The new Miguel Cabrera is just like the old one: hitting and having way too much fun

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·MLB columnist
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In a hotel lobby last week, David Price was chatting with his parents when Miguel Cabrera came over to say hello. He was on his way to grab a car to the ballpark. First he needed to fetch a package, so he meandered over to the bellhop desk, acquired the box and opened it. Inside was a royal-blue boxing robe. Cabrera slipped it over his shoulders, modeled it for Price, scampered out to the car and wore it to the ballpark.

Price didn't ask whether he got it because of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight or to needle their opponent that night, the scuffle-happy Kansas City Royals. It didn't really matter. This was just another story for Price to add to his running list of how his trade to the Detroit Tigers turned into an opportunity to watch one of the best right-handed hitters ever do things with a bat few can do – and in the clubhouse, too.

"It's been the coolest thing about being here: seeing Miggy every day," Price said. "I'll always have the utmost respect for him, but seeing what he is every day. It's greatness on the field and in the clubhouse. The way he treats all the young guys, everyone in here. That's how he does it."

Miguel Cabrera is hitting .351 with six home runs this season. (AP)
Miguel Cabrera is hitting .351 with six home runs this season. (AP)

Now in his 13th major league season, Cabrera is at the point in his career that will determine whether he's merely a Hall of Famer – he's got that locked up already – or in the discussion for the best right-handed hitter of all time. And beyond that, he gets to continue rewriting his personal story, further burying a pair of ugly alcohol-related incidents with further insights into who he is and what makes him so beloved.

It's why, at 32, Cabrera might be entering the most compelling time of his career. The Triple Crown already his, with a pair of MVP awards to boot, Cabrera through the season's one-month mark continues to assault major league pitchers of all manner and variety. Heading into Tuesday's game, his 1.083 OPS ranked fourth in baseball. Nobody in the American League got on base more than him. It added to a statistical ledger that brings him some mighty company.

In adjusted OPS, a metric that uses OPS to compare players across era, Cabrera ranks 30th all-time through his age-32 season, with a number 54 percent above league average. First through eighth are in the Hall of Fame. Ninth is Shoeless Joe Jackson. Tenth through 13th are in the Hall of Fame. Fourteenth and 15th are Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. Sixteenth is Dick Allen, who should be in the Hall of Fame, which enshrined No. 17, Tris Speaker. Eighteenth is Barry Bonds. Nineteenth through 29th consist of seven Hall of Famers, two soon-to-be ones (Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza) and Joey Votto.

"What makes him so great and special is that you never, ever, ever catch Miguel off-guard," said Victor Martinez, his Tigers teammate and himself a pure hitter. "Once he steps up in the box, he's ready to hit. I don't know how he does it. There are situations where you find out if they want to pitch to you. You see a pitch or two. He's always ready to hit. You throw a pitch on the plate, he'll do damage."

It makes Cabrera's career going forward that much more fascinating – not just seeing how long his bat remains lucid but how his body holds up, whether he sells out his natural hitting skills for power and just how many home runs he can tack on to the 396 he has hit already.

The most similar batter to Cabrera through age 31, according to Baseball-Reference.com: Hank Aaron. He also happened to have the second-most post-32 home runs with 313, behind Barry Bonds' 388. While Bonds' record 762 is a bit of a reach, Aaron's 755 quite unlikely and Babe Ruth's 714 warranting significant optimism, wherever Alex Rodriguez ends up in the 600s or, at very least, Willie Mays' 660 aren't pipe dreams.

Cabrera would need to keep hitting and hitting and hitting, hoping whatever befell Albert Pujols and left him a solid-but-not-great presence at the plate would not attack him the same. It would be a shame with him as it is with Pujols, age doing what it does to rob potentially great moments like the one Friday night.

Cabrera's teammates praise him for his personality in the clubhouse. (Getty Images)
Cabrera's teammates praise him for his personality in the clubhouse. (Getty Images)

With the bases loaded in the eighth and Detroit down 4-1, Cabrera stepped in against Kelvin Herrera, Kansas City's 100-mph-throwing lockdown artist. They dueled for nine pitches until Herrera blew the 10th by Cabrera at triple digits. Rather than stomp away in frustration, Cabrera smiled.

"I saw it," Herrera said. "He knows exactly who he is. That's why he feels like he can do that. We all know what type of hitter he is."

It's not the first time Cabrera gave credit via a grin.

"He did that to me in 2012 in spring training," Price said. "And he did that to me at the Trop in 2012. I threw one of the best backdoor cutters I've ever thrown, and at the time it was one of the worst swings I'd seen Miggy take."

Cabrera knows how good he is, how pure numbers don't do him justice, even if in this offense-starved era they read more like fiction. On April 20, against the New York Yankees, Cabrera grounded into a double play on the second pitch of his first at-bat, did the same on the first pitch of his second at-bat and grounded out again on the first pitch his third time up.

"He didn't get mad," Price said. "He's going for his last at-bat, on deck in the bottom of the eighth. And he's talking to his bat. 'Please, please hit a fly ball.' He's laughing. He's 0 for 3 and has made an inning and two-thirds worth of outs on four pitches."

Cabrera was stranded on deck. He walked toward the dugout, placed his bat on top and slid it to a fan. There were no more hits left in it. "Sometimes," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said, "even when you fail, you've had fun through the process."

That is Miguel Cabrera's objective at 32, well into a career careening toward legendary: enjoy the times, the games, the moments, just like a champ, robe and all.

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