Miguel Cabrera's 3,000th Hit Tells Just Part of the Story of a Legendary Career

Zachary D. RymerApril 22, 2022

Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera reacts to hitting a single against the New York Yankees in the fourth inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Not that he really needed to in order to bolster his dual reputations as a future Hall of Famer and one of Major League Baseball's most beloved players, but Miguel Cabrera just joined the 3,000 Hit Club anyway.

His single off Antonio Senzatela on Saturday sealed his place: 

B/R Walk-Off @BRWalkoff

For your viewing pleasure:<br><br>Miguel Cabrera’s 3000th hit 🙌 <a href="https://twitter.com/tigers?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@tigers</a> <a href="https://t.co/HG8LkCtTIM">pic.twitter.com/HG8LkCtTIM</a>

After collecting hit Nos. 2,997, 2,998 and 2,999 on Wednesday, Cabrera's big moment could have happened amid the Detroit Tigers' 3-0 win over the New York Yankees on Thursday. Instead, the slugger went 0-fer in his first three at-bats and was given first base on an intentional walk with a base open and two outs in the bottom of the eighth.

Perhaps needless to say, the thousands packed into Comerica Park were about as displeased as the thousands more watching from home: 

Jomboy Media @JomboyMedia

Miguel Cabrera gets intentionally walked with 2999 hits <a href="https://t.co/cfWDMArDed">pic.twitter.com/cfWDMArDed</a>

No matter, according to Cabrera himself. In keeping with the mindset he expressed Wednesday, he told reporters after the game that he was happy to get the win. And besides, "My on-base percentage went up."

Already a member of the 500 Home Run Club, the 39-year-old became just the 33rd player to record 3,000 hits in the major leagues. He and Albert Pujols are the only active members in the club, and it's anyone's guess who'll be next. Only three other players—Robinson Cano, Yadier Molina and Joey Votto—have as many as 2,000 hits, and they're all in their late 30s.

All the more reason, then, to press pause and appreciate what Cabrera has done on the road to 3,000 hits. And not just with his bat. While that may be the thing that's earned him a place in baseball history, it's as much because of his personality that he'll be remembered long after his playing days are over.

Appreciating Miguel Cabrera, The Hitting Machine

Before we get into the numbers, the record should show that Cabrera's greatness in the batter's box can be measured just as effectively in anecdotes.

It seems that anybody who's ever shared a dugout with the guy can only speak in flabbergasted terms about his batting practice displays. Take it from former Tigers ace Justin Verlander, as told to Jason Beck of MLB.com last August:

“There’s a batting practice in Minnesota [at Target Field], and I’ve never seen anybody else do this: His last round of hitting, it was three pitches. He went upper deck in right-center field in that corner. The next pitch, he went upper-deck center field over those two guys that are shaking hands. And then he went upper-deck left field. He comes out of the cage laughing, but he knows what he did is pretty badass, even though he plays it down."

Read enough articles about Cabrera, and you're bound to come across similar versions of this story from other players and coaches, friend and foe alike. They all express a common appreciation and a sort of unspoken consensus, that what Cabrera can do when he puts bat to ball simply is not normal.

Plus, you know a guy is an all-time great hitter when even another all-time great hitter can't help but stan for him, as Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto did on Twitter:

Joey Votto @JoeyVotto

<a href="https://twitter.com/MiguelCabrera?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MiguelCabrera</a> I used to low-key creep your at-bats in my hotel room EVERY SINGLE NIGHT, after our games. 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.

As for the rest of us, Cabrera's numbers tell his story well enough in their own right. Simply for starters, they make it clear that he indeed had to hit his way to the 3,000 Hit Club.

He wasn't much of an athlete even when he entered the league as a 20-year-old with the Florida Marlins in 2003, so speed has never been a big part of his game. Only 150 of his hits have been of the infield variety, according to FanGraphs. And if it's bunt hits you're looking for, Michael Clair of MLB.com has the story of the one that Cabrera has in his career.

Mashing the ball has more so been his preferred means of collecting hits. His career .532 slugging percentage is telling, but better yet is the company he'll have when his double counter turns from 599 to 600. To have that many doubles, 3,000 hits and 500 home runs will apply to just him and two others:

  • Henry Aaron: 3,771 H, 624 2B and 755 HR
  • Albert Pujols: 3,308 H, 673 2B and 681 HR

Not to knock either of them, but neither Aaron nor Pujols peaked quite like Cabrera did when he won the Triple Crown and American League MVP in 2012 and then another MVP in 2013. He topped a .330 average and reached 44 home runs both years, making him one of only four hitters to do so in consecutive seasons. The others: Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx and Barry Bonds.

No word south of "prodigious" can adequately describe the kind of power Cabrera had in his prime—seriously, wow—but his home run-hitting prowess is just as much defined by shots like this one from Opening Day of the 2021 season:

A home run to right field? Cabrera has 106 of those, making him the only right-handed hitter on record to cross the century mark in that category. Pujols isn't in there with him, and ditto for fellow 600-homer guys Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa.

