Where does Cabrera rank among Tiger greats?

Miguel Cabrera has won two batting titles, two home run titles, and two RBI titles in just five seasons as a Tiger.

Miguel Cabrera has won two batting titles, two home run titles, and two RBI titles in just five seasons as a Tiger.

As if to say “How you like me now?” or “See, I told you so,” Miguel Cabrera is off to a red-hot start to the 2013 season on the heels of his MVP campaign.

It’s amazing that there were people who felt that Mike Trout – not Miggy – deserved the Most Valuable Player award in 2012. Cabrera led the American League in batting, home runs, and runs batted in, becoming the first batter to win baseball’s Triple Crown in 45 years. He did that while playing a position he hadn’t played regularly in five years. The more facts I write here, the more ridiculous it seems that anyone with half a baseball brain actually debated whether or not Cabby should have been given the MVP Award last season.

At what point does a hot start stop being a hot start and become simply “another incredible season”? We’re 1/4th of the way into the ’13 season, and the Tiger slugger is leading the league in hits, on-base percentage, runs batted in, and he’s in the batting lead (again). If Cabrera wins the batting title again this season, they may want to consider renaming the trophy “Miggy’s Toy.”

As Tiger fans, it’s a treat to witness the incredible talent that Cabrera brings to the plate 4-5 times every game. His bat speed, his strike zone recognition, his coordination and opposite field power, and his ability to pull inside pitches, is all impressive. He’s the baddest man with a baseball bat in his hands. I’m talking Michael Jackson bad, here.

Now in his sixth season as a Tiger, Cabrera is starting to reach milestones with the club. This season he collected his 1,000th hit in a Detroit uniform. Later this year he’ll belt his 200th home run as a Tiger. Impressive, especially considering that the other Tigers to reach that plateau had the benefit of hitting in cozy Tiger Stadium. Cabrera hits home runs in Comerica Park or Yosemite National Park, it doesn’t make a difference to him.

Cabrera has two more years after this season on an 8-year deal with the Tigers. We can assume that before that expires, Mr. Ilitch will pony up and pay him a monster load of money to remain a Tiger for the rest of his playing career. How much should Miggy get in a new deal? I’m reminded of what Joe DiMaggio said when he was asked how much money he could have made if he had put up his statistics while playing for Yankee owner George Steinbrenner.

“I would walk into his office”, DiMag said, “shake his hand, and say ‘George, we’re about to become partners.’ ”

Ilitch might have to split his empire with Cabrera in a few years when he’s a free agent. Maybe also rename the pizza shops, “Little Miggy’s”. Whatever it takes, Cabrera deserves to wear the “D” on his uniform for the remainder of his Hall of Fame career.

Which begs the question: 11 years into his career and six into his tenure in Detroit, where does Cabrera rank among the greatest Tigers of all-time? Though still piling up credentials, Cabby seems to have done enough to warrant placement among the very best ballplayers to play in the Motor City. But where?

For a franchise rich in tradition and batting greatness like Detroit, the conversation of “Greatest Ever” begins with Ty Cobb. Miggy would have to win 10 more batting titles (yes, really) to equal the number Ty won as a Tiger. Cobb was a center fielder and one of the greatest baserunners in baseball history. When he retired he owned more than 100 major league records. Not only is “The Georgia Peach” the greatest Tiger of them all, he can legitimately be discussed as perhaps the greatest player in baseball history.

Then we have Al Kaline, a Tiger for 22 seasons and a living legend in the city. There are three reasons Kaline is a greater Tiger than Cabrera (as of right now): (1) He has the advantage of the career numbers, which Miggy has to climb towards, (2) He was a better all-around player than Cabrera. Kaline won a bunch of Gold Gloves and he deserved every one, and (3) Kaline won a World Series with Detroit.

However, and I know this will irk the legion of Kaline fans out there, Cabrera is a better hitter than #6. He has more power, he pulls the ball better, he goes to the opposite field better, and he is a better RBI man than Al was. It’s not a knock on Kaline, because Cabrera is one of the best hitters to ever play the game. He has a career .320 batting average and his slugging marks are among the best of the last 25 years. Kaline had 3-4 seasons that were really good, but he was always getting hurt for three or four or five weeks a season, which kept his numbers down a bit. Cabrera has missed a grand total of 18 games in his six seasons as a Tiger. He’s in the lineup every day mashing.

