Courtesy of The New York Times
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Miguel Cabrera burst on the baseball scene as a 20-year-old slugging prodigy. He hit a home run in his first major league game and, while still a rookie, helped lead the Florida Marlins to a World Series title in 2003.
Miguel Cabrera finished the regular season with a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 R.B.I.
Over the years, Cabrera struggled with alcohol and his weight; fought to find an established position in the field; and was traded, at age 24, from the Marlins to the Detroit Tigers. But Cabrera never lost what everyone agreed he possessed like few others: a discriminating eye at the plate and a sweet, timely and fluidly powerful swing.
On Wednesday night, Cabrera, whose father was a professional baseball player in Venezuela and whose mother was the star shortstop for that country’s national softball team, found his way into the history books of America’s national pastime as the first player in nearly half a century to win the triple crown, leading the American League in home runs (44), batting average (.330) and runs batted in (139).
Ruth never did it. Neither did DiMaggio, Aaron, Musial, Clemente or Mays. Ted Williams did it twice, and Mickey Mantle once. The last player to accomplish the feat was Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox in 1967, when Lyndon Johnson was president, free agency was a pipe dream and the Boston left fielder known as Yaz chain smoked cigarettes in the dugout.
Cabrera had been pulled from the game and was in the Tigers’ clubhouse by the time the sixth inning rolled around and his achievement became official. He saw it on the television and exchanged hugs with teammates.
In his soft-spoken way, Cabrera stood before his locker with his hands in the pocket of his hoodie, not sure how to describe his feelings. “Right now, it’s an unbelievable feeling,” he said, then sighed. “Wow.”
Before the game, his teammates were more expressive in describing the impending feat. “It’s definitely foreign to guys my age or younger, and even guys older than myself,” said Alex Avila, the 25-year-old catcher for the Tigers. “That’ll probably be the greatest thing that I’ll ever see in my career.”
As he swung his way to history, Cabrera has been a reluctant star. He shied away from discussing the feat. In the clubhouse here, his locker was positioned out of view of the television. Before the game, while his teammates lounged on black leather couches clinging to every at-bat by Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, who entered the day trailing Cabrera by one home run, Cabrera kept his distance.
Hamilton was the only truly serious threat to Cabrera on Wednesday. But with the Rangers playing a day game, Cabrera had the luxury of knowing, by the opening pitch here, that he would probably not be caught. Hamilton failed to homer in five at-bats, finishing with 43. The Yankees’ Curtis Granderson mounted a final-day charge at the home run title, slamming two home runs, but he also finished with 43.
Going into the final game, the rookie Angels phenom Mike Trout had a mathematical shot of taking the batting title. But Jim Leyland, the Tigers’ manager, had said he would pull Cabrera to protect his average and keep him out of Trout’s even theoretical reach. (Trout finished at .326.)
“This is a huge story, and I want everybody to enjoy it,” said Leyland, his feet kicked up on his desk as he addressed reporters before the game. “They should enjoy it.”
Leyland could also enjoy it since his team had clinched the A.L. Central title and a spot in the best-of-five division series. He pulled Cabrera in the middle innings after he went 0 for 2.
After the game, Leyland said a member of his staff was monitoring a computer to see what other hitters were doing and whether they were closing in on Cabrera.
“This is the toughest game I’ve ever had to manage in my career,” Leyland said. “It was more nerve racking than the seventh game of the World Series in 1997.”
Leyland managed the Marlins to their first title that year.