- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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"If he stays healthy, I don't see any reason why he can't be the best hitter of all time."
The Best Hitter of All Time, huh?
Justin Verlander uttered those words 10 days ago, on the day Miguel Cabrera signed the biggest contract in the history of North American professional sports -- and only a week before Cabrera joined the prestigious 2,000 Hit Club.
At the age of (gulp) 30.
So let's think about this, seriously. Is it actually possible that Miguel Cabrera could wind up some day as The Best Hitter of All Time?
Well, there are a bunch of ways to look at that, obviously. So let's consider a few.
Can he catch Pete Rose?
That was Torii Hunter's prediction on the day Cabrera signed that contract: "Pete Rose? He can definitely get there -- and with power," Hunter said.
Uh, wait a second. Miggy turns 31 in a week and a half, and he isn't even halfway to Rose yet, you know. He'd still need another 2,254 hits to get to 4,256. And you don't exactly need both hands and both feet to count up the men who have gotten that many hits after reaching Cabrera's age.
That list contains precisely three names: Rose, Sam Rice and 19th-century hit factory Cap Anson. Miggy already has outhomered the three of them combined.
Here, according to baseball-reference.com's awesome Play Index, is your leaderboard in that department -- Most Career Hits, Starting With Age 31 Season:
1. Rose (1972-86), 2,532
2. Rice (1921-34), 2,350
3. Anson (1883-97), 2,272
4. Honus Wagner (1905-17), 2,043
5. Paul Molitor (1988-98), 1,988
Rose and Anson played to age 45. Rice hung around to age 44. Wagner stuck with it through age 43. Is Cabrera going to do that? Is he going to be healthy enough to do that? Is he going to be motivated enough to do that? Get back to us in a decade, OK?
Incidentally, here are the only six men in the division-play era to get within 500 hits of 2,200 after reaching Cabrera's age: Molitor, Ichiro Suzuki (1,824), Omar Vizquel (1,805), Craig Biggio (1,781), Carl Yastrzemski (1,716) and Dave Winfield (1,711).
Can he catch Barry Bonds?
For the record, Cabrera (366 homers) isn't even halfway to Bonds' home run total (762), or even halfway to Hank Aaron's 755, for that matter. Miggy would need 396 to catch Bonds, 389 to tie Aaron. You think that's happening? I don't.
Here are the only three men to hit 389 home runs or more starting with their age-31 season, according to the Play Index. You may have heard of them.
Babe Ruth, 405
What's interesting here is that the three greatest home run hitters of all time had about the same number of home runs at this age that Cabrera has -- or fewer. Aaron had exactly 366 through his age-30 season. Ruth had 309. Bonds had 308. So clearly, this isn't out of the question. But I'd still take the under. How 'bout you?
Can he catch Hank Aaron?
One more Cabrera prediction from Torii Hunter: "You're talking about a guy [who can get] 4,000 hits and 600-plus home runs. I mean, who does that? Is he human?"
So who does that? Nobody does that. Thanks for asking.
The only two members of the 4,000 Hit Club -- Rose and Ty Cobb -- hit 277 home runs put together. So the gold standard in the Lots and Lots of Hits and Homers Club is Aaron, naturally. You were expecting maybe Juan Pierre?
Aaron is the only player in history to finish with more than 3,500 hits (3,771) and more than 500 homers (755). And Stan Musial (3,630/475) and Yastrzemski (3,419/452) are the only other men to come close.
So here's the deal: To finish with Aaron's career numbers, Cabrera would need another 1,769 hits and another 389 home runs. Think that's easy enough? Guess again.
You know how many hitters have accumulated that many hits and homers after reaching Miggy's age? Not a one. Here's the 1,500-Hit/300-Homer From Age 31 On Club:
And that's that. Close calls: Bonds (1,499/470) and Andres Galarraga (1,503/293).
So what Cabrera would need to do, when you get right down to it, is to basically replicate the second half of Aaron's career -- only better. But in case you never noticed before, the first half of Cabera's career has been eerily similar to the first half of Aaron's career, if you pick the right columns on the old stat sheet anyway.
Check out their numbers, through their age-30 seasons (meaning Cabrera's stats this season aren't included, because he'll play most of this year at 31):
So is Miguel Cabrera really going to wind up as The Best Hitter of All Time? Don't bet the beach house on it. But the more you look at those Hank Aaron numbers, the more you think that fun little Justin Verlander prediction isn't as out of whack as you might have thought the first time you read it. Now is it?
Fun stuff from Week 1:
• "Injury" of the Week: Carlos Gonzalez had to leave the Rockies' game Wednesday in the sixth inning, after, um, swallowing his wad of chewing tobacco and, um, not feeling so hot. Just one more reason not to chew, kids.
• Special K of the Week: Yu Darvish became the fastest pitcher ever to reach 500 career strikeouts Sunday (doing it in 401.2 innings, in just his 62nd start). Best I can tell, the slowest, among all starters in the expansion era, was Vern Ruhle (1,405 innings, over 188 starts and 325 total trips to the mound).
• Box Score Symmetry of the Week: As loyal reader Brian Pollina pointed out, all eight Red Sox who played the full game Sunday went exactly 1 for 4. How cool was that? It's just the eighth time in the last 100 years any team has done that, by the way.
• Home Run Machine of the Week: The Diamondbacks are going to get hot and mess up this note. But just so you know, nobody has ever hit 50 home runs for a team that didn't win 50. But Mark Trumbo has five homers. And the Diamondbacks have two wins. Just sayin'.
• Hit Machine of the Week: Emilio Bonifacio had accumulated exactly one four-hit game since the 2009 All-Star break. He had a four-hit game and a five-hit game just in the first two games of this season. Baseball is awesome. Isn't it?
• Off the Hook Note of the Week: Felix Hernandez punched out 11 Angels in six innings on Opening Day, but was in line to be the losing pitcher when he departed. Then the Mariners did something miraculous: They scored two runs in the top of the seventh and turned him into the winning pitcher. Just so you know how tough it's been being Felix, he hadn't made a single start in which he left trailing and got a win out of it since Sept. 18, 2009. That was 136 starts ago, if you're counting.
• E-pidemic of the Week: As loyal reader Tom Wilson reports, the Rays' Brandon Guyer inspired a two-for-the-price-of-one sale Friday. Two swings. Two Rangers errors. In one at-bat. Here's how: First, he hit a foul popup that Prince Fielder dropped. That was one E. Then Guyer hit a chopper to third. Adrian Beltre bobbled it and threw late. That was E No. 2. Two errors on two swings. In one AB. You don't see that much.
• Ya Never Know Notes of the Week: OK, who saw this coming: The first multihomer game of the season came from Alejandro De Aza. Gio Gonzalez hit a home run before the Yankees hit one. And Victor Martinez stole a base before Billy Hamilton stole one. Gotta love baseball.
• Sprint Champ of the Week: Finally, scouts at Thursday's Mets-Nationals game clocked Bartolo Colon at 7.8 seconds "running" down the first-base line after a ground ball to short. And history was made. "Slowest time I've ever gotten since I've been doing this," said one scout. "But it really wouldn't shock me if he broke that record again before the season's over.”