Originally written on The Detroit Sports Site  |  Last updated 8/28/13
Chris Davis is trying to block Miguel Cabrera from making baseball history. This duel has quietly been fantastic all summer long. (Bill Hunter, Flickr) For most who watched baseball two decades ago, the summer of 1998 was the absolute pinnacle of excitement. Sammy Sosa battling Mark McGwire for the single season home run title? Drama on every pitch? Baseball fans finally had everything in their laps just four years after a damaging strike. I should know. I was an 11 year-old kid at the time hanging on every at-bat, precisely the kind of person these events were made for. It should have been my Maris vs. Mantle moment, the kind of thing I’d tell my children and grandchildren I’d witnessed years later. Instead, though, we would learn that entire chase, no matter how exciting or dramatic at the time, was illegitimate. Steroid usage by both players, depending on any personal feelings on the matter, still diminished the excitement, casting a definite, agreeable pall over the grand feelings from that summer. A giant asterisk was placed near the event which will never be removed in the minds of fans. Quite simply, the event wasn’t as natural as it seemed at the time, which devalues its overall permanence. Now, there’s a chase of a new kind developing this summer. It’s not as powerful as 1998s because it’s been hidden amongst a media’s obsession with baseball’s recent PED scandal and concerns about Rex Ryan’s latest quarterback conundrum, but it should be no less celebrated. Baltimore’s Chris Davis is attempting to thwart Miguel Cabrera from winning a second straight triple crown. Cabrera, though, is refusing to go down easy despite being constantly hobbled, staying close enough where an extended September home run slump by Davis might earn him the honor in back to back seasons. Let’s put that in historical perspective for a moment. Davis, with every home run he hits, is trying to unseat Cabrera from winning his second straight triple crown award. Cabrera himself is attempting to go back to back with an MVP and a triple crown, something which has never been done in baseball history. Your great-grandfather just raised his eyebrow and readjusted his monocle. While Davis and Cabrera might not be threatening 70 or 80 home runs in the process, those numbers were clearly fictional to begin with. This new race is clean, exciting, dramatic and a better showcase of baseball skill. By the way, that respect Sosa and McGwire had for each other which Tim McCarver so poetically described in his book The Perfect Season? Yeah, it’s present within these two athletes, as well. “As far as me being the obstruction for him (Cabrera) doing it (winning the triple crown) again, I hope he does do it again,” Davis said. “That would be awesome. He’s a great hitter. He deserves everything he gets.” Davis, in the ESPN article, goes on to state that he doesn’t worry about preventing Cabrera from reaching history; he merely tries to help the Orioles win games in their push for the playoffs. Cabrera for his part agreed, saying he doesn’t worry about what Davis does either while trying to do his best to help the Tigers achieve success on the field. Regardless of if either man has the other in mind in the process, some exciting theater has still been created by their remarkable competition. One week, Davis will belt several home runs to extend his lead. The next, Cabrera picks up three dingers on him in four days, as he’s done recently, tightening the race. Though Davis still trails the RBI total by 12, any injury to Cabrera combined with a hot streak by Davis might cut into that lead, as well. It all boils down to the fact that nothing is certain heading into the final month of the season. This particular race, with it’s premium on hitting for average and power, is more riveting than 1998s. Then, nobody cared how many doubles or RBI’s Sosa and McGwire collected because those stats were rendered insignificant. Those players were merely in a video game-type competition to see who could sock the most home runs. In this race, singles and doubles count because they boost averages and, in some cases, plate runners. This time, it’s about the whole game, not just the longball. Fans of the home run will get their way in the end too, though, because that statistic will likely determine if Cabrera repeats as a triple crown winner. From top to bottom, this race has it all with the notable exception of media obsession. When the dust settles by October though, quietly, there may be a new baseball headline to rival “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” revolving around the sport’s most difficult offensive achievement. If it happens, true baseball fans will know just what they’ve witnessed. Regardless of if the media ever gives a fantastic duel its just due, my children will hear the story first about the summer Cabrera captured consecutive triple crowns, or Davis’s remarkable block. Later, I might even tell them about the giant asterisk that was 1998. Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax
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