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As Tigers' Cabrera hits 500th home run, reflections on one of MLB's greatest hitters

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Wikimedia Commons
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By Erik Drost - Miguel Cabrera, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71156475

Miguel Cabrera has joined one of Major League Baseball's most exclusive clubs.

The Tigers star hit his 500th career home run Sunday afternoon in Toronto.

The man also known as Miggy went deep off of Blue Jays pitcher Steven Matz with a shot to right center in the sixth inning. Cabrera is just the 28th player in MLB history to reach the 500 mark.

Jon Morosi covers baseball for the MLB Network and is a contributor to Fox Sports Radio and other outlets. He spoke with Michigan Radio's Morning Edition about Cabrera's career.

As Detroit fans celebrate the moment, it may feel like Cabrera has been a Tiger forever, but he played his first five seasons with the Florida Marlins. Morosi said Cabrera's incredible hand-eye coordination helped him stand out from the start. In 2004, in his second season, he was an All-Star. 

"He is just one of the preeminent right-handed hitters that we have seen in the history of the game. He is in the conversation among the best half dozen, I would say, ever," said Morosi, who lives in Michigan and covered the Tigers for the Detroit Free Press when Cabrera joined the team in 2008.  

"He came up as a left fielder for the Marlins in 2003 because they had Mike Lowell playing third base, and he helped that team win the World Series in ‘03, [with] that iconic home run against Roger Clemens in the World Series. He had that magic in his bat from a very, very early age."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOhnXZZi988

The Marlins traded Cabrera to Detroit before the 2008 season. He led the American League in home runs that year. In 2012, he led the league in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in, becoming the first player to win the Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski with the Boston Red Sox in 1967. 

Morosi said for several years Cabrera was simply dominant. 

"In baseball, we rarely have a player who can dominate a game. This is not like basketball where LeBron James is on the floor for most of the game and his greatness is everywhere. But Miguel Cabrera had that even batting four or five times a game," he said. "And it was as though the entire game was being played in response to that reality, where the other manager, the other pitchers were always aware of when number 24 was going to come to bat for the Tigers."

In addition to walk-off homers and other big moments at the plate, Morosi believes Cabrera's durability during his prime was key.

"I think the other part of his greatness, especially in those years, was the pride that he had in being available every single game. He did not spend a day on the injured list until the 13th season of his major league career. By then, he had played nearly 1,900 games in Major League Baseball," he said.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsmrAIiYjbs

Although he won a World Series ring in his rookie season with the Marlins, Cabrera has yet to win another one in Detroit. Cabrera played on a few Tigers teams viewed as likely title contenders, but he's only reached the World Series once since joining the club, in 2012, and lost. 

"I don't think that Tiger fans blame Cabrera for the fact that those teams did not win the World Series in the early part of the last decade. He really was still a very productive hitter, I always thought, during the course of the playoffs. But there's no question that there is a certain unfulfilled nature of that era of Tigers baseball," Morosi said. 

Cabrera is 38 years old and has suffered some injuries in recent years. His hitting has dropped off dramatically, and he's under a massive contract that runs for at least two more seasons. It's common for power hitters to sign long-term contracts and see their output lag in the back end of the deal. But it creates moments of mixed emotions for fans. The Tigers might get better faster without Cabrera's contract on the books. But he's also in a Tigers uniform – and drawing big crowds – as he approaches significant career milestones. (Cabrera is also closing in on another of MLB's most cherished marks: 3,000 career hits.)

Morosi says Cabrera's attitude is also important.  

"His love of the game has not abated. There was a moment in a recent game where he was in the dugout going over scouting reports on an iPad with a number of their young pitchers," he said. "You can tell he is still engaged as a teammate and that matters."

And in the twighlight of Cabrera's career, the veteran baseball reporter sees a story that speaks to many fans.

"I think that there is a curiosity – and even a joy – [in] the question of how often can a truly great player, in the fading years of his career, still summon that greatness. And we have seen moments of it this year as Cabrera has chased 500 home runs," Morosi said.

"It does bring a smile to your face. It makes you feel a little younger again when you see him have that success. It's been a great career by any measure, and the Tigers and their fans are lucky to have seen a lot of great moments as a result."

Lauren Talley contributed to this story.

Editor's note: Quotes here have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page. 

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