October 4, 2012
Now I've seen it all. Miguel Cabrera just completed my collection of baseball memories, and probably yours too, unless you were watching closely in 1967.
I was following baseball that fall, and that meant admiring the greatness of Carl Yastrzemski. I even used to take a black Magic Marker and write No. 8 onto my long-sleeved baseball undershirts in his honor. But when Yaz was having his most magical season for the Red Sox, I had no idea that the Triple Crown was so special.
I would like to say I skipped school and hitchhiked to Boston to linger around Yawkey Way. But I believe Mrs. (Olive) Chambers, my sixth-grade teacher, would have called my parents to see why I wasn't in class, and there would have gone the summer playing infield for First State Bank, and we were loaded that year.
Sorry to digress. But who knew it would be 45 years before someone again would lead their league in batting average, homers and runs batted in?
Cabrera finished his quest in anticlimactic fashion on Wednesday night in Kansas City. He had gone 6-for-8 the previous two games to give himself a cushion in the batting race against Mike Trout and Joe Mauer — shades of Yastrzemski's 7-for-8 finish in helping the Red Sox win the pennant in '67 — and, in the end, wasn't pushed by Josh Hamilton for the home run crown.
Cabrera, the Tigers' 29-year-old third baseman from Venezuela, had the Triple Crown locked up when Hamilton failed to get the two home runs he needed to pass Cabrera. He started the Tigers' finale against the Royals but Jim Leyland replaced him with Ramon Santiago with two outs in the fourth inning. He got a standing ovation from the crowd at Kauffman Stadium and a round of hugs in the visiting dugout, including a long embrace with Leyland.
The numbers that will live forever in baseball lore: .330, 44 homers and 139 RBIs.
We could have seen this coming. After all, Cabrera has been the AL's best hitter since arriving from the Marlins in a trade after the 2007 season.
The Tigers gave up Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller and four other players to get him, and he responded by leading the league in homers in 2008 and RBIs in '10, then winning a batting title in '11.
This time around, he ran the table.
Cabrera, who was 0-for-2 Wednesday, had said that the home run crown was the toughest piece to achieve, because "if you want to hit a home run … you're going to go 0-for-20 or 25.'' Maybe that's what happened to Hamilton.
The Rangers' slugger hit his 42nd homer Sept. 14. He led Cabrera by six at that point but managed only one homer in his last 51 at-bats while Cabrera hit seven in a span of 62, the most recent coming Monday against Bruce Chen.
With the Rangers' division title on the line Wednesday, Hamilton was even less of a positive for them than he had been Sept. 19-23, when he missed five games in a row with blurry vision. He was 1-for-5 with three strikeouts and made a calamitous error, whiffing on a shallow fly ball to allow the A's to score two runs and break a 5-5 tie.
In a recent interview with the Boston Globe's Stan Grossfeld, the reclusive Yastrzemski said it was "kind of surprising'' that his distinction as the last Triple Crown winner had lasted so long. It had been done 15 times previously when Yastrzemski did it, with Frank Robinson doing it the year before in the National League.
Yastrzemski told Grossfeld that Cabrera is "a better hitter'' than he was. His contemporary, Tigers' great Al Kaline, calls Yaz "the best all-around player I played against,'' but gave the nod to Cabrera when asked to compare the two as hitters.
"He has more power," Kaline said. "No question about it. Power, average, driving runs in. I have to take Cabrera. He's going to go in the Hall of Fame so fast, it's going to be ridiculous."
The Tigers labored to win the AL Central, trailing the White Sox as late as Sept. 24. But they have been picking up steam down the stretch, and are the only team in the postseason with a not-so-secret weapon — a Triple Crown winner.