Top 25 Baseball Stories of the Decade — No. 7: Miguel Cabrera wins the Triple Crown
We’re a few short days away from the dawn of the 2020s. So, instead of counting down the Top 25 stories of the year, we’re taking a look at the top 25 baseball stories of the past decade.
Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most over the past ten years.
Next up: number 7: Miguel Cabrera Wins the Triple Crown
When you do something that had only been done 16 times in the previous 134 years -- and which had not been done at all for the previous 45 years -- it’s big news, so you bet your bippy that Miguel Cabrera winning the Triple Crown in 2012 was going to be near the top of this list.
The fact of his Triple Crown, and any Triple Crown, is pretty straightforward: Cabrera led the American League in batting average, homers and RBI in 2012, batting .330, smacking 44 dingers and knocking in 139. He topped Angels rookie Mike Trout, who hit .326, in batting. Josh Hamilton of the Rangers and Curtis Granderson of the Yankees each hit 43 homers. Hamilton finished second in RBI too, with 128.
There were a couple of things about Cabrera’s Triple Crown, however, that made it a bit more interesting apart from the mere fact that no one had done it since Carl Yastrzemski did back in 1967.
For one thing, there were only 20 teams -- 10 in the AL -- back in 1967 but there were 30 by 2012. With more teams come more players and with more players comes greater competition for the lead in any given statistical category. The expansion which came in 1969, 1977, 1993, and 1998 which increased the number of teams and players by 33% is likely a big reason why it took so long for someone to pull off Cabrera’s feat.
For another thing, Cabrera’s Triple Crown season may have, actually, been his worst season in a four-year span in which it fell.
Yes, Cabrera led the league in the three Triple Crown categories in 2012, but as measured by both OPS and OPS+ he was probably a better overall hitter in the two seasons which came before it and he definitely was better in the season which followed. Indeed, Cabrera 2012 OPS+ of 164 is the lowest for any winner of the Triple Crown in baseball history. Which is not intended to take away from his feat. It just speaks to the randomness of it and, of course, the fact that the Triple Crown categories, particularly RBI, are less suggestive of excellence than they were assumed to be back when the concept of the Triple Crown became elevated as one of baseball’s greatest feats.
Which, of course, led to a lot of arguing, even if Cabrera’s feat was damn impressive. The arguing came mostly in the form of the AL MVP debate.
The short version: despite how neat it was that Cabrera won the Triple Crown he didn’t have the best season in the American League by, basically, any other measure. The guy who finished second in batting, Mike Trout, clearly did. Unlike Cabrera, Trout was a superior defender at a premium position and was an asset on the base paths, leading the AL in stolen bases. The numbers bore this out, with Trout posting a 10.5 WAR -- still tied for the best of his illustrious career -- to Cabrera’s 7.1, as well as leading Cabrera by basically all other advanced metrics. Simply put, Trout posted one of the best all-around seasons in recent baseball history. He just did it while leading the league in less-venerable -- albeit more truly valuable -- offensive categories than Cabrera did.
Anyone with even passing familiarity to the discourse surrounding baseball analytics knows the basic contours of that argument so I won’t rehash it beyond the previous paragraph, but with the hindsight of a few years, a couple of things become obvious:
- Cabrera MVP backers were so tied up in the novelty of his achievement that they gave shorter-than-justified shrift to the numbers and, above all else, were interested in pushing back against more analytically-minded baseball commentators, with this as just the latest front in their by then many years-old war; and
- Trout MVP backers were so tied up in the numbers that they gave shorter-than-justified shrift to the novelty of Cabrera’s achievement and, above all else, were interested in pushing back against old school baseball commentators, with this as just the latest front in their by then many years-old war
The most amusing part: people who supported each side were convinced that their side was being totally ignored, even if there was no shortage of ink spilled by who wanted to fight about it.
Indeed, up until and immediately after Cabrera won the Triple Crown people were writing about how “no one was paying attention” even though it was abundantly clear that people were paying massive amounts of attention to it. Lost in all of this was a quote from Carl Yastrzemski at the time who noted that, back in 1967, there actually was no coverage of his Triple Crown and that he wasn’t really aware he won it until the day after the season ended. So much for that “today no one respects the Triple Crown” narrative. Adherents to the analytics side were often seen using the then still-prevalent tactic of casting themselves as intellectual underdogs, out-shouted by the “mainstream media” despite the fact that, by 2012, analytical analysis had taken over as the dominant school of thought both among major league front offices and in the sporting press.
After all the shouting was done, Cabrera won the MVP in 2012 and Trout settled for the Rookie of the Year award. The shouting resumed in 2013 when, once again, Cabrera topped Trout in the MVP voting, with all of the discourse surrounding it continuing to be a proxy battle in a larger war. Trout would eventually win three MVPs and counting. I’m pretty sure he’s OK. As for Cabrera, he cashed in in a major way in March of 2014 when he and the Tigers agreed to a ten-year, $292 million contract extension.
Cabrera began to fall off, production and health-wise, in 2017 and has been a shell of his former self since then. The Tigers can say the same about themselves, of course. It happens to both ballplayers and ballclubs. But each of them have that 2012 season under their belts. A season in which the Tigers won the pennant and Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown. A feat which, whatever you argued back in 2012, you have to sit here, at the end of the decade, and say was pretty damn cool.
No. 8: The Biogenesis Scandal
No. 9: Bullpen Mania Takes Over the Game
No. 10: The Rise of the Young Player
No. 11: Baseball Goes From Deadball To Juiced Ball
No. 12: Baseball Begins Rewriting the Rulebook
No. 13: Baseball Adds a Second Wild Card
No, 14: Albert Pujols Signs With the Angels
No. 15: Baseball Continues a Remarkable Run of Labor Peace
No. 16: Baseball implements a domestic violence policy
No. 17: Cardinals Employee Hacks Astros’ Database
No. 18: Frank and Jamie McCourt Bankrupt the Dodgers
No. 19: Baseball Embraces Gambling
No. 20: The Hall of Fame Logjam
No. 21: The Bat-flippers Win the Battle Over the Unwritten Rules
No. 22: Astros switch leagues
No. 23: The Strasburg Shutdown
No. 24: Chicken and Beer
No. 25: All-Star Game no longer counts
Honorable mention: Astros Sign Stealing Scandal