But now, as a newly minted member of the club — the 28th in NL/AL history and the first among Venezuelan players — the Tigers’ slugger has put an exclamation mark on the heights he’s reached as the most productive big leaguer in his country’s history.
“For us, it’s a source of great pride,” said fellow Venezuelan Bobby Abreu, a veteran of 18 Major League seasons whose cumulative WAR (Baseball-Reference) of 60.17 is topped only by Cabrera’s 68.89. “He’s our next Hall of Famer.”
Indeed, Cabrera, 38, would seem to be a shoo-in as a first-ballot Hall of Famer five years after his eventual retirement, when he would become the second Venezuelan elected to Cooperstown, after Luis Aparicio. As he approaches the 3,000-hit mark (he has 2,955 as of Sunday’s milestone homer), the 11-time All-Star and two-time American League MVP who has four batting titles, two home run titles and an AL offensive Triple Crown (in 2012) has left little doubt when it comes to his Hall of Fame credentials.
Among Venezuelan Major Leaguers, he’s the all-time leader in home runs, RBIs (1,785), doubles (591), runs scored (1,498) and league batting titles (four), and is tied for first with Tony Armas Sr. in league home run titles (two) and with Andrés Galarraga in RBI titles (two).
Growing up in the city of Maracay in the state of Aragua, Cabrera seemed destined to make his mark in baseball. His mother, Gregoria, was a shortstop and cleanup hitter on Venezuela’s national softball team.
Trained as a teenager by his uncle and former Minor Leaguer David Torres, Cabrera started his professional career at just 16 on Tigres de Aragua in the Venezuelan Winter League in late 1999, the same year he was signed by the Marlins by his current GM on the Tigers, Al Avila. His future teammate in Detroit, Carlos Guillén, played against him in Venezuela on Navegantes del Magallanes in the early 2000s and even then saw something different in the young Cabrera.
“He sees the game from a different point of view,” Guillén said. “It’s not just the bat, but the way he plays and the way he sees the game, the way he prepares psychologically.”
By the time Cabrera debuted in the big leagues at age 20 with the Marlins in 2003 — helping Florida eventually win that year’s World Series — his countrymen knew that what he was capable of.
“Right away, you could see the special talent he showed and that he was someone who knew what he was doing at the plate,” said Abreu, who faced Cabrera and the Marlins on a regular basis in the mid-2000s as a member of the Phillies. “A hitter with a lot of discipline. He knew what he was looking for. He knew what he was going to do.
“He knew where the pitch was going and he was going to hit it where it was, the opposite field, up the middle or pulling the ball when he had to.”
After being traded from the Marlins to the Tigers before the 2008 season, Cabrera entered his prime and played alongside several of his fellow Venezuelans, including Guillén, Magglio Ordóñez, Armando Galarraga, Víctor Martínez, Omar Infante and Aníbal Sánchez. From 2011-14, those Detroit teams won four straight American League Central titles and the AL pennant in 2012, with Cabrera leading the way offensively.
“For me personally, it was a great privilege to play with Miguel Cabrera,” Ordóñez said. “I enjoyed it a lot. He’s an exceptional, extraordinary professional.
“Miguel’s an excellent teammate and was one of my best friends when we played on the Detroit Tigers. We always supported each other and gave each other advice. He’s always got a lot of energy and always plays hard.”
“He’s the best player born in Venezuela. He’s surpassed all the other players born in Venezuela,” Ordóñez said. “He’s going to be the second Venezuelan in the Hall of Fame.”
Ordóñez and Guillén got to see “Miggy” build those credentials up close and personal on a daily basis.
“He’s one of the faces that represents us,” said Guillén of the impact Cabrera’s success has had in Venezuela. “For all the Venezuelan fans, all the Latin American fans and just baseball fans, that’s important.”
Added Abreu: “It’s about the pride that not only I have, but that all Venezuelans have about how Miguel Cabrera has represented us. We’re really happy.”