Miguel Cabrera is the 33rd player in major-league history to record 3,000 hits, and it has been a journey. One of the greatest pure hitters to ever bat from the right side, the Detroit Tigers stalwart reached the hallowed milestone Saturday, in his 20th MLB season.
The Tigers have endured a rebuild over the past few seasons, which overlapped with Cabrera’s decline into a merely solid hitter. People can grumble about the eight-year, $ 240 million contract that runs through 2023, but these seasons have served as a low-pressure fan service tour.
Not unlike the rock stars who long ago defined their place in history, Cabrera can still do amazing things with his instrument. And yet as he gives us reason to pause and consider his career, our minds naturally gravitate backward, to the feats that made 3,000 a possibility. To the moments that long ago made him, simply, Miggy.
We crave the familiarity of Cabrera on top of the world. So as he officially joins this exclusive club, there’s only one way to celebrate appropriately: Let’s play the hits.
Hit No. 1: An MLB debut walk-off
Cabrera makes it easy to start from the very beginning. He arrived in the majors as a heralded prospect for the Florida Marlins in July 2003, 63 days after his 20th birthday. The game – against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays – went to 11 innings.
And that’s when the young Miggy logged his maiden hit, a walk-off homer off Al Levine that sailed over the fence and into the record books.
Hit No. 546: The intentional walk turned go-ahead single
Not many hitters possess the rock solid, second-nature confidence in their bat to do what Cabrera did in June 2006. Already feared around the league, he was supposed to be on the receiving end of a walk from an Orioles pitcher named Todd Williams. Hanley Ramirez was on second base, representing the go-ahead run, and Baltimore wanted to instead test its luck against Cody Ross.
Back in those days, of course, an intentional walk involved four pitches actually lobbed wide of the plate to a catcher standing straight up with his arm extended. Well, Williams didn’t get one of those lobs wide enough.
Cabrera clicked into hitter mode and swatted at it like a ringer in a beer league softball game. A perfect single dropped into right field, Ramirez scored and the Marlins won the game.
Hit No. 1,723: Homer No. 300 confounds cameras
One of Miggy’s more underrated accomplishments was hitting for the power he did in Detroit’s cavernous Comerica Park. Perhaps MLB’s most relentless litmus test for warning track power, the park still couldn’t hold Cabrera.
His 300th career homer offered a particularly compelling example of why – pummeled not just into the center-field wall of vegetation, but over the rarely reached camera well.
Hits No. 1,780—1,782: Miggy vs. Trout
When baseball fans summon Cabrera’s name in 50 years, the first bullet point is almost certain to be his 2012 Triple Crown. The peak hadn’t been summited since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 and hasn’t been reached again since. The National League still hasn’t seen one since 1937. It wasn’t outlandish to think the Triple Crown was a relic of a bygone era with less advanced pitching, when hitters had fewer hard sacrifices to make in reaching for their optimal selves.
So before the great Miguel Cabrera-Mike Trout discussion of 2012 really flared around the MVP voting, there was first the battle waged for the batting crown as Cabrera pursued that nigh-unthinkable Triple Crown.
On Sept. 16, Cabrera trailed Trout for the AL lead in batting average. But that afternoon, he clubbed three hits – including a double and a homer – that lifted his average to .330 and, more important, overtook Trout. Already pacing the field in RBIs, he never relinquished the lead in average.
There was just one jewel left to capture.
Hit No. 1,798: Completing the Triple Crown
Locking in the final piece of his historic 2012 run required staying at least one homer ahead of Josh Hamilton. In the season’s final series, Cabrera pulled ahead for good with a laser shot in Kansas City.
On the season’s final day, he logged a couple more hits to fully seal the Triple Crown, then exited to a standing ovation from the road crowd.
Hit No. 1,947: Beating Mariano Rivera on one leg
When announcers talk about someone being a “natural hitter,” it’s often overblown. With Cabrera, it might be an understatement. In a crucial at-bat against the legendary Yankees closer in 2013, Cabrera took serious punishment – fouling balls off his knee and foot and hobbling around between pitches.
Down to the Tigers’ last strike, seemingly doomed to limp away vanquished as so many were against Rivera, Cabrera somehow calmly locked in and belted a game-tying home run to straightaway center field.
Hit No. 2,273: Miggy connects with a kid in Cleveland
OK, so this moment isn’t easily located in the scorebook. It’s about Cabrera’s place in the pantheon of baseball’s unofficial social directors, the first basemen. When a young Cleveland fan snagged a foul ball and exuberantly yelled at Cabrera in June 2015, the superstar slugger didn’t turn the other cheek. He smiled and talked back, and later in the game made a fan for life by handing him a bat and gloves.
Who knows if it was a bat that had been in use. Either way, he logged two hits in the game, because of course.
Hit No. 2,867: The winter slugger
It’s fair to say Cabrera is in the winter of his career. But the universe took the metaphor a bit far on opening day 2021. Playing through a gusty snowstorm in Detroit, Cabrera fought back – whipping a line drive off reigning Cy Young winner Shane Bieber and… sliding into second base with a beaming grin.
As it turns out, the ball had cleared the fence, and Cabrera had one of the more unlikely homers of his or any career.
Hit No. 3,000: History reached
After sitting on 2,999 through a controversial intentional walk and a rained out game, Cabrera slashed No. 3,000 through the right side in his first at-bat on Saturday.
Having joined the 3,000-hit club, Cabrera also now finds himself in the extremely elite company of Henry Aaron and Willie Mays as the only players with 3,000 hits, 500 homers and a .300 career batting average.
Bonus track: Young Miggy takes Roger Clemens deep
It’s funny how record-keeping works sometimes. We don’t count postseason hits in career totals, everyone knows that. But few sights encapsulate Cabrera’s longevity and dominance like this homer against Roger Clemens in the 2003 World Series.
One legend established, one just starting to unfurl.