Passing his boyhood idol is a big deal for Cabrera

Miguel Cabrera grew up idolizing fellow Venezuelan Andres Galarraga.

Miguel Cabrera grew up idolizing fellow Venezuelan Andres Galarraga.

It was fitting that Miguel Cabrera’s 400th home run came in a National League ballpark. Cabrera began his career in the NL chasing his hero. Andres Galarraga was the biggest superstar and the greatest player to ever come out of Venezuela, and when Big Miggy was just Little Miggy growing up in that small Central American nation, he idolized the man they called Big Cat.

On a rainy Saturday afternoon in St. Louis last weekend, the Detroit Tigers’ best player reached the milestone on a high fly ball to straightaway center in the first inning. It was Cabrera’s 400th home run, putting him one ahead of Galarraga, a national hero in Venezuela.

Not a Classic Home Run Hitter

Some great players hit home runs because they tried to hit them, like Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, and Ken Griffey Jr..

But some great players hit home runs as a byproduct of their amazing ability, like Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, and Albert Pujols.

Miguel Cabrera is that way.

Even though Miggy can hit a baseball as far as anyone in the game today, you don’t watch him in the batters’ box in anticipation of a home run like you did Reggie Jackson for example. No, you watch Cabrera because every at-bat is a masterful display of balance, timing, and a professional approach to the art of hitting. Every time he steps to the plate you figure Miguel will hit the ball hard. A home run is a possibility, but it’s not his calling card. In 2012 he led the league in home runs sure enough, but he also won the batting title and led the league in RBIs too. That’s called the triple crown and only 12 other players have done that since 1901. Rare? It’s unheard of.

Galarraga tutored a young Miggy

Venezuela has a population of 30 million, or about the size of Texas. It’s a country where family and tradition are taken very seriously. Sports are also, and baseball is one of the most popular pastimes in the country. Growing up in Venezuela, Miguel Cabrera and every other young person, had one hero when it came to baseball, and that was Andres Galarraga, a man so popular in that nation that he has a river named after him. Even before Cabrera was signed by the Florida Marlins in 1999, the youngster had a connection with Galarraga. When he was 14 years old, young Miggy attended a baseball camp held by Galaragga and he got hitting lessons from the big league all-star when he was 16.

Amazingly, it was only four years after his 16th birthday when Cabrera made his big league debut with the Marlins, and Galaragga was still in the major leagues playing for the Giants. In a dream come true, Miggy got to stand on the same field with his idol in late August during a three-game series at Pac Bell Park in San Francisco with the Fish. On August 24th, Cabrera showed off in front of his fellow countryman, blasting a home run against Galarraga’s team, the ninth of his career. At that time, Galarraga had 395 home runs and who would have thought that the skinny little kid wearing #20 for the Marlins would pass him on the all-time list just 12 years later?

With his triple crown, three batting titles, and shelves of awards and honors, Cabrera has eclipsed Galarraga as the greatest player from Venezuela. He’s not just one of the great Latin-born players of all-time, he’s one of the great hitters from anywhere of all-time. He stacks up against the best right-handed hitters in history: Napoleon Lajoie, Rogers Hornsby, Jimmy Foxx, Willie Mays, Henry Aaron, and Albert Pujols.

But while Miggy has earned the right to be considered alongside those legends, it’s more important to him to have passed his boyhood idol. When he goes back to Venezuela this winter it’ll be with a big smile on his face (per usual, right?) but he’ll also have a lot of pride.