Miguel Cabrera winning the Triple Crown isn't just good for himself, the Tigers organization or their fans: It's what Major League Baseball needed.
When the Mitchell Report was first released in December of 2007, the information contained hundreds of former and active players that had been alleged or confirmed to have been using performance-enhancing drugs. From the moment that report went public, the game became a laughing stock to many Americans. How could the country continue to watch a sport that had been so heavily tainted?
Attendance dropped, and people began to lose interest in a sport where cheaters were celebrated and revered by adults and children alike. The MLB needed new, clean stars legitimately achieving records and benchmarks, and Miguel Cabrera has just delivered.
The first Triple Crown winner was Paul Hines of the Providence Grays back in 1878. His season seems rather pedestrian compared to those who would accomplish this later: A .358 batting average, four home runs and 50 RBI. Keep in mind that this was in the dead-ball era of baseball, and that hitting 10 homers made you a prodigious power hitter.
Ty Cobb and Nap Lajoie were the first two known hitters to win the Triple Crown at the turn of the 20th century, followed by: Rogers Hornsby (1922, 1925), Chuck Klein, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Joe Medwick, Ted Williams (1942, 1947), Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson and finally Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
When the live-ball era started in 1920, offensive numbers (particularly home runs and RBI) increased exponentially, which is why every Triple Crown winner from Hornsby on up hit no less than 28 homers, and all drove in over 100 runs.
The live-ball era continues to this day, making it harder for hitters to accomplish what Yaz was able to do back in ’67. When a player of Dustin Pedroia’s size and stature can hit over 20 homers, then common sense dictates that the bigger, more buff hitters should be able to hit at least twice as many.
The difficulty of leading the league in home runs has also been increased by a specialized approach to pitching. When a pitcher reaches the “magic” number of 100 pitches, he is taken out before fatigue leads to costly mistakes.
A fresh relief pitcher can then be brought in even if he faces only a single batter (something Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays has championed). Finally, there’s the closer: A one- or two-inning specialist who usually throws gas—between 95 and 102 miles per hour—and makes it next to impossible for any batter to hit.
All Triple Crown winners in the live-ball era posted huge numbers, but they were also the models for what consistency looked like for star players. Miguel Cabrera came along in 2003 for the Florida Marlins, and his contributions propelled the Marlins to their second World Series title.
From then on, Cabrera has only gotten better with age, even after being traded to the Detroit Tigers in 2008, forcing him to adjust to a completely different style of baseball.
He has only failed to hit .300 once in his career (2008, his first year with Detroit), and hit less than 30 homers once in his career as well (in 2006 he hit only 26)— I don’t count his rookie season, as he played only 87 games.
To give you specifics, baseball-reference has his career numbers (average) looking something like this: A .318 average with 34 homers,120 RBI and 198 hits. He’s a consistent offensive force and is considered one of the three best active hitters every year.
Forty-five years have passed since Yaz won the last Triple Crown, which is just about two of my current lifetimes. As the game continues to become more technical (thanks to Sabermetrics), the difficulty of winning the Triple Crown will continue to increase.
Those of us that were fortunate enough to see Cabrera accomplish this probably won’t see this happen again in our lifetime. Cabrera survived a 162-game season and emerged as not only a Triple Crown winner, but cemented his legacy as one of the best hitters to have ever played the game.
Above all else, he has breathed new life into a game that desperately needed it, and for that, all baseball fans are grateful.