Here’s why Miguel Cabrera’s 500 home run milestone means so much for Detroit Tigers

Detroit Free Press

Miguel Cabrera crushed an off-speed pitch and flipped his bat, watching the ball take flight.

It started bending like a rainbow, slicing into history, as he jogged toward first base on Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre in Toronto. The ball landed in the Detroit Tigers’ bullpen, some 400 feet away, as Cabrera became just the 28th player in Major League Baseball history to hit 500 home runs in a career. Rounding first base, Cabrera screamed and his teammates erupted in joy.

After crossing home plate, ending more than a week of drama as everybody waited for this moment, Cabrera screamed: “Let’s go!”

He went through a hand-slap, hug-filled celebration with Jeimer Candelario, the on-deck batter, and then started hugging teammates. There was a long line of high-fives. Screams. Pure happiness.

“It was a great feeling,” Cabrera said.

[ Miguel Cabrera’s 500th home run: Watch and listen to TV, radio call ]

Once inside the dugout, Cabrera seemed to relax. Relief spread across his face and he let out a smile.

What did Tigers manager AJ Hinch say a few weeks ago? Cabrera plays this game with authentic joy.

After all these years — 19 years in the big leagues, including 14 with the Tigers — Miggy is still just a kid playing a game.

OH, BY THE WAY: Miguel Cabrera reaches milestone, and teammates chip in for 5-3 win

The Toronto crowd continued to scream and applaud, showing a wonderful appreciation for this historic moment. Cabrera bounded through the dugout like a little kid and came up the steps like he was floating on air. He took off his helmet and took a bow.

A curtain call for the ages.

What a moment.

“Miggy, what’s up my brother. 500 home runs, man, congratulations, what an incredible accomplishment,” Justin Verlander, the former Tigers ace, said in a taped video on Bally Sports Detroit. “You are incredible. You are the best player, the best hitter, I’ve ever played with. I hope you are able to take a minute, sit back and appreciate this milestone.”

OLD BASH BROTHER: Prince Fielder on Miggy’s 500 home runs: ‘One of the greatest of all time’

Joining baseball royalty

That’s exactly what this moment deserves.

Take a minute, sit back and appreciate this moment.

And let’s try to put 500 homers into historic context.

Al Kaline didn’t do it. Neither did Lou Gehrig (493), Stan Musial (475), Jose Canseco (462) or Carl Yastrzemski (452).

Cabrera is the first Tiger with 500 homers and becomes one of just five Triple Crown winners who have done it, joining Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams.

What an amazing list of players.

“Miggy, my brother, welcome to the 500 club,” Albert Pujols said in a taped reaction on Bally Sports Detroit. “I’m so proud of everything you have accomplished in this game. Many more to come. Good luck. God bless you.”

Zeal for the dramatic

Now, consider how this story stretches over time.

Cabrera hit his first home run in his major league debut on June 20, 2003.

A walk-off to center field.

“Welcome to the big leagues,” the announcer said, as Cabrera jogged around the bases, looking so young and fresh faced. He was just 20 years old.

At that moment, Jackson Jobe, the Tigers 2021 first-round pick, was 11 months old.

“He got called up from Double-A,” Alex Gonzalez, who was on that Florida team, told me. “It’s amazing when you get called up and you are a kid like that and you hit a home run. Walk-off. It’s unbelievable. The guy can do anything he wants.”

No doubt.

And now Miggy has 500?

Amazing.

“What does today mean for you?” Cabrera was asked.

“I mean, a lot, not only for me, but for people around me, my team, my teammates, the organization, my coaches that I’ve had my whole career, the people from Venezuela, my family,” Cabrera said. “It’s something special for my country, my family. I’m really happy at the same time, I gotta stay focused.”

[ How Miguel Cabrera stacks up with the other members of the 500-homer club ]

A long road to 500

After the game, Hinch held a quick team meeting.

“What a big moment for us to get the opportunity to be a part of,” Hinch said. “I thanked him for letting us be a part of this. I mean, we’ve seen him do some tremendous things this year, the names he’s passed on the on the hit total, the Venezuelan Hit King. … So proud for him and his family and in a career accomplishment that is so rare that you may never get to be a part of this again.”

Five hundred home runs is a testament to Cabrera’s greatness, his ability to make adjustments at the plate, his God-given power and his uncanny baseball intellect.

But it’s also a testament to his toughness.

Think of what he has overcome the last few years:

• In 2014, he played despite a stress fracture on the top of his foot and a bone spur in his right ankle. But he played through the pain, even though he couldn’t put weight on his back foot. He still finished with 25 dingers.

• In 2015, he missed a month of the year with a serious calf strain, the first time in his career that he had been placed on the injured list. But he still managed 18 home runs.

• In 2017, he was diagnosed with two herniated discs but was still able to get 16 out of the yard.

• In 2018, he ruptured a tendon in his left biceps and required season-ending surgery. He had just three homers in 38 games — the worst season of his career.

• In 2019, an MRI revealed that Cabrera has a chronic right knee injury and still got 12 homers.

• COVID-19 cut his season to just 57 games in 2020, and he had just 10 homers.

But despite those injuries, Cabrera kept hitting home runs.

Sometimes, on one leg.

Sometimes, in obvious pain, and he labored around the bases.

And they might not come at the same pace as in his prime, but he kept hitting ‘em.

Kept rounding the bases.

Right into history.

“I want to thank him for allowing us to celebrate him, because it’s a big deal,” Hinch said.

MORE FROM SEIDEL: How the Tigers could use excitement around Miggy’s HR chase to lure Carlos Correa

Always a Tiger

As Cabrera sat in the dugout, watching the video with his teammates, I had one thought: somewhere, Mike Ilitch, the former Tigers owner, is smiling like crazy.

Ilitch loved superstars, none more so than Cabrera, who he gave an eight-year, $248 million contract in 2014.

You could argue that contract was foolish. Cabrera is still making $30 million a year, even though his production has predictably declined.

But that contract is a part of this home run story.

MORE FROM SEIDEL: Tigers fans didn’t need a home run to show their love for Miguel Cabrera

Ilitch wanted Cabrera to reach these milestones wearing a Tigers jersey. He wanted to assure that he will wear the Old English D into the Hall of Fame.

All those things seem certain, right now.

As the ball climbed into the sky.

And Miggy circled the bases.

Climbing into history.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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