The Tigers have several other Hall of Fame greats who starred in their lineup: Charlie Gehringer, Sam Crawford, Harry Heilmann, and George Kell among them. But Cabrera has already established himself as a better offensive player than those fellas. Which is why it’s a dead-certain lock that Miguel will have his mug on a plaque in Cooperstown some day.

There’s one more player I’d put ahead of Cabby as of now, and he’s the former Tiger who is most similar to the current Detroit star. Hank Greenberg was a powerful slugger who played first base, hit mammoth home runs, and drive in runs like it was a bodily function. What matches him well with Cabrera is the fact that Hank also hit for a high average. Baseball history has been filled with sluggers who could smack home runs and drive in runs. But the ability to do that and also hit for a high average is rare. Very rare. That’s why there have been so few Triple Crown winners. That’s why the list of guys who have even won an unnatural Triple Crown (led the league in HR, RBI, batting at any time in their career) is short too.

Given his fantastic season so far and his stellar career numbers to this point, Miguel Cabrera is already one of the four greatest Tigers to ever wear the uniform. Give him another 5-6 seasons and he’ll move up that list.

16 replies on “Where does Cabrera rank among Tiger greats?

  • KalineCountry Ron

    I think Al Kaline would be the first to say that Miggy is a better hitter than he was, mainly with the foul pole to foul pole homerun power. I’ve been watching/following our Tigers and mlb since Kaline’s career started, and off the top of my head can’t think of another right handed batter with more home run power to right and right center than Miguel Cabrera. As a hitter he is a Chess Master playing checkers, a very gifted and smart hitter. As Tigers fans we are truly blessed to be watching a hitter of Miguel Cabrera’s magnitude day in and day out. Dan, Your comparison to Hank Greenberg is a good one, and thankyou for another great Tigers story at Detroit Athletic.

  • Linus

    Cabrera was playing out-of-position . . . very poorly. The reason that Trout was as good as, if not better than, Cabrera last year is that Trout was the best-fielding CF in the league, and Cabrera was the worst-fielding 3B by rather a lot. Defense counts, too.

  • Rick

    Dan, as a Kaline fan all my life (he was and continues to be my favorite player of all time) I do have to admit Miggy is the better hitter. But old #6 was the better all around player as you mentioned. And although Miggy will surely surpass most of Mr. Kaline’s number’s. I’m betting guys my age who grew up with him Mr. Kaline will ALWAYS consider him to be the man! Another great article Dan keep it up I always enjoy reading your stories.

  • Randy

    I believe at the end of his career Cabrera will be recognized as one of the all time greats. I am most pleased that he seems to have control over his past publicized drinking issues. I am also very glad that the Florida Marlins have been run by a group of idiots that let Cabrera and the architect of the Tiger team, Dave Dombrowski get away. Their idiocy has truly been our gain.

  • Duane Lindstrom

    Ty Cobb’s place in baseball history is written, Miguel Cabrera’s is still being written, and great as Cabrera is, and as lofty a place as he may ever take, it’s correct to say that he will never surpass Cobb. Cobb was a superior all-round baseball player, and that makes the difference in my book. I’ve followed baseball since the early fifties, and have never seen anyone master the hitting game any more than Miguel, though Stan Musial and Ted Williams came close, but Cobb’s matery of the entire game places him, in my opinion, on a pedestal above all others. Ty Cobb WAS the best player of all time, period.

  • Gary Steinke

    Dan, if you keep writing for DAC I’ll keep reading. I didn’t understand the debate last year about the MVP. A jerk on the MLB Network went so far as to say Trout was the best player in all of baseball, really? What’s Trout doing this year? There was no question about who the MVP was, and 20 of the 26 writers got it right. Here’s one person who’s had the privilege of seeing both Kaline and Cabrera play who would take Cabrera over Kaline in a heart beat. 2 more things, does anyone else hate the Texas Rangers? and GO WINGS!!!

