Let me first say that I thoroughly enjoyed watching Miguel Cabrera make a run toward history as he chased down and then finally sealed the Triple Crown, baseball’s fabled trifecta of batting average, home runs and runs batted in.
It’s a feat that hadn’t been achieved since Carl Yastrzemski did it with the Red Sox in 1967, which was fittingly called the “Impossible Dream” season.
For Cabrera, though, the Triple Crown has always seemed possible, because he’s that rare hitter who makes good contact, hits to all fields and has elite-level power — qualities that make him a near-unanimous choice for best batsmen in the game.
The seven-time All-Star finished the regular season with 205 hits, 40 doubles, 44 homers and 139 RBI, levels reached only twice before in baseball history (by Lou Gehrig in 1927 and 1934).
Call me an old-school stat guy, but that sounds like a pretty good year to me.
Of course, Cabrera’s achievements have been overshadowed at times by Angels rookie Mike Trout, whose all-around skills have the “new stat” guys drooling and threatens to make the MVP vote much closer than it should be.
Trout leads the majors in WAR (Wins Above Replacement), a cover-all stat that is so foolproof that it deemed Tampa Bay’s Ben Zobrist as the best position player in baseball in 2011.
Trout hit .326 with 30 homers and 83 RBI while stealing 49 bases in 139 games, while Cabrera played a full season, sitting out just one game. That’s part of Cabrera’s value that is often overlooked: his durability and dependability in the lineup.
He drove in 56 more runs than Trout, and I’m still trying to figure out why runs batted in are now seen as an “overrated” stat. After just about every game, you hear a manager boast of the big hit with men on base or bemoan the lack of it, with the result hanging in the balance.
Cabrera came through in those situations, driving in more runs than anyone else, and that’s a major reason why Detroit is heading to the playoffs again this year.
Supporters of Trout boast of his baserunning prowess and also his defensive skill, but his fielding edge over Cabrera isn’t as wide as it seems.
The Detroit star committed just 13 errors in 153 games at third base and ranked third among AL third baseman with a fielding percentage of .966.
Many fans and pundits have a preconceived notion of Cabrera as a prototypical stone-handed slugger who butchers balls frequently in the field, but they arrived at that conclusion without really watching him play.
Having seen probably 70 percent of Detroit’s games this season, I can tell you that Cabrera handled most chances at third with relative ease, and his arm is among the strongest in the American League.
Sure, his range isn’t overwhelming, but that’s more of an issue at the middle infield slots. At third base, the ball comes so quickly you’re either in position or you’re not, although I’ve seen Cabrera make several diving stabs when he needed to.
It’s commonly said of Trout that he plays baseball the right way, but the same can be said of Cabrera. He approaches the game with childlike passion, always smiling, chatting with opponents or umpires, all the while displaying a keen interest in what is happening on the field.
In the first inning of an April game at Chicago, Cabrera interrupted an at-bat to inform the umpire that the batter’s box was not the correct size, forcing his back foot out of the box. Most fans assumed it was foolish hijinks until the measurements were done, and he was exactly right. The box was redone.
Cabrera never looks bored or disinterested, like some Minnesota Twins that I won’t mention in this space. He never wants to sit out, even when a balky ankle threatened to derail his magical season.
Some have wondered why Cabrera’s Triple Crown feat hasn’t received more buzz in the sports world, and it’s an interesting question. He’s had bouts with bad publicity that revolved around drinking, including a badly-timed bender that affected the Tigers’ playoff push in 2009.
But he sought treatment and has had zero recent incidents. In fact, there was a nice moment after the Tigers clinched this week that his teammates doused him with non-alcoholic champagne while chanting “MVP!”
Sadly, the fact that Cabrera is Venezuelan and speaks imperfect English could partly explain why his achievements haven’t been more readily embraced.
No one wants to go there, but if Cabrera were white and Mike Trout was a Latin player, would the MVP race still be as muddled as it seems?
Perhaps, but it still seems puzzling that a landmark baseball achievement that hasn’t occurred in 45 years is being treated as a pleasant oddity among the national media and has yet to set the Detroit superstar apart in the MVP discussion.
Give credit, at least, to the baseball culture of Kansas City, where a crowd of more than 30,000 turned out to witness history and gave the visiting player a standing ovation when he left the game with the Triple Crown seemingly intact in the fourth inning.
The waves of applause (and a gentle nudge from 2011 MVP Justin Verlander) coaxed Cabrera out of the dugout for a curtain call, and for a brief moment among the camera flashes and cacophony, he received the adulation that he truly deserved.