“The first to win it clean since 1966,” said the Hall of Fame right-hander. “Cabrera won all three categories. Yaz tied with Harmon Killebrew — 44 homers each.”
Sure enough, Blyleven was right.
Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers third baseman, won the batting title with a .330 mark, homered 44 times and drove in 139 runs and is the first Triple Crown winner since Frank Robinson of the 1966 Baltimore Orioles to lead in all three categories.
When something happens once every 46 years, they ought to be handing out titles.
Major League Baseball is selling batches of dirt from the Kauffman Stadium batter’s box, where Cabrera completed the season against the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday. For $39.99 (plus shipping and handling), you get some K.C. dirt, a plaque displaying Cabrera’s totals where he finished the season going 0-for-2.
When Robinson won, he was the fourth winner in 24 seasons. Yaz was the fifth.
After being dealt to the Orioles from the Cincinnati Reds for right-handers Milt Pappas and two other players, Robinson didn’t have a problem getting acclimatized to the American League leading in all three categories: .316 average, 49 homers and 122 RBIs.
Cabrera starts with a clean slate — and the Triple Crown title — when his Tigers host the surprising Oakland A’s in the opener of the best-of-five American League division series at Comerica Park on Saturday night.
The first time we ever saw Cabrera was at old Pro Player Stadium in Miami in September of 2003. What caught our attention besides new manager Jack McKeon, 72 and lefty Dontrelle Willis, 21, was a young third baseman.
Willis had a high leg kick, a delivery designed by the Cirque du Soleil and was a guy who genuinely had fun playing the game.
Yet, the Marlins’ most exciting rookie was Cabrera, wearing his age, 20, on the back of his uniform and a year removed from playing with the class-A Jupiter Hammerheads. He started 2003 with the double-A Carolina Mudcats and was promoted when Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell was injured.
Cookie Rojas was the Marlins’ Spanish broadcaster then. Rojas had been in the majors in one form or another as a player, manager, coach or broadcaster since 1962. From his 11/2 years as Buck Martinez’s bench coach with the Blue Jays, we knew he did not toss around compliments the way the Jays throw the ball around after a strikeout.
“Cabrera might be another Vladimir Guerrero,” Rojas said. “He has the speed, power and a hitting eye ... unusual for a young hitter.”
Nine seasons later, Cabrera has 1,802 hits, behind Guerrero’s total (2,590 hits) in 16 seasons, though he does not turn 30 until next April.
Some sluggers scuffle in post-season. That has not been the case for Cabrera, who has hit .282 in 28 games with the Marlins and the Tigers, including .400 (8-for-20) with three homers and seven RBIs when Detroit lost a year ago in the ALCS to the Texas Rangers.
This season, in seven games against the A’s, Cabrera was .483 (14-for-29) with three homers and six RBIs.
While the favoured Tigers had to rally to catch the Chicago White Sox, the A’s caught and passed the Texas Rangers with a series sweep at home.
The A’s dumped salary throughout the off-season and went with kids. Cuban rookie Yoenis Cespedes led with a .292 average, while Josh Reddick had 32 home runs and 85 RBIs. Oakland sent closer Andrew Bailey to Boston for Reddick.
The A’s hit 194 home runs, including a high of 112 after the break.
A’s Game 1 starter Jarrod Parker was acquired last winter for former ace Trevor Cahill. Lefty Tom Milone came from the Washington Senators for Gio Gonzalez. Both Parker and Milone set Oakland records for most victories by a rookie (13).
It’s a loose bunch, with Aussie closer Grant Balfour, former Tampa Bay Ray Johnny Gomes, castoffs, rookies, Markham’s George Kottaras and reliever Sean Doolittle, who was a first baseman five years ago.
Now, they go head-to-head with Cabrera and his title.
And his first baseman buddy with the regal name of Prince.
ENGLE ON OPEN MARKET
The free-agent filing system doesn’t happen until after the World Series.
Yet, one attractive name has hit the open market.
Bob Engle, former scouting director of the Blue Jays, has stepped down as Seattle Mariners’ vice-president of international operations after 13 years.
During his 18 seasons with the Blue Jays, Engle was in charge when first-rounders Pat Hentgen, Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay were drafted. With the Mariners, Engle signed another Cy Young Award winner in Felix Hernandez, as well Erasmo Ramirez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Pineda, Greg Halman, Carlos Peguero, Alex Liddi, Jose Lopez, Carlos Triunfel and Gatineau’s Phillippe Aumont.
Engle was named one of three scouts of the year last year in Dallas.