Batting in the sixth inning on Sunday against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Miguel Cabrera connected with a 1-1 pitch from lefty Steven Matz and sent it about 400 feet over the scoreboard in right center field.
The blast made Cabrera, who won the Triple Crown and back-to-back MVP awards in 2012 and 2013, the 28th major leaguer and first Venezuelan to enter the 500-home-run club. Now with 2,955 career hits, Cabrera is hoping to become the first hitter to reach 500 career homers and 3,000 career hits in the same season.
With the Tigers having fewer than 40 games left to play, Cabrera would have to stay healthy and go on a bit of a heater in order to reach 3,000 hits in 2021, but with a résumé that includes a triple crown in 2012 (which broke a 44-season streak without one) along with three other batting titles, there’s certainly a chance the 38-year-old can do it.
Whether it happens this year or in 2022, once Cabrera — who made his major league debut with the Marlins in 2003 and helped them win the World Series that year — reaches the milestone, he will become the first player in the 500-homer club with 3,000 hits who also hit for the Triple Crown and won a World Series title and MVP award. (Other accolades aside, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols are the only players in history with 500 home runs and 3,000 hits.)
“So proud for him and his family, and a career accomplishment so rare you may never get to be a part of this again,” Detroit manager A.J. Hinch said. “We have no idea who the next person can be to pass this big number.”
Hinch has a point. Now that Cabrera is finally in the 500 club (which last got a new member in 2015 when David Ortiz joined), no one else is really all that close. Nelson Cruz of the Tampa Bay Rays is just 57 homers short of the mark, but he turned 41 last month and would likely have to play a minimum of two more seasons while staying healthy and hitting well in order to reach 500. Behind Cruz at 334 is Robinson Cano, who turns 39 in October and could be done with baseball after being suspended for the entirety of the 2021 season for testing positive for the performance-enhancing drug stanozolol. Amongst active players, the most likely candidate to be the 29th member of the 500 club is Mike Trout, who is 190 away and turned 30 this month. As long as he stays healthy, Trout, who has averaged close to 40 home runs per year over the course of his career, could get to 500 five or six seasons from now.
Impressive as the 500 homers are, Cabrera’s .311 career batting average really jumps off the page when you consider a large part of his career came during a period when hitting for power instead of average largely became the norm. Batting .246 this season, Cabrera last hit .300 or better five seasons ago in 2016, so his current career average is an even stronger testament to how good he was at hitting over an extended period of time earlier in his career. Most emblematic of that fact was a seven-season stretch from 2009 to 2015 when Cabrera hit .332 in just under 4,000 at-bats.
Cabrera’s .311 career average is fifth highest among 500 club members, behind only Ted Williams (.344), Babe Ruth (.342), Jimmie Foxx (.325) and Manny Ramirez (.312). Of the 28 sluggers in the club, only nine hit .300 or better in their careers and only Ramirez, Cabrera and Frank Thomas debuted after 1954.
“You can make the argument, I believe, that Cabrera hit the ball harder, on a consistent basis, than anyone on this list — or at least as hard,” writes ESPN’s David Schoenfield. “Cabrera was a slow, right-handed batter, and slow right-handed batters rarely win batting titles. Yet Cabrera won four of them and hit .320 or better nine times. He hit the ball hard.”
Making $30 million this season, his 19th in the majors, and under contract with the Tiger for four more seasons (the final two years of his deal are vesting options based on finishing in the top ten of MVP voting), Cabrera is a lock to make the Hall of Fame on the first ballot once he’s eligible. He’s also potentially the last true slugger who’ll ever hit 500 home runs, because while Trout will probably do it, he’s a different kind of cat than the longtime Tiger. Hats off, Miggy.