By Dan Holmes September 21, 2012
“If he doesn’t get the MVP this year, it will be criminal.”
Those are the words of Al Kaline, a Hall of Famer who knows a little something about baseball and what “Most Valuable” means. Who was Kaline referring to? Al said that about Carl Yastrzemski and he said it in 1967.
Now 45 years later, Kaline is still in an employee of the Detroit Tigers, as he has been most of his adult life. In his role as a special assistant to the President of the club, Kaline has a front row, luxury box view of Miguel Cabrera, who may do what Yaz did back in ’67 – win baseball’s Triple Crown.
Entering play on Friday, Cabrera leads the American League in batting (.333) and RBI (130). He is one homer behind Josh Hamilton in home runs. There are 13 games left in the 2012 season and this is the closest any batter has been to the Triple Crown since Yaz’s magic year.
One of the reasons Cabrera may accomplish the feat is that the circumstances of his season are very similar to those that Yaz experienced at the end of ’67.
Back then, there was no wild card and all 10 teams in the league were lumped together. First place was it. If you finished second, your season was over. But, if there was ever a season before the wild card era that seemed like the wild card chase, it was 1967. That year in the American League, four teams were tied for first place on September 6, and on September 18, with just 11 games left to play, three teams were tied for first and a fourth was just a half-game back. Talk about a wild-card atmosphere!
With his Red Sox in the middle of that fight for the flag, Yaz was having his best season. He led the league comfortably in RBI, but the HR title and batting crown were up for grabs. Down the stretch, Yaz put on an historic demonstration of clutch hitting, and in the process he separated himself from Frank Robinson, his primary challenger for the batting title, and ended up tied with Harmon Killebrew for the homer lead with 44.
A look at Boston’s last 10 games in 1967 show that Yaz hit a blistering .541 with 20 hits, including three doubles and four home runs. In the last two days of the season, when the Sox needed wins to avoid a two-(or possibly three-team) playoff, Yaz went 7-for-8 with a home run and 6 RBI. Can you say “Captain Clutch”?
So far this September, with his team trying to catch the White Sox in the AL Central or stake a claim to a wild card spot, Cabrera has been doing his best Yaz impression. He’s hitting .364 with eight homers, four doubles, and 21 RBI in 18 games this month. Behind that tremendous production, the Tiger slugger has lifted himself to the top in RBI and left Mike Trout of the Angels in his dust for the batting crown. He only has to catch Hamilton for homers to win the Triple Crown. If history is a guide, the circumstances seem perfect for Cabrera to do it, in much the same way Yaz did.
If he wins it, Cabrera will be just the 12th batter to accomplish the trifecta since 1901. (Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams did it twice). The last three Triple Crown winners – Yaz, Frank Robinson, and Mickey Mantle – all won their league’s MVP Award that year. But in both of the seasons that he won the Triple Crown, Williams finished second in MVP voting. In 1947 he lost the MVP to Joe DiMaggio, a center fielder.
In 2012, Cabrera may suffer the same fate: win the Triple Crown, only to lose the MVP to a center fielder (Trout). But if he does win the Triple Crown, Tigers fans hope he channels ’67 Yaz by carrying his team to the post-season.
Tags: 1967, 2012, Boston Red Sox, Carl Yastrzemski, Detroit Tigers, Miguel Cabrera, Ted Williams
About the Author
Dan Holmes is an author and baseball historian. He previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and Major League Baseball. He once defeated George Brett in Texas Hold Em poker and faced Phil Niekro's knuckleball. He has two daughters and he writes regularly about baseball and many other topics.