Miguel Cabrera dons well-won Triple Crown

October, 3, 2012
10/03/12
10:20
PM ET
He did it. He did it? He did it!

By leading the American League with 44 home runs, a .330 average and 139 RBIs, Miguel Cabrera dons the first Triple Crown since 1967, becoming just the 10th player in modern major league history to do it.

Since Carl Yastrzemski won the last Triple Crown in in 1967, we have seen the mound lowered, amphetamines, expansion, steroids and Coors Field, and yet no one has done it. This just goes to show that the Triple Crown is no easy feat.

OK, that might seem fairly obvious, but think about the three key skills it takes to win a Triple Crown:

Game-breaking power
That’s straightforward enough, but other people might play in bandboxes like Coors Field or the Gap. You’ve got to be as good as or better than the best to win.

Ability to hit for a high average and deliver a lot of hits
Again, not a common skill, and something even harder to possess if you’re a right-handed hitter: From that ’67 season, the AL and NL have had 13 right-handed batters apiece win batting titles, or 26 out of a possible 90.

If you’re right-handed, odds are you’re going to be challenged to win, not because of the other guys like you, but because lefties are an extra step closer to first, which could mean an extra few infield hits over the course of the season. That's enough to swing a batting crown. Miggy is the first right-hander to win back-to-back titles since Nomar Garciaparra in 1999-2000. He also has become the first right-handed Triple Crown winner since Frank Robinson in 1966. The National League hasn’t had a righty do it since Joe Medwick in 1937, a decade before integration.

[+] EnlargeMiguel Cabrera
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireIt takes a rare combination of skills to win a Triple Crown, and Cabrera has them.
Good health
Surprise! No, the third skill is not “run-producer” or some other euphemism for clutch hitting. Calling Miggy a run-producer acknowledges the extra benefit of his first two gifts: lots of extra-base hits and lots of hits, period. Racking up runs batted in is a function of those things plus lineup position -- something the manager decides for you -- and having teammates to drive home in droves. So Austin Jackson, Quintin Berry and Omar Infante -- the guys batting first or second ahead of Miggy -- take a bow, you built this, too.

Although RBI totals aren’t a skill, the power to plate people is, and there’s no better way to rack up that total than to be healthy enough to get your name in the lineup card day after day during the season’s six-month slog. And give Miggy his due: The man rarely misses a day of work, having played 160 or more games in four of the past five seasons.

Admittedly, there’s a litany of nouveau smart arguments lined up to chip away at what Miggy’s done, and that’s sort of sad -- sabermetrics really should be enlisted for better purposes than to try and add a Nelson Muntz-like “ha-HA!” to the end of an achievement.

I’ll admit to a bit of mystification about why anyone wants to poke holes in Cabrera’s season. Sure, some of it’s about conflating the AL MVP debate -- Miggy or Mike Trout, who ya got? -- with the historical significance of Cabrera’s Triple Crown, but that’s a different conversation, and one that shouldn’t have to involve tearing Miggy down.

Take a metric like OPS+, which can tell you Cabrera now has the lowest OPS+ ever for a Triple Crown winner. To which I’d still say: So what? If it was so easy, lots of people would be doing it, but they haven’t. OPS+, however well-intentioned as an informational tool, doesn’t perfectly capture the historical problems with evaluating the lower talent levels of baseball prior to integration (when Triple Crowns were more common), or the enormous breadth of talent from across the globe that populates the game today. It doesn’t have anything to say about performance-enhancing drugs, which might have put league-leading home run tallies out of reach for non-users.

So celebrate this, because it’s really sort of cool. They say journalism is the first draft of history, but it isn’t: History is what happens, and we live in it. If you’re Miguel Cabrera, you make it. Let’s plug Miggy’s feat for what it is: Amazing, improbable and fun. The last Triple Crown happened before many of you were born. Hell, it happened before I was born. Enjoy it. Argue about it if you please, but enjoy it -- no, relish it. Because 45 years later, you might very well be telling your grandkids you were around to see the last time it happened.


Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.

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