While tens of millions of Americans were busy watching the presidential debate on Wednesday night, the Detroit Tigers' slugging first baseman Miguel Cabrera made some pretty huge news of his own. After a season-ending 1-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals, Cabrera officially became the first Major League Baseball player in 45 years to win the triple crown — meaning he led the league in batting average, home runs, and RBIs. Some sportswriters say this achievement makes Cabrera a lock to earn the league's most valuable player award, and perhaps even a guaranteed spot in baseball's Hall of Fame. Here's what you should know:
Why is the triple crown such a big deal?
Mostly because it doesn't happen very often. It's not easy to lead the league in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in, and Cabrera — who batted .330, smacked 44 homers, and drove in 139 runs — is only the 15th player in modern Major League Baseball history to earn a triple crown, and the first since the Boston Red Sox's Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Let me put in perspective, says Kevin Baxter at the Los Angeles Times: "Man had not yet walked on the moon the last time a player earned baseball's triple crown."
How did Cabrera pull it off?
He's really good, says Christina Kahrl at ESPN. Specifically, Cabrera has a unique ability to get a lot of base hits and a lot of home runs — an exceedingly uncommon skill in modern baseball. And his persistence didn't hurt, either: Cabrera "rarely misses a day of work, having played 160 or more games" in four of the five past MLB seasons.
Is Cabrera as good as past triple crown winners?
It's tough to say. He's up against some of the all-time greats — think Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, and Jimmie Foxx, says Craig Calcaterra at NBC Sports. And some past triple crown winners had even more impressive stats than Cabrera. But because Major League Baseball has expanded in recent decades — and because today's players are widely viewed as bigger, faster, and stronger than players from other eras — the competition in today's game may have increased to the point where Cabrera's triple crown is actually more impressive than his predecessors'.
So Cabrera is a lock for MVP, right?
Surprisingly enough, no. Cabrera's triple crown is a major accomplishment, but "the award recognizes the most valuable player, not the most valuable hitter," says Jonah Keri at Grantland. Cabrera is a notoriously mediocre defensive player, and arguably, the most deserving MLB star is the Angels' Mike Trout, a terrific batter who also leads the league in stolen bases, plays great defense, and who consistently did more to help his team win. Come on, counters Doug Smith at the Toronto Star. Anyone who says Cabrera doesn't deserve to be MVP "has got to be kidding." Trout is an excellent player, but the "historic significance" of Cabrera's accomplishment — and the fact that he now joins a list of many of the best players in baseball history — should be more than enough to earn him the title.