“I think,” Miguel Cabrera said when asked his first reaction after he might nail hit number 3,000, “I’m going to cry.” Then, he said, he’d remember the uncle who taught baseball to him in his native Venezuela. He also asked for “El Alma Llanera” to be played through the Comerica Park PA system after he nailed the hit.
He didn’t exactly ask for the rainout Friday that postponed it another day.
Amo, lloro, canto, sueño, con claveles de pasión, the song’s lyric says in part: “I love, I cry, I sing, I dream, with carnations of passion.” That’s as good a short description as any you might find of the way Cabrera has played baseball. Even if it omits mention of high-wattage smiling. Cabrera’s been as good at that as he’s been at the plate.
“So long as one can grasp concepts like ‘fun’ and ‘joy,’ Miguel Cabrera has always been delightfully uncomplicated,” writes Bleacher Report‘s Zachary D. Rymer. “Rarely has he shown any pretense that he’s doing something other than playing a game for a living.”
“I used to low-key creep your at-bats in my hotel room EVERY SINGLE NIGHT, after our games,” tweeted Reds first baseman Joey Votto this past Wednesday. “I knew I had to study the best to beat the best. Good luck with your final steps to 3000. You are a joy to watch.”
Votto wasn’t talking about his own hitting, necessarily, so much as he might have been talking about how him and his team could keep Miggy Stardust in check. That was about as simple as trying to stop an oncoming train with a bathroom plunger.
Cabrera may be unpretentious about the game he plays and the game he brings to it, but this is a player whose first major league hit was a home run, whose 1,000th career hit was a home run, and whose 2,000th hit was also a home run. Would it be too much to ask the Elysian Fields to arrange for number 3,000 to clear the fence for Cabrera this weekend?
They already arranged it for Hall of Famers Derek Jeter and Wade Boggs. They swung it for Álex Rodríguez. But you wouldn’t necessarily bet against them moving their huge hands on Cabrera’s behalf, either. Not for a player who will become the only man in Show history to collect 3,000+ hits, 500+ home runs, and a Triple Crown.
Fifteen other Hall of Famers—including Oscar Charleston, Ty Cobb, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Josh Gibson, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Ted Williams, and Carl Yastrzemski—were Crown winners without finishing where Cabrera will finish in all three of those places. (Charleston and Gibson, of course, were limited to the Negro Leagues and their shorter playing schedules arbitrarily and unfairly.)
The chunky first baseman/designated hitter whose face is still mostly that of a wide-eyed ten-year-old boy is about to travel aboard his own exclusive jet. Cabrera’s surname translates to “goatherd.” He’s made goats out of plenty of pitchers from the most modest to the Hall of Famer alike.
In ten or more lifetime appearances each against five Hall of Famers, Cabrera would have a 1.000+ OPS if it wasn’t for John Smoltz, against whom his OPS is a puny .611. He has a 1.105 OPS against Greg Maddux, a .933 against Tom Glavine, a .912 against Pedro Martínez, and an .833 against Randy Johnson. When Miggy Stardust enters Cooperstown, he’ll enter with four sets of bragging rights.
The single mark against Cabrera is that he’s been a career-long negative defender. Among first basemen—and Cabrera’s played more games there than at third base since 2014—he’s five fielding runs and 38 defensive runs saved below his league average. As all-around first basemen go, Albert Pujols he ain’t.
Among third basemen, he’s less: 46 fielding runs and 88 defensive runs saved below his league average. As all-around third basemen go, Mike Schmidt he ain’t. (I could have said Adrián Beltré, too, but Beltré finished 23 short of the 500-bomb threshold, alas. It won’t keep him from welcoming Cabrera as a Hall of Famer in due course.)
He hasn’t exactly been the Road Runner on the bases, either. In fact, he’s barely beyond Cecil Turtle but without Cecil’s bag of sneaky tricks. Cabrera has only 106 infield hits in 2,999. And he’s stolen in a career (39) what Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson could steal in a season—near the end of Henderson’s career.
Cabrera has tried sixty thefts and been arrested a little over a third of the time. He’s only tried an average of three times per season. It may be miraculous, or a case of catching the other guys with their pants down, that he has a .650 lifetime stolen base percentage. Presumably, his teams warned him that any more than three tries a year would get him arrested for malicious mischief.
Except there’s no malice aforethought involved with Cabrera. This is the guy who’s been seen hugging opposing fans in the seats when diving for a foul ball, and giving Phillies pitcher Jeremy Hellickson a grinning thumbs-up, after Hellickson once struck him out on a changeup nobody could hit—even swinging a shovel.
It takes something to stay the course even when your team has collapsed. As age and injuries caught up to Cabrera from 2017 through the end of last season, only one team in Show lost more than the Tigers in the same span. Now, the Tigers actually look like a team approaching true contention, and Miggy Stardust is their still-enthusiastic elder statesman.
Mother Nature trumped the Elysian Fields to rain the Tigers out Friday night. Maybe she knows something we and they don’t. Something about a Saturday special that turns Comerica Park into the hardiest party spot in Detroit.