Henning: Unlike Al Kaline, Miguel Cabrera’s 3,000th hit will be a feat for all to see

Detroit News
By Lynn Henning |  Special to The Detroit News

Not only all the Tigers audience, but nearly all of baseball’s serious and soulful fans will be waiting and maybe watching these next few days as Miguel Cabrera nears a sacred milestone: 3,000 hits.

Cabrera is five from 3,000 following a double on Friday and a three-single evening on Thursday. He has two more weekend games at Kansas City, against a Royals team he has whacked especially hard through his 20 seasons of extraordinary MLB artistry.

If he does not reach 3,000 by the time a Tigers team charter leaves for Detroit on Sunday evening, he will have Monday, his 39th birthday, to relax and ponder what it will be like to deliver that magical, mystical 3,000th knock during a three-game home set that begins Tuesday evening against the Yankees at Comerica Park.

Not since Sept. 24, 1974, when Al Kaline blasted a fourth-inning, leadoff double against Orioles lefty Dave McNally in a Tuesday night game at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, has a man wearing a Tigers uniform reached that hoary 3,000-hit mark.

What will make Cabrera’s feat different from Kaline’s will be local, national, and even international attention, as well as instantaneous TV coverage. The weekend games will be telecast on the Tigers’ home Bally network. They will be carried by the Royals’ TV team.

And it will be open to even broader masses with live, cut-in coverage offered by MLB Network, just as last summer’s vigil was followed as Cabrera hit his 500th home run.

The difference, even considering that nearly five decades have passed since Kaline last swatted a 3,000th hit in Tigers garb, is astounding.

Different times

Back in those waning September days of the 1974 season, there was scarcely any live account apart from radio. Something called “the internet” was still two decades away.

The Orioles that night were chasing another American League East Division title that they were a week from wrapping up. It meant the game’s final score on Sept. 24 was going to matter only to Baltimore, in serious ways, even if only 11,492 showed up, and even if — as far as Orioles historians can determine in 2022 — there was no local TV coverage and nothing beyond that evening’s radio broadcast.

It was the same for the Tigers, who were rebuilding and who had been out of the playoff picture for months.

Radio, only, for the Tigers, with Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey handling the lone Detroit play-by-play account of Kaline’s moment, which MLB history confirms was monumental. Kaline was about to become only the 12th player in the game’s 74-season history to reach 3,000 hits.

Cabrera stands as the 33rd to bag 3,000.

It is an achievement that can consecrate a man’s career. The number, so elusive, testifies to extraordinary skill at doing what is considered the most difficult feat in all of sports — hitting a swerving, high-speed baseball that can travel 100 mph — and doing it over the course of so many seasons that 3,000 base hits is somehow achieved.

Cabrera, though, will benefit from technology and from a TV sports galaxy that has changed dramatically since 1974. The instant he cracks that 3,000th hit, a crowd — countless — will be watching, as well.

Again, the contrast to Kaline is stark.

So flimsy is the video history that documented Kaline’s double against McNally, and so few were the sources for any such video, that neither media officials with the Orioles nor Tigers even know who took the play-by-play visuals from Kaline’s at-bat. It likely is video recorded for the benefit of posterity that MLB headquarters in New York commissioned.

It is available today on YouTube. All you get, accompanying the sight of Kaline ripping a McNally fastball on a bouncing drive against the right-field wall, is this series of Harwell-Carey audio. Harwell, who then worked the first three, and final three, innings of a Tigers broadcast, was handing over the microphone to Carey as the game’s fourth inning arrived.

Recalling the call

It sounded like this, as the video snippet attests:

“Well, there’s another ovation for Al Kaline, the Tigers’ designated hitter going for that 3,000th hit,” Harwell says, with his crisp twang. “And to describe the action for us, here is Paul Carey…”

“Thank you, Ernie,” Carey begins, graciously. “Al bounced out to Belanger at short his first time up.”

McNally delivers — a fastball away, a craftsman’s choice, especially when McNally understood that Kaline had a knack for crushing pitches at the ballpark of his hometown, Baltimore.

Carey is on it, at the bat’s crack:

“The pitch is swung on, and there’s a drive down right field, into the corner. It’ll be in for a base hit  maybe extra bases!”

Carey is shouting here, his voice rising in volume, inflection, and with a requisite sense for fast, fleeing drama.

“Al is digging for second! He’s in with a stand-up double! A two-base hit for Al Kaline, hit No. 3,000 in his fabulous career of 22 years.

“Listen to this standing ovation!”

On the Memorial Stadium scoreboard, a massive “3,000” flashes. Bobby Grich, the Orioles’ second baseman, sidles up to Kaline for a fast, congratulatory handshake. Kaline is then caught on video jogging to front-row box seats, near the dugout, where his parents, still Baltimore residents, and his wife Louise’s parents — also from Baltimore — are gathered alongside then-Tigers general manager Jim Campbell.

There are hugs. And smiles as bright as the scoreboard’s “3,000” certification.

And then it is back to the game.

On radio, only, of course. The Orioles later scored two runs in the eighth to win, 5-4. A week later, they won the division, by two games, beating the Tigers in back-to-back season finales at Tiger Stadium.

This is all so different, the Cabrera 3,000-hit vigil.

It is now April, not September. Cabrera has something of an uncluttered stage on which to sock his milestone hit.

And, yes, the video and in-the-moment coverage will be nearly universal.

It’s necessary to recall that something called “cable TV” was more of a concept than a reality 48 years ago. Now, the thoroughfares are filled with instantaneous cable, streaming, and iPhone access. Cabrera’s feat will not be confined to some isolated viewing niche.

It will be there, for all, to enjoy and celebrate. And all at the very second a man who already has been anointed as one of the most extraordinary hitters in MLB history adds yet one more sprinkle of luster and achievement to his remarkable baseball life.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.

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