  • kizer

    Get rid of that silly Willie Horton Statue (not even the best 23 in Tiger history) and make room for Miggy’s

  • Gary Steinke

    Let’s keep one thing in mine when debating who the best players are. Early baseball didn’t have the talent pool it does today. Cobb, Greeberg, ect. didn’t play against Afro-Americans, Latin and Asia players. The only players they faced were pretty much their fellow white Americans. Today’s players are playing against the best in the world. How would Cobb stack up in today’s pool of players? It’s something we’ll never know.

  • Cliff Parker

    Man I got to agree with Gary Steinke on this article; whatever psycho stated that Mike Trout should be the MVP last year in 2012 needs to have a labotomy!!!!! Miggy is already a World Series Champion with the Marlins and he will get another World Series ring with the Tigers. Miggy definitely needs to finish his career with the Tigers, because he is Tigers baseball at its finest. One more thing, I ALSO HATE AND DESPISE THE TEXAS RANGERS!!!!!!!!!! They never won a world title and they are overrated; both St. Louis and San Francisco proved that in the World Series!!! By the way, DAN once again is the MAN for writing such another great article on Detroit Sports History. GO WINGS, AND I ALSO HATE CHICAGO TOO; THEY SUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Cliff Parker

    To kizer: with all due respect, Willie “The Wonder” Horton was one of the best players to wear a Detroit Tigers uniform, o.k. He is a hometown Detroit raised ball player that came into the majors in 1964 and played along side the great Al Kaline. Just like Prince Fielder did in his youth while at batting practice at Tiger Stadium, Willie Horton was hitting home runs out of Tiger Stadium while he was still in high school and in the pros for the Tigers. Bottom line, all of the honored Detroit Tigers players featured as statues in the CoPa ALL DESERVE TO BE THERE NO MATTER WHAT, so stop saying that some of those honored players that are tributed as statues, that worked hard to earn those honors, should be removed because it is total nonsense to do anything like that. Once Miggy retires as a Tiger and have, hopefully, earned a world championship ring or two with the Tigers, then just make room for a statue to be made for him there at the CoPa without removing any of the existing statues that are already there in tribute for the past players that wore the Ol’ English “D” for the Detroit Tigers no matter what their RACE, COLOR, CREED, or RELIGION they were. Also, once again to Gary Steinke: great blog for sticking up for Will Horton!!!

  • Dan Holmes

    Gary – thanks for the kind words, I appreciate your loyalty to the blog. Also agree wholeheartedly with your take on the talent levels. No one admires the way Ty Cobb played more than I do, but he played in an era where the best players were MUCH better than the bottom 30-40% of the talent pool. That’s part of the reason that Cobb, Ruth, Walter Johnson, and others who played before the 1930s dominated so much. They were great players, but they wouldn’t put up those sort of numbers in today’s game.

  • Dan Holmes

    Cliff – I think it must be a LAW that Detroit fans hate Chicago sports teams. Between the Blackhawks, Bears, Bulls, and White Sox, we have lots to hate!

    Thanks for reading so faithfully.

  • Dan Holmes

    Kizer – There are those who feel that Willie’s statue doesn’t belong in the same class as those for the Hall of Famers out there. Every other statue is of a Hall of Fame member. I don’t have that big a problem with it, but I can see why some would question it. From my sources, there are former players who question it too.

  • Dan Holmes

    Duane –

    “Ty Cobb’s place in baseball history is written, Miguel Cabrera’s is still being written,”

    I wish I had written that in my column. Well stated.


  • Dan Holmes

    Randy – You make two great points: 1) We don’t hear much about Miggy’s drinking issues and he seems to have really matured, 2) The Marlins really gave us a gift. Remember when some questioned that we may have overpaid for Cabrera in that trade?

  • Dan Holmes

    Linus – Defense does count, but I don’t believe that it mattered so much that it tipped the scales in Trout’s favor. Most of the MVP voters agreed.

    Thanks for reading!

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