place votes and 262 total points. New York's Robinson Cano finished third and Toronto's Jose Bautista earned one first-place vote in finishing fourth.
It will remain a quiet appreciation in Detroit how much Cabrera meant to a Tigers club that surprisingly stayed in contention for the first four months of the season before fading with injuries down the stretch. Detroit's fortunes rode on Cabrera's quick, powerful swing for a good part of that stretch until opponents decided that their best chance to keep him off the scoreboard was to put him on base.
Cabrera was a Triple Crown candidate for much of the summer before settling for the Major League RBI title. His .328 batting average ranked second in the American League to Hamilton, and his 38 home runs ranked third in the league behind fellow MVP candidates Jose Bautista and Paul Konerko.
It was the best statistical combination in the AL. Cabrera had the advantage of a healthier season and more plate appearances than Hamilton, who missed most of September with a rib injury, but Cabrera had the disadvantage of 32 intentional walks, the most issued to an AL player since John Olerud took 33 free passes in 1993.
Traditional stats, however, don't provide the full story of Cabrera's offensive onslaught.
On any team, especially a contender, those numbers are massive. On the offensively-challenged Tigers, who suffered injuries to supporting hitters Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge, Cabrera's production eventually became as close to a one-man show as there was in baseball this year. Cabrera either scored or drove in more than 26 percent of the Tigers' total runs this year.
While the top third of Detroit's lineup was a combination of rookie Austin Jackson's growing pains, Johnny Damon's streakiness and Ordonez's stellar first half, Detroit struggled to find a hitter to support Cabrera behind him in the order. Rookie Brennan Boesch filled the role with stunning success for about two months before falling into a tailspin after the All-Star break. A deadline deal for Jhonny Peralta added a veteran run producer, but not quite the power hitter.
The way Cabrera produced, manager Jim Leyland said, the only hitter who could protect Miguel Cabrera was somebody like Cabrera. And there was no one else like him in Detroit.
The best glimpse the Tigers provided of how they would've fared without him came in the season's last week, when a high ankle sprain ended Cabrera's season early. Detroit lost six straight games at Cleveland and Baltimore, scoring just 14 runs in defeat, before salvaging a .500 record with a victory on the final day.
As it turned out, that season-ending tailspin, or at least the Tigers' losses from them, still worked against Cabrera. The biggest argument against his case was that Detroit didn't finish with a winning record, let alone a sniff of a playoff race after July. Hamilton and Cano both made it the postseason.
Lost in the campaign, though, was the personal side of Cabrera's year. He ended the 2009 season with his life in turmoil after a domestic incident in suburban Detroit on the final weekend of the regular season resulted with Cabrera in police custody. Though Cabrera homered a few days later in last season's one-game tiebreaker for the AL Central title, his trouble became the image of Detroit's late-season collapse.
Cabrera underwent counseling last winter for stress management and coping with pressure. He came out of it resolved to avoid alcohol. The result was a happier, more outgoing personality off the field, and a more focused player on it.
"I'm very proud, and he should be very proud of the way he handled the situation," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said at season's end. "He was a changed person this year with his overall attitudes."
The result at season's end, to the Tigers at least, was an MVP season. The voters disagreed.
"Do I think he's the MVP? Yes," Leyland said. "I'm not going to try to talk anybody into anything, because that's not my job."
Or as Dombrowski put it, "I'm glad he's on my side."