By Joe Underhill
Detroit has seen some incredible performances in the first month of the season. The Tigers have had some great starts to the year in their history, twice starting a season 21-4 as a team. They have also had some incredible personal performances, from Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera in 2013 posting wRC+ scores of 172 and 174 respectively, to Chris Shelton hitting nine home runs in the first 13 games in 2006 before coming back to earth, to Jack Morris throwing his first no-hitter on April 7, 1984. However, none can match the historical impact of what baseball fans have witnessed this April from Miguel Cabrera.
Miguel Cabrera began his career on June 20, 2003, and collected his first hit on a walk-off home run in the 11th inning off Tampa Bay Devil Rays reliever Al Levine. Cabrera is not a stranger to strong April performances -- in his 20-year career, Cabrera has posted an OPS+ of 150 or higher 11 times in the month of March/April. This April, Cabrera has continued to hit at a high average (.294) but without his customary power (zero home runs at time of this writing). However, what Cabrera accomplished on Saturday, April 23, was a feat baseball fans will probably not see for a very long time (if ever).
With his hit off Rockies starter and fellow Venezuelan Antonio Senzatela, Cabrera became just the 33rd player to reach 3,000 career hits and only the seventh to also accumulate over 500 home runs -- the other six are Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Rafael Palmeiro, Eddie Murray, Albert Pujols, and Alex Rodriguez. Cabrera said during Spring Training that his march to 500 home runs was far more stressful than reaching 3,000 hits.
When looking at the exclusive 3,000/500 club, Cabrera holds the highest career batting average and is one of only two players with career batting averages over .300. Also, with one more double, Cabrera will join Hank Aaron and Albert Pujols as the only players in MLB history with 3,000-plus hits, 500-plus home runs and 600-plus doubles.
While his traditional average and power numbers are lower than what Cabrera has posted in his heyday, the historic nature of this April elevates it to the best in Tigers history. While he is not the feared power hitter he once was, his attitude towards the game is pure. When the Yankees intentionally walked him in the eighth inning with runners on second and third while he sat at 2,999 hits, Cabrera reminded the booing crowd that the walk was good because the Tigers were winning (and they did win the game, 3-0). Afterwards, Cabrera told reporters, “I went 0-for-3, but we got a chance to win. Beautiful.”
As Cabrera continues his march towards a first-ballot election to Cooperstown, he cares more about his team winning than reaching more personal milestones. Yet, as fans, we get the opportunity to watch one of the greatest players in MLB history and the all-time best April performer in Tigers history. And that’s worth celebrating!