At least in the modern game, with great power tends to come great strikeouts. But not with Cabrera. He's never struck out even as many as 150 times in a season, and he didn't punch out so many as 130 times in nine of his 10 seasons of at least 30 home runs. Since the turn of the century, only he, Pujols and Mark Teixeira can claim as many.

As if extraordinary power and a knack for getting the bat on the ball weren't explanation enough for Cabrera's .310 career average, it's easy to remember the times when he was at his best against the best.

He's one of only five players with as many as two home runs off baseball's one and only unanimous Hall of Famer, Mariano Rivera. He also owns home runs off fellow Cooperstowners Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, plus a shot off seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens that he hit en route to winning the World Series with the Marlins in '03.

Other pitching greats who know the sting of Cabrera's bat all too well are two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and seven-time All-Star Chris Sale. On Cabrera's resume are 10 home runs off the two of them, with a 1.079 OPS against Kluber and a .955 OPS against Sale.

On the occasion of Cabrera's sixth home run off Kluber in 2017, the right-hander had to give it up to him: "That's why he's the best hitter of our generation."

Longevity and durability? Those are caps in Cabrera's hat as well. He's played in more games than anyone dating back to his first full season in 2004, which was also the start of an 11-year reign of utter omnipresence on the field. Between then and 2014, he played in 1,732 of 1,783 possible games. That's 97 percent.

For those who would like a short version of all this, here it is: If it takes a special kind of hitter to get to 3,000 career hits, it only makes sense that a hitter as many different kinds of special as Cabrera would be just about there.

Appreciating Miguel Cabrera, The Personality

So long as one can grasp concepts like "fun" and "joy," Miguel Cabrera has always been delightfully uncomplicated. Rarely has he shown any pretense that he's doing something other than playing a game for a living.

Never mind blank-faced stares. Smiles are more his style. It doesn't matter whether he's reacting to (skip to 2:45) an increasingly rare infield hit for his 2,997th hit:

Or a pitch that was nasty enough to strike him out but also worthy of a thumbs-up:

Or hugging a rival fan because, what the heck, they were both in the same spot in the same moment:

There's literally a million of these if you search "Miguel Cabrera" on MLB's YouTube page. That's a guess we're willing to venture, anyway, because it's easier on our fingers than endlessly scrolling for a bottom that simply wouldn't come.

This, apparently, isn't just a disposition that Cabrera wears on top of his uniform when the bright lights come on. Who can forget that time he went full Walter Sobchak when the Tigers dressed up in Zubaz in 2014? Not Torii Hunter, that's for sure. As he told Beck:

“He's funny as hell, like really funny in that clubhouse. We would have story time 45 minutes before the game, how we pumped ourselves up before the game. We'd have to come up with a slogan. And he was excited to do it. Him participating in almost everything we did, wearing the Zumba pants and having fun with it [in 2014]. And Miguel participated in our team parties and team dinners and everything. Superstars don't have to do that, but he did it."

Hunter also added: “Moments like that, it's amazing to me. I know his character, I know his heart and it's a great heart.”

It is, of course, easy to enjoy life when you're young, the best there is at what you do and playing on a team in the middle of a four-year reign as a leading contender. None of these things has been reality for Cabrera for a while now. His offensive might declined as he battled age and injuries between 2017 and 2021, all while the Tigers lost more games than all but one team.

Yet Cabrera has stuck it out, and his importance to the Tigers has taken on a new form as the team seeks to return to contention in 2022. He understands that if he can no longer be an MVP-winning slugger, he can at least be a fully functional figurehead.

He was instrumental in recruiting $140 million free-agent signee Javier Baez, who told Cody Stavenhagen of The Athletic, “That was one of the biggest [reasons] I wanted to come here, to learn something from Miggy."

Though it was probably going to happen either way, Cabrera might as well have been the one to make top prospect Spencer Torkelson's inclusion on the Tigers' Opening Day roster actually happen. In fact, he was all too glad to hand over the first base job to him.

"We want Torkelson in the lineup, so I'll take the DH," Cabrera said, per Beck. "I'm here to help, go out there and play my best baseball and try to help everybody here."

Despite the team's 5-7 start, all this may yet point Cabrera and the Tigers to a happy ending in 2022. It can only bode well that he seems reenergized by his new standing as the de facto leader. Just like old times, he leads the team with a .308 average.

Regardless of how the final chapter of this season plays out, the current one ended with the most wholesome of bangs. With the Tigers opening a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies on Saturday afternoon, Cabrera inevitably collected his 3,000th hit and was promptly smothered in cheers and applause from the stands and both dugouts.

Soak 'em up, Miguel. You've earned it.

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.