It’s a bold statement, I know.
There have been so many great players over the past century and beyond; names like Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle and Dimaggio.
And those are just the Yankees.
What makes Miguel Cabrera so special? How is he better than Ty Cobb or Ted Williams or Rogers Hornsby? What would Stan Musial or Pete Rose have to say about this piece?
Indeed, all of these players have a legitimate claim at being the greatest hitter of all time, but none top the man, the myth and the legend that is Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera.
To the die-hards out there shouting statistics at their computer screens, raging about my stupidity, I understand. Cabrera will not come close to Cobb’s .366 career average, Hank Aaron’s 755 home runs (sorry Barry, 763 isn’t a real number), or Brooks Robinson’s 16 Gold Gloves.
But unlike Cobb, Cabrera hits for tremendous power. Unlike Aaron, Cabrera plays in one of the League’s most spacious ballparks. Unlike Robinson, Cabrera has switched positions throughout his career, mastering both first and third base.
But enough about Cabrera’s defense (which is underrated when he’s healthy), he’s the greatest of all-time for his bat.
First and foremost, I have to make a statement that some may disagree with.
I refuse to consider any player who played a majority of their career before 1960. Baseball wasn’t integrated until 1947, meaning anyone who played before that was simply the best white player, not the best player. Some teams didn’t integrate until the late 1950s; the Boston Red Sox became the last team to integrate when they signed Pumpsie Green in 1959.
But more importantly, the game of baseball began to change in the 60s. It became a big money sport, drawing the attention of the best athletes in the country. The money involved has drawn athletes from everywhere, making the MLB one of the most competitive leagues in the world.
Not that it wasn’t competitive before, but now the game has elevated to an entirely new level. Pitching is a completely different art than it was even ten years ago: the average fastball is a full mile per hour faster now than it was in 2002.
When Nolan Ryan prowled the mound in the 1970s and 80s, his 100 mile per hour heater devastated batters to the tune of seven no-hitters. Now, it seems like every team has a pitcher that can touch triple digits.
For instance, Cabrera’s Detroit Tigers have three pitchers that can chuck it 100 (Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Bruce Rondon). Put Cobb or Hornsby in today’s game and they wouldn’t stand a chance. That’s not a fair comparison, I know, but it’s true that professional athletics, including baseball, have revolutionized in the last 30 years.
Cabrera has played against guys who used steroids for pete’s sake! Albert Pujols can say the same, but Carl Yastrzemski’s competition probably wasn’t shooting up back in the 60s.
So why is Cabrera the greatest of all-time? Why not Yastrzemski, Rod Carew, Pujols or Ken Griffey Jr.?
First of all, Yaz is the only one that’s won a triple crown and only he and Pujols have won a batting title. But Yaz’s career BA of .285 is hardly stunning. Carew is a member of the 3,000 hit club, but the greatest of all-time has to hit the long ball, something Carew did just 92 times in his career.
Griffey Jr. was a great power hitter, but his .284 career average isn’t nearly good enough to put him in Cabby territory.
Speaking of average, Cabrera will win another batting title this year, his third consecutive. Only nine players have accomplished this feat (Cobb, Hornsby, Carew, Musial, Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, Nap Lajoie and Honus Wagner), putting them among the best hitters in baseball. Their accomplishment of three straight batting titles proves that they were the dominant batter of that time. In order to be the best, you have to be the best (make sense?) and Cabrera has proven himself to be the best in each of the past three seasons.
But only two of these men hit for any kind of power comparable to Cabrera.
Comerica Park (before bullpen renovations that brought in left field by about 20 feet)
I said I wouldn’t consider anyone from pre-1960, but Stan Musial was truly one of the greatest of all time. He won three consecutive batting titles from 1950-52 and hit 475 homers in his career, 114 more than Cabrera’s current mark of 361. However, Cabrera’s AB/HR ratio or 16.92 compares favorably to Musial’s 23.10. Furthermore, Musial had the privilege of hitting in the lefty-friendly Sportsman’s Park that featured a right field fence that was only 310 down the right field line, 322 to medium right center, and 354 to true right center.
Meanwhile, Comerica Park, where Cabrera plays 81 home games a year, is one of the deepest parks in the MLB, routinely finishing in the bottom five of the AL in home runs per year.
Hornsby is the other guy with a little pop in his bat: 301 career home runs is hardly anything to sneeze at. But with a ratio of one homer per 27.12 at bats, he doesn’t hold a candle to Cabrera’s power.
How about Pujols? His numbers are comparable to Cabrera, and he’s won three MVPs to Miggy’s one. However, Pujols has one batting title to Cabrera’s three. Pujols, 33, is now an injury prone mess that the Angels would do anything to get rid of (they owe Pujols about $200M still). Cabrera, 30, is a few homers short of becoming the first player EVER to win back-to-back triple crowns.
Can Cabby keep producing into his thirties or will he have a Pujols-like fallout? That is impossible to know, but he has been hurt this year. The difference is in the results: Pujols has battled injury this year and hit .258 with 17 homers and 64 RBI. Cabrera has battled injury this year and hit .360 with 40 long balls and 120 RBI.
What makes Cabrera truly the greatest is that he thrives in clutch situations. He continues to amaze me in late-game situations with the game on the line. Just days ago, Cabby walked off with a ninth-inning bomb that sent shivers down my spine. Against the scorching-hot, division-rival Royals, in the bottom of the ninth, when his team needed him the most, Cabrera sent the fans home happy with a solo shot.
No, scratch that. He didn’t send them home; he brought them to their feet. I don’t think a single body left the gate until Cabrera had circled the pillows, been mobbed at home plate, and doused in Gatorade by Prince Fielder.
And even after all that, the chants of MVP were 40,000 strong.
With runners in scoring position, Cabby has stroked .337/.433/.570 in his career. With two outs and men in scoring position, Cabrera is just as solid: .315/.449/.562. With the bases loaded, he’s a gaudy .414/.451/.617.
This season, which will go down as one of the greatest seasons in recent memory for a hitter, Miggy is a foolish .451/.594/.941 with 2 down and RISP.
He’s as clutch as they come- a cool cucumber so to speak, and he has the rarest combination of power and average.
So is Cabrera really the greatest hitter of all-time? Maybe the headline should read “Why Miguel Cabrera will be the greatest hitter of all-time.” In all honesty, he probably isn’t yet. Should Miggy be held out by injury for the remainder of his career, he won’t have a resume deserving of GOAT honors.
But Cabrera is only 30 years old; he’s in his prime. His game isn’t built on speed, and it isn’t necessarily built on the long ball either. He makes his $20M paycheck by driving the ball hard to all fields, having a masterful baseball IQ, and having a lot of fun playing the game.
Ever seen anyone smiling more than Miggy out on the diamond? He regularly jokes with teammates and enemies alike, always smiling ear to ear. He isn’t a guy that beats himself up when slumping (if that ever happens) and he isn’t a guy that overthinks things. He just shows up to the park and hits the ball with a lot of authority.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there is a better hitter than Miguel Cabrera somewhere out there.
But I’ve never seen him.
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