Hey, did you know theyre still playing baseball?
Yup. True story. And last night in Detroit, Miguel Cabrera went 1-3 with a home run and an RBI in a 6-2 win over the As.
The victory was essential for the Tigers in that combined with the White Sox loss to the (cough) Royals it brought them within two games of first place in the AL Central and within five games of Oakland for the second wild card spot.
It was essential for Cabrera in that with two weeks left on the season hes on the brink of achieving something legendary. A feat that the baseball world hasnt seen in 45 years.
When it comes to stats, sports fans are unbelievable hypocrites. Were like a nutritionist who stops at McDonalds on the way home from work. Were like a cop who spends his days lecturing children on the dangers of drug use, and his nights bumping lines off the bathroom sink. Were like . . . you get it.
As fans, we dont like our athletes to care about stats. Those who do are selfish and misguided. Yet at the same time, we cant get enough. Were obsessed. Well go as far as to take the very stats that we want our athletes to ignore, and use them to make their lives a living hell.
If they dont have great numbers, they suck. If they care too much about having great numbers, they suck. And I dont know, maybe that just comes with the territory, but the truth is that everyone loves stats. Fans, players, coaches, owners regardless of what anyone wants and what anyone else says everyone cares. Stats are great. Stats are fun. There an enormous part of what draws us to sport in the first place.
Which is why its so exciting to see whats going on with Miguel Cabrera.
If you havent been following, as of this morning, the Tigers third baseman leads the American League with a .333 batting average (six points better than Mike Trout). He leads the American League with 130 RBI (seven more than Josh Hamilton). And thanks to last nights blast off the As Jim Miller, Cabreras now second in the American League with 41 homers one behind Hamilton. When you consider that Hamiltons been mediocre at best since June, and that Cabreras been hotter than Hansel from start through September, its reasonable to assume that, sometime over the next two weeks, Cabrera will take over the home run race and find himself in line to claim a ridiculous piece of history.
The Triple Crown.
Over the last 45 years, a handful of players have come close to reaching the most regal of baseballs statistical holy grails.
In 1969, Willie McCovey led the NL in homers and RBI, but finished 24 points behind Pete Rose for the batting title. (I bet Rose took some pleasure in that. Seriously, Ill bet you 100.)
In 1972, the White Sox Dick Allen led the AL in homers and RBI, but finished second in average 10 points behind Hall of Famer Rod Carew. (He converted)
In 1977, the Reds George Foster had the kind of numbers typically reserved for the American Dreams, leading the NL with 53 homers and 149 RBI. He also hit for an impressive .320 average, but the Pirates Dave Parker took the crown at .338.
The next year, Jim Rice led the AL with 46 homers and 139 RBI, but his .320 average fell 18 points short of Carew. (Fun Fact: Today, you can catch Rice as a crack postgame analyst on NESN).
In 1992, 23-year-old Gary Sheffield led the NL in average, but finished two home runs and nine RBI short of the Triple Crown. In 1997, Larry Walker was absolutely ridiculous, hitting .366 with 49 homers and 130 RBI. Just as ridiculous? The Canadian Dandy finished second in average (Tony Gwynn hit .372) and RBI (The Big Cat drove in 140).
More recently, Barry Bonds, at the spry age of 37, came close in 2002, leading the NL in average, but coming up just short in homers and RBI. (A hearty, belated thanks to Sammy Sosa and Lance Berkman, respectively). And finally, Albert Pujols had two close calls in 2003 and 2010, but couldnt close the deal.
And thats pretty much it 45 years and only nine legitimate runs at the Crown. But here in 2012, Cabreras not only within striking distance but he's just about knocking down the door, and his run at history will be one of the most riveting story lines of the last two weeks especially for fans of teams that have long been eliminated from contention.
I mean, the Triple Crown? Thats unbelievable! Who would have thought? Who wouldn't want to see this happen? Who doesn't want to witness history? Who can possibly ignore the excitement of watching this level of nearly unprecedented greatness?
No one. But here in Boston, the excitements at least a little bitter sweet.
If you grew up around these parts, regardless of the era, you grew up learning about Carl Yastrzemski. One of the greatest Red Sox of all time. One of the greatest baseball players of all time. A first ballot Hall of Famer who played 22 years at Fenway Park, was an 18-time All Star, a seven-time Gold Glove-winner, the 1967 AL MVP, the captain of the Impossible Dream and for the last 45 years, the answer to the trivia question: Who is the last Major Leaguer to hit for the Triple Crown?
Even if you never saw Yaz play, and I didn't, there was, and is, something undeniably cool about a Red Sox player owning what has become an almost mythical baseball record. I won't put it on par with Oscar Robertson averaging a triple-double, because he's the only one to ever do it and nobody else has come close, but there are similarities between the Big O's year-long triple double and Yaz's 1967 Triple Crown. Over time, they've each become a benchmark season within their respective sports; the definition of greatness times versatility. And like I said, for a member of the Sox to fill that void in baseball history is pretty awesome. It's no doubt added to Yastrzemski's legend, in Boston and beyond.
But now, there's a very good chance that those days are over. And as fun as it will be to watch Cabrera fight for the crown, it's unfortunate that he might do it at the expense of one of this city's all-time greats.
But at the same time: What are you going do?
It's not like Yaz's Triple Crown won't count anymore. It's not like they'll take his number down in right field or his feed his Hall of Fame plaque to Prince Fielder.
Whether we witness history in Detroit over these next two weeks, or watch another great season fall short, Yaz is still Yaz. The legacy's not going anywhere. The greatness will never be forgotten.
So with that: Let's go, Miggy. Make it happen.
And thanks for reminding everyone here in Boston that there's still such thing as fun and meaningful September baseball.