“Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera acknowledges fans after leaving the game in the eighth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023, in Detroit. Cabrera will retire after the game” 📸 AP Photo | Paul Sancya
by Mateo Peralta
The historic career of Miguel Cabrera, widely considered to be one of the greatest Venezuelan athletes of all time, came to a conclusion on Sunday, October 1st. “#24 has grabbed a glove, and he’s heading out to first base, by himself!” The crowd erupts. In his 2797th and final game, Miggy would take the field one last time to embrace the sold out crowd of over 41,000 fans. Comerica Park sold out for the first time on back-to-back days since April 2014, almost 10 years ago. The Detroit Tigers have had limited success over the past decade, that is, outside of Miggy. While injuries have taken a toll on his numbers over the past several years, there was never any love lost for the 16-year Tiger. The impact Miguel Cabrera had on baseball cannot be understated. Having spent more than half of his life in the league, his knowledge and appreciation of the game are unmatched. Over 21 seasons, Miggy achieved 3,174 hits, 511 home runs, and hit for a .306 career average. For context, the league wide batting average has hovered around .250 for the last 15 years. Most players only dream of the statistical achievements that a player like Cabrera obtained.
When it comes to Venezuelan athletes, few have reached the global peaks of success that Cabrera has. In his home country, he is highly-respected as one of the country’s greats. Current Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr. talked about his high praise: “There’s a lot of Venezuelan baseball players who are doing great things over here and playing well,” Acuña said through a translator. “I think we’re all doing a good job of just continuing that, but as far as Venezuelan players are concerned, Miguel Cabrera is like a Venezuelan baseball god.” Acuña Jr. recently became the first player in MLB history to hit 40 home runs and steal 70 bases in a single season, and will likely win the 2023 NL MVP award. “He’s everything to me. Growing up, he was always my favorite player to watch, from the day I was born to right now. I’m really happy for him and really proud of his career accomplishments.” Cabrera has confidence that Acuña Jr. will continue to represent Venezuela at a high-level for years to come: “I say to people from Venezuela, ‘I think our baseball is safe with Ronald Acuña.’”
There are currently five Hispanic or Latino players in the NBA, only two being from Latin America. In the NFL, Latino players make up only 0.4% of the league. And in the NHL, where over 1,100 different players played last season, there are currently four active-roster Latino players. The one league (of the “Big Four”) where this is not the case is the MLB, where Latino players make up 30% of the player pool. Major League Baseball teams scout, train, and sign young talented prospects all over Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. Cabrera was another example of this, getting paid $1.8 million at the age of 16 to play in the Florida Marlins system. Within a few years, he was called up to the major league level and had instant success, helping the Marlins win the 2003 World Series in his rookie season. Within a couple years, he would enter his prime, and stay there for over a decade. An average season for Cabrera between 2005-2016 would look like this: .326 batting average, .405 on-base percentage, 33 home runs, and 115 runs batted in. For over a decade, he had incredible hitting success, season after season having numbers that most players never reach, and the players who are good enough, typically have a much shorter peak. I could sit here and list countless records, awards, and statistical facts about Miggy’s career, but there was one moment that truly cemented him as one of the game’s best right-handed hitters of all time. In 2012, Cabrera claimed the extremely rare Triple Crown, awarded to a hitter who leads the league in batting average, runs batted in, and home runs throughout a season. Cabrera won the first Triple Crown since 1967, and no one has achieved it since, meaning he is the only player in the modern era to ever capture this award. Miggy is also the only Latine player to ever win the award.
Miguel Cabrera is special to me for a variety of reasons. When my grandparents immigrated from Latin America to the US, they settled in the Detroit area. Before moving to Mexico for medical school, my grandfather was a professional soccer player in Paraguay. Although he stopped playing soccer, his love for sports never faded, and it passed on to my father. Being born in Michigan, my father naturally became a fan of the local Detroit sports teams, including the Tigers, Pistons, Lions, and Red Wings, all teams with a deep and storied history dating back to pre-1950. My grandfather, father, and uncle were loyal fans, and got to witness the Tigers World Series championship in 1984, the Pistons back-to-back championships in 1989-1990, and the Red Wings win three Stanley Cups between 1996-2002. While I was born in Minnesota, this appreciation and loyalty was passed on to my brother and I, and we have both been lifelong Detroit fans. I was born in 2001, and throughout my lifetime I have witnessed some of the worst years that these teams have had. The Pistons have not won a playoff game since 2008, holding the longest active playoff losing streak among major league teams (across the Big 4 leagues), the Lions have not won a playoff game since 1991, over 10 years before I was born (look out, this could be our year), and the Red Wings have not won a playoff series since 2013, but I never really got into hockey anyways. That leaves the Tigers. While they have not had much more success than the other teams, there was always Miggy.
Every year that I can remember, my brother, my father and I had Miguel Cabrera to look forward to watching, regardless of team success. Since the Tigers are in the same division as the Twins, they traveled to Minnesota to play at least once a year. I remember going to the Metrodome as a kid to see them play, and then once the Twins moved to Target Field, Miggy was still there, of course. As he started to age, he played less and less, and I made it a priority to see him and the Tigers every chance that I could, never really knowing when I would be seeing him play for the last time. He kept coming back, and many assumed he would retire in 2022, as he was honored alongside Albert Pujols (who retired in 2022) in the all star game as an “All Star Legends” selection. He finally announced that 2023 would be his final season, and it felt like it was the right time. Fans enjoyed every second of Miggy that they could this season, knowing it would be the last time they got to witness a part of his legendary career.
As his final weeks of games approached, my father and I made the decision to travel to Detroit to watch him play one last time together. I have been to Comerica Park many times throughout my life, and I had never witnessed it this packed. The whole city had come out to watch a legend one last time. We went to his penultimate game, on Saturday, and were lucky enough to see his last career hit: #3174. The next day, in the airport, we watched his final moments in his last game. It was truly a very special weekend for baseball, the city of Detroit, and Venezuela.