The MLB playoffs start tomorrow, which still gives us a day to reflect on the season gone. MLB more and more would like its fans to focus on only October so they can demean, and hence pay less for, the regular season. But that’s not how the game works, it’s not how baseball fandom works, and there is still so much magic and emotion to be gleaned from the simple playing of games.
That’s what Miguel Cabrera did. He played a lot of games for the Detroit Tigers. He played a lot of them well. In fact, he played a lot of them better than most of his peers. It’s why he’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, why he’ll be known as one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all-time, and why he’ll be remembered in Detroit for a very long time.
Cabrera’s career won’t, and shouldn’t, be defined by postseason success or lack of it. His Tigers teams did reach three straight ALCS, and one World Series, and produced the best stretch of Tigers baseball since the mid-80s. But that’s rarely, if ever, what endears a ballplayer to a city and fandom like Miggy and Detroit.
Even though for about 10 years he’s had the mobility of the War Rig in the former green place, Miggy took one last inning at 1st base yesterday to say goodbye. And because baseball knows a moment when it sees the opportunity, he got to field one last grounder and give the fans one last thrill:
No, Cabrera will never be known for his glove. There’s a reason he bounced from third to left to first to DH pretty directly and quickly. But we can never be sure what will be the last time to make a crowd cheer. A last AB can be a groundout after all. And the joyful way Cabrera snags this and trots over to first is still symbolic of the boyish way he played every game, even when he was tearing opposing pitchers to pieces for most of them.
These kinds of moments are pretty unique to baseball. It’s almost certainly to do with the way the game pauses regularly to give an interval for ovations and salutes. The lack of a salary cap (in theory) does keep players with one team more often, it seems. NFL players always seem to end up as cap casualties and finishing out in an odd-looking uniform. Same goes for the NHL these days, with the hard cap making declining players almost an object of scorn from their own fans as the hard miles of a hockey career catch up. NBA stars are so burdened by the idea that their careers mean nothing without silverware that they have to seek pastures new if they haven’t gotten to the promised land in the first few years with their first teams.
Still, the daily nature of baseball gives it an advantage in earning appreciation and love for its players over the other sports. It’s not that Cabrera was a joy for Tigers fans for so long. He was a joy most every day during those 16 summers. No matter what was going on in any Tigers fan life on that particular day from April to September, they knew they could tune in or go to Tiger Stadium and likely see Cabrera massacre a baseball over the right field wall, as was his signature in his pomp (usually against the White Sox, if I’m allowed a completely unnecessary sideswipe). Be it Tuesday or Sunday, May or August, Cabrera was a presence in every Tigers fan life. That becomes worth more than it does in other sports just because of the frequency. Tigers fans can add up all the little joys and thrills a 3-for-5 Miggy game gave them over nearly two decades, and when they get to the total it will make a pretty big difference.
The scenes were no different in Cincinnati last weekend when Joey Votto, perhaps, came up for the last time:
Personally, it made for a pretty lovely bookend to the 2023 season, because it started with this:
Hellos like this are pretty rare. Pirates fans had been so beaten down, any moment for them feels pretty rare. Sure, Andrew McCutchen got his ovations when he returned with the Giants or Yankees or Phillies over the years. But he never got a proper goodbye, either, not from the place where he means more than anywhere else. He was the last Pirates beacon of hope and joy, the centerpiece of their last team that mattered. This was that, but also the surprise elation of getting at least one more season together when it was assumed he’d be gone forever. Again, all those little daily joys of watching Cutch in Black and Gold, suddenly getting added to, to total a noticeable part of fans’ lives.
That’s the heart of baseball fandom. Not the Fox closeups in October.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky @felsgate.bsky.social
Original source here
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