10/03/12 10:30 PM ET
Cabrera's accomplishment almost as rare as it gets
By Paul Hagen / MLB.com
Neither did Albert Pujols, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Mike Schmidt, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Joe DiMaggio, Al Kaline, George Brett or Cal Ripken Jr.
Since 1900, only 11 players had led the league in batting average, home runs and RBIs -- the Triple Crown. It had been accomplished just 13 times; Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams each did it twice. It should be noted that the RBI did not become an official statistic before 1920.
To say it's one of the rarest feats in sports is to undersell the accomplishment. There have been 23 perfect games. There have been hundreds of occasions when a player hit for the cycle. There have been 26 players bash at least 50 homers in a season, and nine have done it more than once.
Does all of this begin to put what Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera has done into perspective?
The United States Senate is often called the world's most exclusive club. There are 100 of those legislators at any given time. When Cabrera officially won the American League Triple Crown on Wednesday by finishing the regular season with a .330 average, 44 homers and 139 RBIs, it increased the membership of that most elite fraternity to a select few.
Cabrera also became the first to accomplish the feat since Boston's Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967.
"I'm surprised it's gone on this long, to be perfectly honest," Yaz told MLB.com. "When [Pete] Rose broke [Ty] Cobb's hit record, I never thought that was going to happen, and when Ripken broke [Lou] Gehrig's consecutive game record, I never thought that would happen either."
Current players understand the rarity of the Triple Crown as well, and they believe it should be rewarded in kind.
"Just how infrequently it happens tells you the value of it," said Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, who finished second to Cabrera in both homers and RBIs. "I'm excited about it. It's good for the game, it's good for Miguel, it's good for the Tigers, it's good for baseball, period.
"Come on, it's the Triple Crown. It hasn't been done in how many years? If he doesn't win Most Valuable Player, I'm going to have to quit baseball. Mike Trout, Rookie of the Year. Cabrera, Most Valuable Player."
It has to be acknowledged that not everybody is enamored by the Triple Crown. Sabermetricians have long argued that batting average isn't nearly as important as OBP and OPS. There's a school of thought that RBIs are as much a function of opportunity as ability.
Within the game, though, there is nothing but appreciation and admiration for any player who hits that trifecta.
"It's a phenomenal accomplishment," Ripken said. "I would doubt if Miguel Cabrera gets too many infield knocks. It's amazing, Joe Mauer doesn't get a lot of those, either. But if you have ability and speed to get some bunts and infield singles once in a while, it'll help your average.
"It just shows what a great hitter Miguel is. I'm excited for it. You can see the home runs and RBIs going together, but to hit for that average is amazing."
And that, really, is what makes the Triple Crown special. More than a hundred players struck out at least 100 times this season. Cabrera whiffed just 98 times and still led the AL in homers.
Mauer has won three AL batting titles, and the Twins catcher is in awe of Cabrera as a frequent competitor for the title.
"We get a close view of him being in our division, and he's one of a handful of guys who can do it. It's pretty awesome," Mauer said.
Of all the players since Yastrzemski who didn't win the Triple Crown, nobody has had a better chance than Pujols. He's led the league in each of the three relevant categories, but hasn't put them together in the same season.
As the 2010 season wore down, Pujols and Reds first baseman Joey Votto both had a shot.
"It's just tough," Pujols said at the time. "You've just got so much talent in this game. For you to do something like that, you have to stay hot all year long, since Day 1. That's pretty impossible to do. I think the only guy that I can recall is Tony Gwynn, that from Day 1 he was on fire until the end of the season. And even he would probably tell you that he threw some at-bats away. It's pretty tough.
"I would never think about [the Triple Crown]. You know why? Because I've been doing the same thing that I've been doing all year long. I'm seeing the ball better now. But this isn't about chasing something. This is about winning and trying to get ourselves a spot in the playoffs."
There are other reasons to applaud Cabrera. He won the Triple Crown in a season when he also made the transition from first base to third, and he did it while facing far more scrutiny than players who won in an earlier era.
"Of course, there's so much more publicity nowadays, people calling and everything else," Yastrzemski pointed out. "In , the Triple Crown was never even mentioned once we were so involved in the pennant race. I didn't know I won the Triple Crown until the next day when I read it in the paper. That's how involved we were in the pennant race.
"The only person who mentioned anything at all during the course of the season -- the last couple weeks of the season, and I think he referred to the batting title -- was Jim Lonborg. We were playing Baltimore the last couple weeks, and Frank Robinson was ahead of me by a few points. He said, 'Get some hits today, because I'm going to give Frank an 0-fer.' And he did: 0-for-5."
White Sox announcer Hawk Harrelson has a unique view. He usually hit behind Yastrzemski in Boston's batting order in 1967.
"[Cabrera] is the best hitter in the game. I mean, and he's a hell of an athlete. He doesn't have a whole bunch of range, but everything he gets to, he handles," Harrelson said. "In the last quarter of a century, maybe further than that, the three smartest hitters coming into this league have been Frank Thomas -- the first eight years he was here, he was the best right-handed hitter I ever saw -- Manny Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera.
"I learned more about hitting from hitting behind Yaz than I did from any hitting coach I ever had. ... [And the Tigers] have one guy on that team that they know is going to hit. The only way he won't hit is if they pitch around him, walk him."
Cabrera has accomplished a lot of special things in his career. But doing something that the Bambino, El Hombre, Hammerin' Hank, the Say Hey Kid and all the rest never did is the most special of all.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporters Matt Leach, T.R. Sullivan, Rhett Bollinger, Scott Merkin and Jason Mastrodonato contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.