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Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown chase

Not to suggest it's been a while since anybody won a Triple Crown, but the last time it happened (1967) a gallon of gas cost 33 cents … the average salary of a big league baseball player was $10,000 … and the Internet was so slow, it was almost like it didn't even exist. Heh-heh. Almost.

But now along comes Miguel Cabrera to threaten to force people to learn how to spell Yastrzemski again. And that's a beautiful thing. But as this edition of the September History Watch is about to report, there's all kinds of history out there for Cabrera to make, even if he doesn't win the Triple Crown:

First off, let's give you a clear picture of how special this is, to find a man making this serious run at the Triple Crown with a mere two weeks left in the season.

Miguel Cabrera
Miguel Cabrera hit home runs No. 39 and 40 Tuesday night against Oakland.

Cabera leads the league in batting average. And leads the league in RBIs. And is second in his league in home runs (40), just two back of Josh Hamilton. Well, friends, that's more astonishing than you might think.

This is Year 45 A.Y. (After Yastrzemski). And according to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the first time in any of those seasons that any player has reached the final two weeks of the season, and was leading his league in batting and RBIs, and within two of the lead in homers.

Think of all the great hitters who have roamed the baseball earth in all those years: George Brett, Johnny Bench, Albert Pujols, Barry Bonds, Mike Schmidt,. Kenneth Griffey Jr. and many more. None of them ever made this kind of run at a Triple Crown. But now Miguel Cabrera has. So he's already on historic turf.

• And now another tidbit that astounded us September History Watchers. Suppose Cabrera wins two-thirds of the Triple Crown but winds up second in home runs. That would seem like a disappointment, but maybe not after you hear this:

Would you believe that we're closing in on nearly a half-century since anyone won a Triple Crown, and nobody has had a season since in which he won two legs of this trifecta and finished second in the third category? That word, again, was "nobody." In fact, we've only had two third-place finishes by players who led in the other two:

• And now another incredible feat on Cabrera's plate: He leads the league in batting and RBIs. Plus, he has already hit 40 homers. Would you believe that, in the history of baseball, only two men have ever done that without winning a Triple Crown? Here they are:

• Speaking of Foxx, he's had his own unique Double Crown all to himself for more than 70 years, only to find himself in danger of having Cabrera crash his party. Amazingly, in the live ball era, Foxx is the only man ever to lead the American League in batting and RBIs but not win a Triple Crown. So even if Cabrera can't catch Hamilton in the home run race, if he leads the league in the other two categories, he'll still have done something cool and historic.

• Over in the NL, for some reason, that particular Double Crown (batting and RBI titles) hasn't been quite as rare. But it's still been done just six times in the past 85 years:

Of that group, only one man had a real shot at a Triple Crown in the last two weeks of the season. And that was the great Stan Musial, in 1948.

Ralph Kiner and Johnny Mize tied for the league lead in homers that year, with 40. Musial was sitting on 38 home runs with nine games left in the season but hit only one more and finished one behind them.

• Hold on. It gets better. Other than Musial, only one other player in the live ball era managed to lead his league in batting and RBIs and wind up as close to the league lead in home runs as Cabrera is now (two or closer). This man:

The immortal Rogers Hornsby in 1921 -- hit 21 homers and finished second in the league, two behind the eloquently nicknamed George (High Pockets) Kelly.

• Triple Crowns aside, Cabrera has a shot at a few other feats that got the September History Watch's attention. For one thing, he's on the verge of becoming a back-to-back batting champ.

The only other active player who can make that claim: Joe Mauer (2008-09).

The only other Tiger who has ever done that: Some dude named Ty Cobb, whoever he is (did it eight times).

• Back-to-back or not, just being a two-time batting champ is a rarity here in the post-Gwynn-and-Boggs era. The only two active players who have won a batting title more than once at any point: Mauer and Ichiro Suzuki (2001, 2004).

• Finally, even if Cabrera doesn't win the Triple Crown, he's already one of only three active players who have led their league in all three Triple Crown categories at some point in their careers -- just not in the same year. The others:

By the way, if Josh Hamilton leads the league in homers, he'd also join this list. But enough about him. This is supposed to be a Miguel Cabrera edition of the September History Watch. And as you've noticed, there's more than enough historic stuff on his agenda to keep us History Watchers busy without dragging anyone else into this opus.