Some Latin American Spice (and a Free Taco) Added to Baseball’s Ultimate Achievement – The Triple Crown

Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera smiles while being intentionally walked by the Oakland Athletics during the third inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012. / AP PHOTO/PAUL SANCYA

George Will, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, ABC commentator and baseball author once observed in one of his many syndicated columns “Correct thinkers think that ‘baseball trivia’ is an oxymoron: nothing about baseball is trivial.”

For those not immersed in professional baseball and its link to statistics might be wondering — what’s the big deal with this thing called the Triple Crown?  Perhaps you thought the Triple Crown was the elusive trio of U.S thoroughbred victories in the three consecutive races known as the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes which has only happened eleven times and not since 1978 when Affirmed galloped to victory with jockey Steve Cauthen aboard.

And nothing about the accomplishments of the Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera during the 2012 baseball season has been trivial. Cabrera, who became the 15th player ever to win the Triple Crown (batting average, home runs and RBI leader) and the first since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, when a man called LBJ occupied the White House.

Cabrera led the American League this year with a .330 batting average, 44 home runs, and 139 RBI’s.  The Venezuelan-born slugger joins a list of iconic Triple Crown winners and is the first of the achievers not born in the United States.  Baseball legends not on the Triple Crown list include such immortals as Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Roberto Clemente, Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, and Stan Musial.

So what makes baseball’s almost unreachable peak so special and difficult that it hasn’t happened in 45 years?  A batter who is a home run hitter typically strikes out frequently trying to hit the ball over the outfield wall.

Batters who hit for a high average, and league winners of the batting title usually hit for an average of .330 to .370 but rarely hit a great deal of home runs.  Successful batters in the Runs Batted In category (RBI’s) are focused on making contact with the ball with other runners on base and thus must hit the ball at the location it’s pitched and often sacrifice numbers in batting average and in home runs.

Winning the Triple Crown, a rare feat is difficult because the hitter is succeeding simultaneously at all the three categories and the feat is rarely accomplished. (see list)

Triple Crown Winners: Batting

(Lead league in Batting Average, Home Runs & RBIs)

 

American League

 YEAR PLAYERHRRBIAVG
 2012Miguel Cabrera, Detroit44139.330
 1967Carl Yastrzemski, Boston44121.326
 1966Frank Robinson, Baltimore49122.316
 1956Mickey Mantle, New York52130.353
 1947Ted Williams, Boston32114.343
 1942Ted Williams, Boston36137.356
 1934Lou Gehrig, New York49165.363
 1933Jimmie Foxx, Philadelphia48163.356
 1909Ty Cobb, Detroit*9115.377
 1901Nap Lajoie, Philadelphia*14125.422

 

National League

 YEAR PLAYERHRRBIAVG
 1937Joe Medwick, St. Louis31154.374
 1933Chuck Klein, Philadelphia28120.368
 1925Rogers Hornsby, St. Louis39143.403
 1922Rogers Hornsby, St. Louis42152.401
 1912Heinie Zimmerman, Chicago*14103.372
 1894Hugh Duffy, Boston*18145.438
 1878Paul Hines, Providence*450.358
* RBI was not an official statistic before 1920
Source: MLB.com

After two games in this year’s World Series between the Detroit Tigers and the San Francisco Giants, Cabrera has yet to ignite his Tigers and they trail 2 – 0 to the Giants.  The post-season finale is being broadcast on FOX and Pepsi owned Taco Bell offers a unique promotional giveaway, replacing baseball’s traditional hotdog for a free taco to any and all for every stolen base during the series.  Clearly, the creative offering seems to have predicted the arrival of the Latin American Super Hero, Miguel “Cabby” Cabrera.

Cabrera, born in Venezuela to a father who was a professional baseball player and a mother who was a star shortstop for the country’s national softball team arrived on the scene as a soft spoken, 20-year-old in 2003 and signed with the Florida Marlins.

He showed immediate signs of hitting greatness as he launched a walk-off home run in his first major league game becoming only the third player since 1900 to hit a game winning home run in his first game in the “show.”  That same rookie year Cabrera would help lead the Florida Marlins to a World Series victory over the Yankees in 2003.

Showing versatility in the field, Cabrera has started at least 100 games at first base, third base, left field and right field.  He is a seven time all star and previously won the AL home run title in 2008, the RBI title in 2010, and his first batting championship in 2011.  Yet it’s the Triple Crown that lands him in perhaps professional sports’ most exclusive club.  The Triple Crown is rare  among individual achievements in a team sport where the best hitters fail between 65 and 85 percent of the time.

When a 29-year-old conquers a sport it’s natural to wonder if he can repeat such greatness in the years to follow.  Can Cabrera lead the Tigers to World Championship on top of his Triple Crown?  If so, he would join the 1956 World Series Champion New York Yankees led by Mickey Mantle and the 1966 Baltimore Orioles led by Frank Robinson.

The 2012 American and National League Most Valuable Player has already been voted on by the Baseball Sports Writers Association and the winner will be announced following the post season.

Surely Miguel Cabrera is deserving of the MVP honor but it’s not a given. Only five Triple Crown winners also were named MVP in their respective leagues the same year of their batting exploits; Jimmie Foxx in 1933, Joe Medwick in 1937, Mickey Mantle in 1956, Frank Robinson in 1966, and Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon stated,

 

“We’re looking at history and we’re looking at a Hall of Famer,” McClendon said. “We ought to take it in and enjoy it. The talk about this guy not being MVP to me is just absurd. This doesn’t happen that often, especially not today with the power arms we have and the specialists coming out of the bullpens. I’m not trying to take anything away from prior generations, but I think it was harder to accomplish today than it was 45 years ago.”

“Baseball is Heaven’s gift to mortals,” wrote George Will in his 1999 book Bunts. Miguel Cabrera has etched his name in the record books of baseball at age 29, and is Venezuela’s, if not Heavens’ gift to America’s pastime known simply as baseball.

Update #1

Giant’s Angel Pagan won everyone in America a free taco from Taco Bell on Oct. 30 when he stole a base in the 8th inning of the second game of the World Series.