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Miguel Cabrera joins 500 homer club

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Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera watches his 500th career home run in the sixth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays during a baseball game in Toronto, Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021. Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera watches his 500th career home run in the sixth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays during a baseball game in Toronto, Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021. (Jon Blacker/The Canadian Press via AP)

One of Major League Baseball’s most exclusive clubs just gained a member.

Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera became the 28th player in MLB history to achieve this historic milestone, hitting a 1-1 pitch from Blue Jays lefthander Steven Matz over the scoreboard in right-center field at Toronto’s Rogers Centre for a home run, his 13th of 2021.

It marks a moment that has seemed inevitable for a long time, yet the journey to get here proved a bit more interminable than anyone anticipated.

At the conclusion of the 2016 season, Cabrera sat at 446 career home runs. He was coming off a year where he hit 38 homers, batted .316 and drove in 108 and placed ninth in MVP voting. He was 33 years old, just three seasons removed from the second of his two consecutive MVP Awards – the same season in which he won the first American League Triple Crown in half-a-century. He looked poised to blow by every round number milestone with ease, ready to take a shot at some ever more rarified air.

Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, reality got in the way of destiny.

A combination of injury and decreased effectiveness with age meant that it took Cabrera some 460 games over the course of four-plus seasons to come up with the 54 homers necessary to get him to the mark. After never hitting fewer than 25 in a full season in his entire career, he alternated between drastically reduced full season outputs (16 homers in 2017, 12 in 2019, 13 thus far in 2021) and circumstantially shortened totals (three homers in 38 games in 2018, 10 in 57 in 2020) to finally arrive at the storied round number.

It’s worth noting, of course, that Cabrera was far more than a one-dimensional slugger over the course of his career. By many metrics, he’s one of the best all-around hitters ever to join this particular club.

Probably should start with the batting titles. Specifically, four of them – he led the AL for three straight years, 2011-2013, then won again in 2015. He also led in on-base percentage four times and slugging percentage twice. This is a guy who drove in over a hundred runs for 11 consecutive seasons and a dozen overall, leading the league twice. He won back-to-back MVPs in 2012 and 2013, winning the Triple Crown in the latter year.

Cabrera’s career slash line - .311/.388/.534 – matches up favorably with the very best hitters amongst the 500 Homer Club. That current career batting average has him fifth among them. He’s also just the fifth right-hander in the group to even hit over .300 for his career, joining Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Thomas and Manny Ramirez.

In addition, hitting 500 homers is not the only round-number milestone that Cabrera is likely to attain before 2021 is out, though the most prestigious of the bunch will remain just out of reach.

As of press time, Cabrera was just three runs scored away from 1,500 for his career – he’d be just the 74th player to reach that mark. He sat eight walks shy of 1,200 – he’d be the 61st to get there. He’s nine doubles away from 600 – 20th all-time. And none of this digs into the big celebratory number that Cabrera WON’T hit.

There was an outside shot of Cabrera reaching 3,000 hits in 2021, becoming the 33rd to ever do it and the first-ever to do it while also hitting his 500th homer. He needed 134 hits, a number that he surpassed – albeit just by a handful – in his last full season in 2019. It was a doable number. Unfortunately, Cabrera had a couple of injuries that cost him playing time – enough to where he’d have to close out the season historically hot from here to make it – not likely with this version of Cabrera. And so, we’ll have to wait until early 2022 to see Miggy cross that threshold.

It’ll be interesting to see how far these career totals eventually get pushed. Cabrera’s been pretty ineffective at the plate over the past couple of seasons, but the Tigers are still on the hook for two more years of the massive and ill-advised extension the team gave him in 2014. Combine that with the fact that Detroit looks to be a long way from contention and it isn’t hard to see a world where Cabrera is on the field as much as his health allows.

You hate to see legends fading, but that’s the nature of the game. Perhaps Cabrera can muster up one last surge at the end – hell, Albert Pujols did it and his drop-off was just as severe as Cabrera’s – but even if he doesn’t, we should remember just how great a hitter he was, because at his peak, few have ever been better than Miguel Cabrera.

Last modified on Wednesday, 25 August 2021 07:53

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