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Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown numbers provide a snapshot of greatness and link us to history

Updated on October 4, 2012

I have no memory of Carl Yastrzemski’s Triple Crown in 1967, or Frank Robinson’s a year earlier for that matter. I was 8 when Yaz won his and I do have memories from the time I was 8 (although my only visual memory of the 1967 World Series for some reason is Jim Lonborg pitching to Curt Flood – not sure why that particular tidbit has stuck in my brain all these years). Perhaps I don’t remember Yastrzemski’s Triple Crown because I was too young, or because it had happened just the year before so it didn’t seem meaningful or, more probably, because at the time I was far more interested in going outside to play baseball with my brothers than poring over baseball statistics.

I always assumed I’d see another one soon. Dick Allen came within 10 points of winning it in 1972. Then Fred Lynn and Jim Rice came along, combining power and average, and I thought it might happen then. In the 1980s I thought Don Mattingly had a legitimate shot at winning one. Albert Belle, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez provided that hope in the 1990s and then Albert Pujols in the 2000s. I really didn’t think it would take 45 years before one happened that I could actually remember.

Year
Player
Team
BA, HR, RBI
2012
Miguel Cabrera
Detroit, AL
.330, 44, 139
1967
Carl Yastrzemski
Boston, AL
.326, 44, 121
1966
Frank Robinson
Baltimore, AL
.316, 49, 122
1956
Mickey Mantle
New York, AL
.353, 52, 130
1947
Ted Williams
Boston, AL
.343, 42, 114
1942
Ted Williams
Boston, AL
.356, 36, 137
1937
Joe Medwick
St. Louis, NL
..374, 31, 154
1934
Lou Gehrig
New York, AL
.363, 49, 165
1933
Jimmie Foxx
Philadelphia, AL
.356, 48, 163
1933
Chuck Klein
Philadelphia, NL
.368, 28, 120
1925
Rogers Hornsby
St. Louis, NL
.403, 39, 143
1922
Rogers Hornsbey
St. Louis, NL
.401, 42, 152
1909
Ty Cobb
Detroit, AL
.377, 9, 107
1901
Nap Lajoie
Philadelphia, AL
.426, 14, 125

Note: Some references, apparently going by MLB's web site, list Heinie Zimmerman of the Cubs winning the Triple Crown in 1912 with 103 RBIs; however, when you look at the individual stats for Zimmerman on MLB's web site it correctly lists him with 99 RBIs, which was good for third place that year. There is also confusion about 1932 as some references list Jimmie Foxx as winning, while others have Dale Alexander, who played for two teams, winning the batting title that year. MLB's web site adds to the confusion by not listing Foxx's 1932 season among its Triple Crown winners, but on Foxx's individual site listing him as winning all three categories that season. Some references also omit Cobb and Lajoie from the list since RBI was not an official statistic then.

Cabrera's big season collides with Trout's great year

So Miguel Cabrera winning the Triple Crown this year is a significant event in the life of a baseball junkie like me. And, it seems, in the lives of many baseball fans, especially those like me who waited so long to see this historical achievement.

Ironically, it happened in a year when Mike Trout had unquestionably the best season ever by a rookie. Not only that, it was possibly a better season than Cabrera’s and he accomplished half of it before he was old enough to legally drink.

Unintentionally, Cabrera and Trout have become the poster boys for old-school statistics and the new sabermetrics stats. It has become sort of a car versus horse-and-buggy, computer vs. typewriter type of argument, especially in regard to the MVP voting. Some people believe the Triple Crown makes Cabrera the MVP because it clearly makes him the best player in the league. Others think that newer stats, especially the math-heavy ones, do a much better job at predicting a player’s worth, and those point to Trout.

Cabrera's Triple Crown links us to greats of the past

But no matter which you believe, there is still something about Cabrera’s Triple Crown that holds a special place for most of us.

I think part of it is the connection to history. Unless you’re older than me, this is probably the first Triple Crown in your memory too. Not only is it special in its unique achievement, but it also gives us a tie to Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams and Lou Gehrig and Rogers Hornsby and Ty Cobb and the other past winners.

History is a huge part of baseball and Miguel Cabrera is now a part of our personal baseball history. In some ways, he may be a bigger part of the average fan’s history than any previous winner because of television and all the chances we got to see him play, or at least watch highlights of his achievements.


Triple Crown stats provide a quick snapshot of greatness

But there is also a simplicity about the numbers that give us an instant snapshot of what Cabrera accomplished. Those who favor the new stats are correct in saying there are better ways of determining a player’s true value. But there is something about those three numbers – batting average, home runs and RBIs – that are quickly and easily understood by everyone.

Batting average, according to some, is an archaic means of determining a player’s value. On base percentage, which counts walks and hit by pitch as well as hits, has more overall value than a batting average. But when you see that Cabrera hit .330 you instantly know that he got a hit a third of the time that he swung a bat. When you see that his OBP was .393, you don’t know which part of that number came from hits, from walks, from intentional walks, from being hit by a pitch. But his batting average is all about hits. It means something because we know from our own experiences in Little League or high school or college ball that getting a hit a third of the time is a significant achievement.

When we see Cabrera had 44 homers, we instantly know that he has power. Historically, we know that 40 homers (except for the late ‘90s-early 2000s) is a number that only those with legitimate power reach.

Runs batted in is another statistic that is widely panned by modern statisticians. It’s more of a team stat, they say, because it’s dependent on people being on base in front of you. That’s true. Had Cabrera played for Kansas City or Houston, his RBI count might well be a lot less. But what his 139 RBIs do tell us, at a glance, is that when he came to bat with men on base he was largely successful at bringing them across the plate.

Cabrera may not be MVP but he holds a special place

No, the Triple Crown numbers themselves don’t tell us the whole story about a player. They say nothing about his defense or his running ability. There are plenty of statistics that tell us that Trout is a better all-around player and in all likelihood was more valuable than Cabrera.

But the Triple Crown numbers are a great snapshot. We can look at Cabrera’s batting average, home runs and RBIs and instantly know this guy had a great year, that he had to be among the leading hitters and was someone pitchers didn’t want to face. Knowing that he was the best at all three of those categories makes it even more obvious.

Miguel Cabrera may not win the MVP award – maybe shouldn’t win the award – but he has captured a special place in the hearts of baseball fans who have waited half a lifetime to see it accomplished.

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    • DJProfessorK profile image

      Kyle Ilgenfritz 5 years ago from York, PA

      Cabrera may be a better hitter at the moment, but the Angels wouldn't have had a chance at the playoffs if it wasn't for Trout. Those kind of stats and he didn't play for nearly a month of the season? Amazing. It's worth nothing that he's already one of the top three defensive centerfielders in the league.