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“You’re going to make good pitches, and Cabrera is going to hit them.”
— Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Dan Haren
In 1967, the last day of the professional baseball season, my neighborhood buddies and baseball teammates Jimmy Johnson, Cleo Johnson, John Bojcun, Mike Stevens and I sat huddled around the radio listening to Game Two of a critical, season-ending Double Header (Flint TV only had three channels and regular season baseball was only on Saturdays then…if then).
The Boston Red Sox had won earlier in the day and our Detroit Tigers had to win to force a one-game play-off for the American League Pennant. Alas, representing the tying run, Dick McAuliffe grounded into a double play – for only his second time all year! – to end the game and the season. Thoroughly crushed, we had to wait until next year, when the Tigers did capture the Pennant and went on to win the World Series, in an unforgettable seven game set against St. Louis and their dominating pitcher, the incomparable Bob Gibson.
Boston was carried to their final-day title by Most Valuable Player (MVP) Carl “Yaz” Yastrzemski, who also won baseball’s vaunted, and highly rare, Triple Crown; only eleven times in baseball’s long history had a batter led the Majors in Batting Average, Home Runs and Runs Batted In (RBI), among them some of the game’s greatest; Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, Frank Robinson and Ted Williams (twice!)
Fast Forward to 2012
“I always thought that record would stand until it was broken.” — Yogi Berra
Forty-five years on, Detroit’s slugging third baseman, 2011 batting champ Miguel Cabrera has become the first person to win the Triple Crown since the great Yaz, repeating last year as tops in Batting Average at .330, while also leading the American League in Home Runs with 44 and RBIs with a colossal 139.
Like Yaz, Cabrera has carried his team to the post-season in a late-season surge. Not that he did it alone – Detroit also has the league’s best pitcher, Jason Verlander, 2011’s MVP and Cy Young winner – the league’s top pitching honor - for his remarkable year where he accomplished the pitching version of the Triple Crown; Win/Loss record: 24-5, Earned Run Average (ERA): 2.40, and Strikeouts: 250; and the team has other top hitters in first baseman Prince Fielder and outfielder Austin Jackson, as well as, a number of other good hitters, pitchers and seasoned manager Jim Leyland.
The Rarest of Sport Feats
However, despite Cabrera’s exceptional accomplishment, the nation’s sports media have been rather silent compared to 45 years ago. Most of the writing and talk the last month with reference to Cabrera’s quest has been about the MVP Award and how he comes up short on that. The talk is of how another player, Los Angeles Angels rookie outfielder Mike Trout is the “true” league MVP. Though the Angels came up just short in the highly competitive American League West Division this year, in any other year, Trout would be a lock for MVP. At 21, he is the first player that young to hit over .300 (finishing second at .326), hit over 20 home runs and steal over 40 bases; while also scoring over 100 runs.
Some cite the newer statistical measurement called WAR (Wins above Replacement) in touting Trout, whose WAR is higher, over Cabrera. Call me a traditionalist – I am -, but WAR fails to give full credit to the Runs Batted In category. And what is baseball all about if not plating runs? Cabrera leads the next best in that category by 11 runs plated, over Texas’ Josh Hamilton, who also finished second in HRs a with 43; all the while rooting for Cabrera who, like Hamilton, also battled throughout his career with alcohol abuse and is now sober.
The only other player in the MVP running is Verlander, who followed up his great 2011 with another solid performance, allowing even less runs. Velander is on record supporting his teammate for the honor and has taken the media to task for ignoring Cabrera’s amazing achievement, as has Fielder. Cabrera just went about it workmanlike; enjoying the Pennant run itself and the title more than anything.
When Cabrera hit his 44th Home Run to break a tie in that category, Fielder and the rest of his teammates celebrated like Little Leaguers. When the Tigers clinched the Pennant, they celebrated in the clubhouse with non-alcoholic bubbly in deference to Cabrera’s past struggles, while Cabrera himself took refuge in the manager’s office with his family.
Under the Radar
The lack of celebration in the sports world over Cabrera’s feat smells a little of racism. Were Jose Miguel “Miggy” Cabrera Torres a native of the US instead of Venezuela, I feel the out-pouring of acclaim from the sports world would be Niagaran in proportion.
Instead, recent banner headlines from the usual sports press this past weeks while Cabrera solidified his feat and the Tigers came back from three games behind and won the AL Central Division were all about football’s Tim Tebow, ex-Penn State assistant coach Mike McQueary’s whistle-blower lawsuit against the university, the National Basketball Association’s at last taking a stand against “flopping” (faking a foul to fool the referees) and other less important stuff like the Heisman Trophy race – an honor that is awarded at the end of the college football season, months from now. (Yes, PSU defamed McQueary. But, come on, he witnessed a child rape and did not intervene to end it, waited a day to report it and then did nothing more when he knew that the university also had done nothing.)
Most Valuable Humanitarian
“It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.” — Yogi Berra
Just this year, Cabrera founded The Miguel Cabrera Foundation which raises funds for and helps a number of child welfare organizations. Of course, part of it is to fund baseball and softball programs for poor, at-risk youth in his native land. His teammates (and who would know better?) have nominated him for the prestigious Roberto Clemente award, which honors the player who best represents baseball on and off the field.
If there ever was a heart-warming story that would get baseball beyond the ignominy of the Steroid Era, it is one such as this. All true baseball fans should be rejoicing. All the Baseball Writers Association of America members who have ignored or down-played such a tremendous, extraordinary achievement have some ‘splainin’ to do and need to step up to the plate, give Miggy Cabrera his due and unanimously vote him MVP.
MICHAEL DONNELLY is a life-long Tigers fan. He lives in Salem, OR. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org