JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight, an historic and nonpartisan event, this one on the baseball diamond.
ANNOUNCER: And a standing ovation for Miguel Cabrera, and his teammates are there to greet him.
JEFFREY BROWN: It’s a Major League milestone that no one had reached for nearly half-a-century, until last night. Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera claimed a Triple Crown, most home runs, best batting average and most runs batted in.
Cabrera finished the regular season with a .330 batting average. Along the way, he slugged 44 home runs.
ANNOUNCER: High drive deep right field, way back the other way, and gone!
JEFFREY BROWN: And had 139 runs batted in, all of them best in the American League.
The last player to complete that trifecta was Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski back in 1967. In fact, only 15 players have ever done it, including the likes of Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, and Mickey Mantle.
Now the newest Triple Crown winner and his Detroit teammates head into postseason play against Oakland on Saturday. The playoffs officially begin tomorrow, with a new format that includes two single-game showdowns between wild card teams.
Sports columnist Drew Sharp of The Detroit Free Press has watched Miguel Cabrera’s remarkable season up close. And he joins us now.
So, Drew, how significant is this and why is it so hard to do?
DREW SHARP, The Detroit Free Press: Well, it’s hard to do because again it’s a hard game in baseball, and you have to have a lot of good luck in your favor to lead the league in home runs, RBI, and average as well.
And, also, unlike 40 years ago, the game has become more specialized pitching wise, especially in the bullpen.
Whereas, before, a batter would face the starting pitcher four or five times, now you face a starter probably three times, and by the time he gets to the sixth inning, he’s out. Someone from the bullpen comes in.
So you’re probably facing three different pitchers an entire game, and that gives the pitching an advantage.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so tell us a little bit about Miguel Cabrera. He was a young phenomenon, but then he had some difficulties. How did he — tell us more about him. How did he get to this point?
DREW SHARP: Well, he’s one of the — one of the great hitters in baseball over the last 10 years.
Now, he — as a 20-year-old rookie for the Florida Marlins, they went to the World Series that year, and he was just one of these guys who just seemed to be — didn’t handle — he handled the pressure very easily.
He was in the clubhouse watching “The Three Stooges” before a World Series game and people thought, you should be a little tight, don’t you think?
He said no. He went out later that night and hit a key home run off of Roger Clemens. So he’s always been able to not let the pressure affect him on the field.
Now, he has had issues twice as a Tiger. He had some alcohol-related issues that made headlines and began to make people question his character. But he’s gotten — he’s trying to get that under control right now.
But he remains a kid who is playing this game in a lot of respects. He’s having so much fun. He’s always smiling. He’s always happy. And in a sport where you see so many egotists out there, it’s refreshing to see a guy who is at the top of his game, but still looks like he’s having a lot of fun.
JEFFREY BROWN: I noticed in the sports conversations still a question about I guess sort of how complete a player he is on the field, as a fielder, as well as a hitter, and then this eternal question of who’s the most valuable player. It is somebody who’s done this or is it somebody who has helped his team in another way?
DREW SHARP: Well, I know. We talk about the Romney-Obama debate, but I think the Mike Trout-Miguel Cabrera MVP debate has been just as polarizing to a lot of people who are baseball fans, because you have the old school, with those following Miguel Cabrera saying the Triple Crown is one of the biggest individual accomplishments you can get in sport.
But you have the new age, the saber-metric crowd, who says that, well, Miguel Cabrera, he can’t run to save his life, his defense is average. All he can do is hit the ball.
DREW SHARP: And people say, well, isn’t that the basis of the game? You have to hit the ball to score a run.
So it’s a very passionate debate right now, but a lot of people think, if you won the Triple Crown, how can you not be the MVP, especially because, without Miguel Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers wouldn’t be opening in the American League playoffs Saturday, and Mike Trout’s team, the Angels, aren’t in the playoffs.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, speaking of that, Drew, Detroit has a very successful team going into the playoffs. Detroit is a city that has had a rough patch for a long time. What role does the — do the Tigers play at a moment like this?
DREW SHARP: They play an important role, because Detroit — I’m born and raised in this town.
And I have known for years that Detroiters live vicariously through their sports teams, because that’s basically all that we have in a lot of respects that we can embrace and take pride in. So, when the teams do well, it lifts everyone’s spirits.
They had three million people buying tickets for the Tigers games this year, and Detroit’s economy isn’t all that good right now. But that tells you how passionate these people are that they are going to take whatever disposable income they have and they are going to invest in something that means very special — something that is very important, very special to them.
So, people are very, very excited with the fact that the Tigers are in the playoffs.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, the playoffs begin. And we have this new format, so some teams are in this very quick one game. So a couple teams will just play one game and that’s it, right?
DREW SHARP: Yes, but I loved — I loved the change, because I thought there was a problem before that if a team realized that they already had the divisional championship wrapped up, they might slack off a little bit in the last few games of the season.
But now you saw, with the New York Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles and the Oakland A’s and the Texas Rangers, that it meant quite a bit this year to win your divisional championship, because you didn’t want to have that one-game playoff, because if you did, not only is it one game and you’re removed, but also it forces you to use your starting ace pitcher for that one game.
And if you win that game, you can probably only use him once in the next series. So, I think it’s done a great thing for adding more interest, but also it’s made winning your divisional championship more valuable.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Drew Sharp, Detroit Free Press, thanks so much.
DREW SHARP: Thank you.