On Sunday, the baseball world witnessed the final MLB game for an all-time great in Detroit. The Tigers won, 5-2, giving a proper send off to the legendary Miguel Cabrera. He went 0 for 3 with a walk in the game, but that hardly mattered. Just getting to witness him digging in the batter's box these final times was a pleasure. The fans also got to give him an ovation as he was moved from designated hitter to first base for the eighth inning:
It was a career spanning more than 20 years that will land Cabrera in the Baseball Hall of Fame in five years. There's no doubt about that. The only question is how close his vote percentage comes to 100 percent.
We can still discuss the all-time great career, though, and we're going to do that right now.
On June 20, 2003, a baby-faced 20-year-old from Venezuela named Miguel Cabrera debuted for the Florida Marlins. He arrived with a decent level of hype. He was the No. 12 prospect in baseball before the season according to Baseball America and had destroyed Double-A pitching to the tune of .365/.429/.609 in his 69 games before the promotion that skipped Triple-A.
He sent any expectations into the stratosphere almost immediately. His first career MLB game ended with him hitting a walk-off home run:
The Marlins would go on to win the World Series that season. Cabrera went 4 for 5 with two doubles and three RBI in a clinching win over the 100-win Giants in the NLDS. He recorded at least one hit in all seven games in the NLCS against the Cubs, hitting .333 with three homers and six RBI. He hit a two-run homer off Roger Clemens in the first inning in Game 4 of the World Series.
It was on.
The next four years with the Marlins, Cabrera drove home at least 112 runs a season. He hit .313 in his time in Miami, clubbing 138 home runs in 2,694 at-bats. He finished fifth in MVP voting twice and was an All-Star four times. Once traded to Detroit, he became an MLB icon. Miggy won the Triple Crown in 2012, the first since 1967. He won back-to-back MVPs. He won four batting titles, led the league in OBP four times, slugging twice, OPS twice, doubles twice, homers twice and RBI twice.
All told, Miguel Cabrera finishes with 3,174 hits, 627 doubles, 511 home runs, 1,881 RBI and 1,551 runs. He's a career .306 hitter with a slugging percentage well over .500.
Cabrera is 17th all-time in hits, 13th in doubles, tied for 25th in home runs, 13th in RBI, 14th in extra-base hits and 14th in total bases.
In order to declare Cabrera one of the greatest power hitters ever, or one of the greatest hitters ever, or simply one of the greatest players ever, we didn't need to see these numbers. We already knew it from watching him play for over two decades.
Those who got to watch it all can still picture the beauty of his all-fields power, his prowess as a batsmith (for example: He walked 19 more times than he struck out in 2011 while still hitting .344 with a .586 slugging percentage) and the pageantry of him controlling at-bats.
Remember when he selflessly moved to third base from first in the middle of his career so the Tigers could sign Prince Fielder? He won his two MVPs immediately thereafter.
A true ambassador for the game, especially in Latin America, it was a joy to watch all the younger Latino players speak glowingly about sharing the dugout with Cabrera at the 2022 All-Star Game in Los Angeles. Willson Contreras in particular sticks out in my head, but so many different players just raved about him. The love could be felt during a ceremony in his honor on Saturday. The Tigers won that game, 8-0, and afterward Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said -- remember, the Tigers were already eliminated from playoff contention -- that Sunday's game was the most important of the year. Tigers ace Eduardo Rodríguez requested to start the game. That's what Cabrera meant to this team.
He meant so much to the Detroit fans, too. Just look at the attendance for a non-playoff team this last weekend. The Tigers sold out both Saturday and Sunday. It was the first time they sold out Comerica Park on back-to-back days since April ... of 2014.
A lot of times, when a great player retires, I'll run through his Hall of Fame case. Many times I'm defending the player against "Small Hall" naysayers. Cabrera is one of the inner-circle Hall of Famers where there's basically no opposition, though.
For anyone curious, Cabrera sits 11th in JAWS at first base. The only post-1900 first basemen ahead of him are Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols, Jimmie Foxx, Jeff Bagwell, Frank Thomas, Johnny Mize and Jim Thome. Cabrera is ahead of the likes of Willie McCovey, Eddie Murray, Hank Greenberg and Harmon Killebrew.
Only nine players had more than Cabrera's four batting titles. Miggy is one of seven players with over 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. From that group, only Hank Aaron, Albert Pujols and Cabrera also recorded over 600 doubles.
Cabrera had 12 100-RBI seasons. Only Pujols, A-Rod, Foxx, Gehrig and Ruth had more. Only 14 players hit 30 homers in a season more often than Cabrera did (10).
The career that started with a walk-off homer and had all those ridiculous stats and amazing moments in between ended with an ovation in Detroit on Sunday.
We've now watched the last of Miguel Cabrera as a baseball player. Don't be sad that it's over, be happy that it happened, right? Happy trails, Mr. Cabrera. We'll see you in five years in Cooperstown.