Miguel Cabrera is poised to win the first Triple Crown since 1967.
But as you probably know, we're not just talking about who might be the AL home run champion. If Cabrera finishes first in home runs, he will win the Triple Crown, leading the league in batting average, homers and RBI.
Cabrera has a seven-point lead over Mike Trout in batting average, .331 to .324, and looks like he'll win his second consecutive AL batting title. His lead in RBI is even more firm, 11 ahead of Hamilton, 139 to 128.
So it comes down to home runs for Cabrera and a Triple Crown. But what if Hamilton ends up hitting home run No. 44 and Cabrera can't hit No. 45? A tie in home runs would still give Cabrera the Triple Crown. But if he actually ties in one of the categories, is that crown tarnished? Will it sit crooked on his head?
The initial impulse might be to say that Cabrera's Triple Crown would be less meaningful if he finishes tied with Hamilton for the AL home run lead. After all, the Triple Crown is for leading the league in batting average, home runs and RBI.
Did Cabrera actually lead in all three categories if he tied for one of them? The rules say that he'll be considered a Triple Crown winner, but the argument could be made that he truly isn't.
However, let's consider that the last batter to win the Triple Crown—Carl Yastrzemski in 1967—also tied for home runs that season. Both Yastrzemski and Harmon Killebrew finished with 44 home runs.
Forty-five years later, are we saying that Yastrzemski's Triple Crown is less legitimate than, say, Frank Robinson's or Mickey Mantle's because he didn't hit one more home run than Killebrew?
In 1966, Robinson won the Triple Crown and hit 49 homers to Killebrew's 39. Leading a category by 10 is truly winning it. There's no argument to be made about validity there.
Robinson's Triple Crown came 10 years after Mickey Mantle achieved the feat in 1956. Mantle blew away the competition in the home run category that year with 52 homers to Vic Wertz's 32. Again, there's no doubt as to whether Mantle won the Triple Crown (though he did win the RBI title by only two, so it was close to a tie with that statistic).
Yastrzemski is called a Triple Crown winner. There's no asterisk. If you didn't already know or look up the stats from 1967, you would likely assume Yastrzemski led the league in home runs because he won the Triple Crown.
Perhaps Yastrzemski's Triple Crown would receive a bit more scrutiny if we weren't 45 years removed from the achievement. Statistics are analyzed much more closely now, as the AL MVP race between Cabrera and the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout has demonstrated. The debate has gotten contentious.
If Cabrera ends up tied with Hamilton for home runs, perhaps that discussion will be made—especially since winning the Triple Crown is cited as one of the primary reasons Cabrera should win the AL MVP award over Trout.
But there's also something to be said for leading the league in the three major categories most of us were raised to believe measures a hitter's true merit. This hasn't been done in 45 years. Winning the Triple Crown almost doesn't even seem possible because virtually none of us have ever seen it happen. (If you watched Yastrzemski do it in 1967, we tip our cap to you and hope you're enjoying this chase.)
It's a mind-blowing achievement and should not be diminished because Cabrera may have tied in one of the categories used to determine the Triple Crown. Tying for the lead is still being in the lead. Cabrera and Hamilton aren't going to hold a tiebreaker home run derby on Thursday to declare a winner.
(Don't give Bud Selig—or Chris Berman, who would surely like to call the event—any ideas on that one.)
Of course, Cabrera can erase all doubt by putting one in the seats on Wednesday vs. the Kansas City Royals. His chances of doing so might be pretty good too. Against Royals pitcher Luis Mendoza, Cabrera has a .364/.417/.636 slash average with a home run and three RBI in 12 plate appearances.
Meanwhile, Hamilton will face Oakland Athletics pitcher A.J. Griffin, against whom he only has three PAs. Hamilton has one hit in three at-bats, making for a .333 average. But he also struck out in one of those at-bats too.
However, Cabrera will also know by the time he plays on Thursday whether or not he needs a home run to beat out Hamilton. The Rangers game vs. the A's is scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. ET. The Tigers don't play in Kansas City until 8:10 p.m. ET. Much like batting in the bottom in the bottom of the ninth at home, Cabrera will get the last chance—last-ups, if you will—in the AL home run race.
But if Cabrera and Hamilton finish in a tie with 44 home runs, Cabrera's Triple Crown won't be spoiled or ruined. The achievement won't be looked at suspiciously. It will still be an historic feat, one that's taken on mythological proportions because it hasn't been seen in more than two generations. It's something you may tell your grandchildren about.
Now, if that grandkid asks, "But didn't Cabrera tie for home runs that year?" then maybe we'll be wrong about all that. You'll just have to pat that child on the head—muss up his or her hair while you're at it—and say "45 years, kid. It took 45 years for us to see a Triple Crown."
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