It finally happened. August 22nd, 2021 was the day Miguel Cabrera hit his 500th home run in the 6th inning where his Detroit Tigers were visiting the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Center. It’s a milestone moment for an amazing career, to the point that it’s not only national sports news in the United States but a real sense of achievement for Venezuela as a whole, because Miggy has crossed a threshold none of our players has crossed before, one that puts him in a category with the best individuals that have played this beautiful game.
So let’s take these few lines to see how Cabrera got to this point, what he’s done and still can do, and what these numbers really mean.
José Miguel Cabrera was born in Maracay on April 18th, 1983, and merely two decades and 63 days later, he became the 18,306th player in the Major Leagues, wearing the uniform of the Florida Marlins. By then, Cabrera had been playing professionally for four years, after his debut in the Venezuelan baseball league at age 16 with his home team, Tigres de Aragua. His impact on the Marlins’ game was immediate. At 20 years old, Miguel Cabrera fell into place in a Marlins team that ended up winning the World Series, and not only did he finish 5th when they elected the National League Rookie of the Year, but more importantly, he made significant contributions during a post-season that ended with the South Florida team beating the mighty New York Yankees.
In Venezuela, through the first decade of the 21st century, he made a mark as a special part of the best team in the country of that era. He was able to quickly translate those talents to the Big Leagues, showcasing his skills as a five-tool player in those early years (batting, power, defense, throwing arm, and speed).
A Particular Animal for a Particular Player
Sometimes real life makes things easier for us writers, and that was the case in 2008 when Miggy went from the Florida Marlins to the Detroit Tigers via trade. The icon of Tigres de Aragua was about to become an emblem of the Detroit Tigers, one of the franchises with a richer history in the life of the game.
The numbers he contributed to the Marlins were those of a star, so it was no surprise that he was chosen to participate in the All-Star Game four times while he was there, and then seven more times with the Tigers, for a total of eleven All-Star Games. That All-Star career is reflected in the fact that Miggy has won four batting titles, has been a Silver Slugger seven times, and won consecutive MVP awards in 2012 and 2013.
His 2012 season was particularly great, winning the batting Triple Crown, one of the hardest things to do in the sport, meaning that he led the league in batting average (.330), home runs (44) and runs batted in (139). To have an idea of how hard that is, bear in mind that before Cabrera the last Triple Crown winner was Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, and, including Cabrera’s, it has only happened eight times since 1942.
From 2011 to 2014, the Tigers were a post-season contender, and Miggy was (with pitcher Justin Verlander) the face of a winning organization that took away the American League pennant in 2012, although World Series glory eluded them, losing to the San Francisco Giants that year.
By now, Miggy has been with the Tigers for 14 seasons, and he’s due to play until 2023 with possible extensions for two more seasons. He’ll be 40 in 2023, a longevity that very few professional athletes at his level pull off. Cabrera isn’t only a sporting national hero in Venezuela, but the same has to be said for the city of Detroit, and, not a minor detail, loved in the baseball universe, from Tokyo to Cumaná.
A Lot Can happen, But Numbers Are Forever
To understand what Cabrera’s 500 home runs mean, we can give some context using the exactitude of numbers, the perfect measure. Numbers are what make quantitative things kind of magic, really.
In a history of more than 150 years, there have been a little over 20,000 players in the Major Leagues. That’s 20,000 human beings that have been able at some point in their lives to pitch the ball real fast, or been able to hit those fastballs at an elite level, because, when it comes down to it, that’s basically what the game of baseball has always been about.
Of those 20,000 players, you have to disregard thousands that have exclusively been pitchers, making the universe of batters even more minuscule. In MLB history, only 27 players have hit 500 home runs before Miguel. Andrés Galarraga is second among Venezuelans in home runs in the MLB with 399.
But the number of home runs isn’t the only number by which we measure Miggy’s incredible career. Cabrera is also close to reaching 3,000 hits, a mark that should be met in the first half of next season (barring unforeseen circumstances like injuries or, I don’t know, a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic). Right now, only 32 players in baseball history have 3,000 hits under their belts.
If you are still somehow not convinced of how great a player Miguel Cabrera has been, here’s one more stat: only six players in the history of this beautiful game have accomplished 3,000 hits and 500 home runs: Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Rafael Palmeiro, and Eddie Murray. Notice not only the names listed, but the unlisted: names like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Ted Williams, for whatever reasons, didn’t achieve those particular stats.
As it stands, just based on numbers, Miguel Cabrera is a shoo-in for the induction in the Baseball Hall of Fame. In fact, he should get in on the first year of eligibility, becoming, along with Luis Aparicio, the second Venezuelan to achieve so-called immortality.
The Hall of Fame case is an open shut one, again, based on the infallibility of numbers. But we must remember that these god-like creatures that delight millions professionally playing childish games are also human beings, and so are the Hall of Fame voters by the way. Human beings with all the flaws and particularities inherent to the race. A lot of things can derail a trajectory and destroy a legacy, and I’m not trying to sound ominous, that’s just a fact.
In the meantime, let’s all enjoy a great athlete and by all accounts a good guy, closing his career putting up impressive stats. We can even indulge in the fact that he’s a fellow countryman, considering that his numbers aren’t only way above what any Venezuelan has done in the game of baseball, but in reality, are closer and even among the best of all time, regardless of nationality. There’s some comfort in the feeling of pride for someone else’s glory, nothing wrong with that. Right after the most thrilling Olympics in the history of Venezuelan sports, we are definitely witnessing a unique, positive story unfolding before our eyes so, what’s not to like?
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