Hello and welcome back to Connor’s Corner, a column where I discuss a standout performance in professional sports and that player’s journey from high school to the professional level. It’s hard to believe, but the MLB regular season is over. As usual, many teams will be watching this postseason from the couch, including the New York Mets, who many saw going all the way this year. Perhaps the biggest news is that Detroit Tigers legend Miguel Cabrera has officially played his last game in an MLB uniform. Ultimately, Cabrera’s retirement represents the passing of the torch from one generation of talent to the other. Because of his historic career and the impact he has had not only on the field, but in Venezuela and the city of Detroit, the Tigers’ first baseman is the topic of focus for this week’s edition of Connor’s Corner.
Five years from now, when he is eligible, there is little doubt that the 40-year-old will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, as Cabrera has had one of the most extraordinary careers in professional sports history. He finished his 20-year stint with 3,174 hits, 16th all-time; 511 home runs, 25th all-time; two American League MVPs, 12 all-star appearances, a Triple Crown and a 2003 World Series ring for good measure. If you aren’t convinced of his ability on the field yet, Cabrera joins Willie Mays and Hank Aaron as the only players ever to retire with a .300+ average, 500+ home runs and 3,000+ hits.
Many younger baseball fans don’t know this, but the Venezuelan used to play for the Florida Marlins before they were the Miami Marlins. In 2003, when Cabrera came up as a rookie, the Marlins were pitted against a formidable force in the New York Yankees. Despite being a rookie at the time, Cabrera played a significant role on that Marlin team as he started all six games.
However, he didn’t find much success, hitting under .200 in the series. It didn’t matter, as Florida upset New York 4-2, giving Cabrera his one and only World Series win.
Caberea hails from Maracay, Venezuela, and from a young age, immediately took an interest in America’s pastime. At 16-years-old, he started in the winter leagues with the Tigres de Aragua. Interestingly enough, the future Hall of Famer was regarded as a critical piece in the greatest dynasty in the Venezuelan circuit, as they won four titles in five seasons. At 17, in 2000, he was signed by the Florida Marlins, and he spent his teenage years playing for the Utica Blue Sox. Cabrera climbed the ranks, eventually getting the call-up to the show in 2003, where he never looked back. In 2008, Caberea left the Venezuelan Winter League for good. Originally, Cabrera played shortstop. In 2002, the Marlins moved him to third base, as he had a strong arm, and this is where he played for a good chunk of his major league career. The Venezuela native immediately found success in the Sunshine State as he owned an excellent .294 batting average, 33 home runs and 112 RBI in his first full season. His next two seasons were just as good, if not better, and because of this, the Marlins had a major dilemma on their hands. The Marlins did not have the financial capital to give Cabrera a contract relative to what he would garner in an open market. So, Florida dealt Cabrera to the Detroit Tigers, where he spent the rest of his career.
Cabrera’s time in the Motor City was nothing short of legendary. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career came in 2012 when Cabrera won the Triple Crown. The Triple Crown is when a player leads the league in batting average, RBI and home runs. This achievement is so rare that Carl Yastrzemski was the last player to do it in 1967. His performance that season was so convincing that the Tigers made a World Series appearance, ultimately getting swept by the Giants. A consolation that season for the first basemen is that he was named AL MVP. In his next season, Cabrera arguably played at an even higher level, leading the AL with a .348 batting average, mashing 44 home runs and 137 RBIs. He did not win the Triple Crown, as Chris Davis of the Orioles led the league in home runs and RBI. Again, Cabrera’s high level of play brought playoff baseball back to the Motor City, however, the Red Sox knocked the Tigers out of the ALCS. Cabrera’s success continued as he won AL MVP honors for the second year in a row. Cabrera posted three more solid seasons until 2017 when he struggled at the plate, and in 2018, he suffered a ruptured biceps tendon. Despite his regression, he was still above average and served as a top bat on a struggling Tigers roster.
This is truly the end of an era. Many readers around the age of 20 grew up looking up to players like Cabrera, Adam Wainwright and Albert Pujols, witnessing all of their primes as they learned to love the sport. All of these superstars accomplished much in their long careers and have all walked away from the game. Now, the league is composed of a new generation of talent and a vastly different game than 10 years ago. Pitchers throw over 100 mph on the regular, hitting 30 home runs in a season isn’t rare and, of course, players like Shohei Ohtani dominate from the mound and the dish. It’s now up to this new era of young talent to inspire the next generation of viewers.