Baseball is, more than any other sport, obsessed with history. Every feat is compared to how it measures up to the past, with plenty of numbers and anecdotes for comparison.
Miguel Cabrera is, right now, beyond any other comparison. Seriously. I’m not exaggerating. Miguel Cabrera, right now, is so far above his peers that he is beyond compare. Any other choice for the 2012 MVP award, or any other award, is a stupid one.
Don’t believe me?
Right now, Cabrera is leading the American League in all three Triple Crown categories (home runs, runs batted in, and batting average). He is also leading the entire major leagues in home runs and RBI’s, and is just behind Buster Posey for the batting average lead. No player has won the Triple Crown since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, and there have only been a couple of serious runs at the title. Yaz’s crown was for the AL only, as Mickey Mantle was the last player to win a Triple Crown as the complete leader in 1956. What Cabrera is doing has not been seen in either 45 years or 56 years, depending on how you are measuring it.
Beyond that, the era in which Cabrera is hitting makes this season even more special.
Of the 13 Triple Crowns in major league history, 11 came between 1922 and 1967. In those 43 years, a dominant hitter could really light up the league, and many did so. Ted Williams won a Triple Crown in 1942, left the game for World War II and came back to win another in 1947. Yastrzemski’s 1967 crown came right after Frank Robinson’s crown in 1966. One hitter could do this kind of thing, almost every couple years or so.
Since then though, no one has come close as the game became more specialized, talent improved across the board, and so forth. Since 1967, only six players have won the three legs of the Triple Crown at some point in their career: Barry Bonds, Andres Galarraga, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Albert Pujols, and Miguel Cabrera. That club has fewer members than the nine guys who actually won the Triple Crown in the earlier era. Cabrera’s season is the greatest in many generations, and is literally a throwback to an earlier age, even more impressive considering how far ahead Cabrera is to his peers.
Within Tiger history, Miguel Cabrera’s season is beyond compare. All around, the club is elite. No Tiger has ever had a higher batting average than .333 and more home runs (only Hank Greenberg and Norm Cash has a higher average in a 40 home run season). Cabrera passed Cash today with his 42nd home run, and has the 6th highest single-season home run total in Tigers history. Right now, Miguel Cabrera’s 2012 season is in an elite club, in the couple dozen greatest individual seasons in team history…and there are still twelve games to go, plus anything in the postseason. Even with the story only 92.5% complete, it’s still an absolute classic.
Making this even more amazing is that Justin Verlander just has his splendid 2011 season in which he won the American League MVP, the AL Cy Young award and the pitching Triple Crown (wins, ERA, and strikeouts). While the pitching Triple Crown isn’t nearly as exclusive, it’s still quite the feat. (After no pitching Triple Crowns from 1945-63, there have been 13 crowns with 10 different pitchers. Both Verlander and Clayton Kershaw did it last year, for the first double pitching crown since 1924.)
Even more impressive is to have teammates accomplish both Triple Crowns. That has not been done since 1934, when the Yankees’ Lou Gehrig (hitting) and Lefty Gomez (pitching) both won the Triple Crown in the same year. The last time anyone had won a Triple Crown with a teammate who had previously won before was Gomez’ 1937 crown alongside Gehrig. Those Yankees are the only pair to have done it, and Cabrera/Verlander might be the second, 75 years later.
This is all with twelve games to go, with every possible championship still out there.
What makes all of this even more remarkable is that Miguel Cabrera is now a third-baseman. From 2008-11, Cabrera played at first base. Cabrera is putting up the greatest offensive season in multiple generations, all while relearning a new defensive position. How truly amazing is that? It’s beyond compare, even if Miguel kept his same numbers from last year. Instead, he has improved into the greatest contemporary hitter, while completely changing his defense.
The only argument that people are making for Mike Trout is that he’s a great centerfielder, which translates into a higher WAR (wins above replacement) stat. But Trout has always played centerfield, yet Cabrera is still outplaying him despite playing a new position. And, Cabrera is the anchor of a team that is still realistically fighting for a playoff spot, unlike Los Angeles, which remais 2.5 games behind a wild card spot. The question of MVP isn’t even a debate any more; the only logical choice is Miguel Cabrera.
Outside of the stats, to watch Miguel Cabrera is to see a master at work. Personally, I have never seen a more complete hitter.
In each at-bat, Cabrera is able to hit the ball anywhere in the ballpark, from off the left-field foul pole to down the right-field line. Cabrera begins each batting practice session with ten swings to right field, waiting a beat before hitting one into the right-field corner. There’s no way to put any type of shift on for him, like teams have done for David Ortiz and Prince Fielder over the years. Cabrera will hit the ball wherever someone is not, within the field or beyond it.
Cabrera waits for exactly the right pitch to blast, and is now the point where he seems to swing at bad pitches to simply bait the pitcher into throwing the same one again. On the second time around, Miguel hits that same pitch out. The first one wasn’t a mistake; it was simply drawing a better pitch. To have that confidence and skill is simply amazing, and is something I’ve never seen before, especially on an everyday basis.
With that confidence comes incredible coolness. Watch a Cabrera at-bat closely, and you can tell he’s obviously relaxed. No stress, no overswinging, nothing that takes him off of his game. Even with two strikes, Miguel is relaxed, and is almost casually hitting home runs. It’s like a batting practice session, but to a full stadium. Simply amazing.
Now, Miguel is at the point where we are debating his place in Tigers history, and baseball history. That debate will have to come at the end of this year, once the final chapter of Cabrera’s tremendous season is written. If the Tigers win the World Series, 2012 Miguel Cabrera joins the ranks of the couple Tigers pitchers who have peaked in a championship year. If the Tigers fall short, this year is still in the top dozen most memorable seasons in team history. This is rarefied air. This is the mountaintop of baseball performance. Enjoy the view as this season wraps up.
Gordon Fall has been around the Detroit sports scene for his entire life and even entered the world with a Red Wings hockey stick in hand. With a variety of connections around the Detroit area, Fall will be presenting the unspoken, yet optimistic truth of our city’s sports scene.
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