Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Miguel Cabrera's Home Run Record Surprises Fans

When third baseman Miguel Cabrera belted his 30th home run in today's 5-1 victor over the Twins, he became the first Tiger ever to reach thirty in five consecutive seasons.  While this is an impressive feat, some fans expressed surprise that no other Tiger has ever done it.  Lots of great hitters have worn the olde english D since Detroit became a charter member of the American League in 1901, but for various reasons none has ever done what Cabrera has accomplished in his first five seasons in terms of home runs.

A few Tigers have come very close to hitting thirty homers in five straight seasons.  Hall-of-Fame first baseman Hank Greenberg almost surely would have done it had it not been for his service in World War II from 1941-1945.  Prior to the war, Greenberg hit 30 or more round trippers from 1937-1940 including a Tigers record 58 in 1938.  He then walloped 44 four-baggers in 1946, his first full season after the war. 

1990s Slugger Cecil Fielder also likely would have made it if it were not for the 1994 season ending prematurely due to the player's strike.  He launched 51 bombs in his memorable 1990 season and followed up with 44, 35 and 30 in the next three seasons.  He was on his way to a fifth consecutive thirty homer season when he hit 28 in 109 games in 1994.  Surely, he would have hit two in the last two months if the games had been played.  He then hit 31 in his final full-season with the Tigers in 1995.  Fiinally, he hit 26 in 1996 before being traded to the Yankees and ended up with 39 for the season.

Nobody else has come as close to Cabrera's record as Greenberg and Fielder, but the Tigers have had some other notable power hitters.  Slugging right fielder Rocky Colavito actually did hit thirty home runs five years in a row from 1958-1962, but the first two years were with Cleveland.  Playing in the shadow of Fielder, catcher - outfielder Mickey Tettleton had three straight seasons of thirty or more long balls from 1991-1993.  Big first baseman Tony Clark also had three straight thirty or more homer campaigns from 1997-1999. 

First sacker Norm Cash hit 373 homers as a Tiger including five seasons of thirty or more between 1961-1971.  Greenberg's teammate Rudy York had four thirty homer seasons in Detroit in the 1930s and 40s, but, like Cash, did not do it consecutively.

Some of the greatest Tigers hitters ever were not really home run hitters.  Hall-of-Fame right fielder Al Kaline had more home runs than any Tiger recording 399 between 1953-1974, but that was a record of longevity more than homers.  The most he ever hit was 29 in 1962 and 1966 and would be characterized as a line drive hitter more than a slugger.  Second baseman Charlie Gehringer collected 904 extra base hits between 1924-1942, but never had more than twenty homers.  Finally, Hall-of-Fame hitters Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford and Harry Heilmann played most of their careers in early decades before home runs became so prolific.

So, it takes a lot to reach thirty homers five consecutive seasons with the same team.  Not only do you have to hit a lot of home runs, but you have to have some other things happen including health, timing and staying with the same team.

None of that takes anything away from Cabrera's accomplishment though.  It's been a great run and odds are the streak will not end this year.   

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