Five Hundred Home Runs Dies In Darkness?

The ever-astute and hip Washington Post decided to celebrate Miguel Cabrera’s historic home run achievement by opining that Cabrera and Albert Pujols may be the last major leaguers to reach five hundred home runs and three thousand hits because apparently they tallied a lot of their numbers while opposing pitching was relatively bad and batters (but we’re not saying who!) artificially extended their careers with prohibited performance-enhancing drugs, and pitching is good now and PEDs are gone.

Rather than engage that cheerful take, let’s join the throngs of the genuinely happy and have yet another look at the rarity of Cabrera’s accomplishment from two big-picture perspectives.

Cabrera famously hit his first career MLB home run in his first career MLB game, a walk-off shot in the bottom of the eleventh inning. That day, June 20, 2003, Cabrera, then twenty years old, became the 18,306th person to play Major League Baseball. (A list of all 2003 debutants is available here.) As of this writing, 22,538 people have done so, meaning that Cabrera, the twenty-eighth player to five hundred homers, joined a group that represents barely a tenth of a percent of all MLB players ever. Whether we eventually will look back at this benchmark as– perhaps like Rickey Henderson’s 1,406 career stolen bases or maybe Denny McClain’s 31 wins in 1968– an irreplicable vestige of eras past is, for this moment, a matter for dour D.C. dilettantes to debate. We can celebrate and appreciate the extreme rarity and therefore special nature of Cabrera’s feat right now.

Also noteworthy in the present moment is the rarity of the observation of the achievement for current fans. The six seasons between Cabrera’s five-hundredth blast and David Ortiz’s was the longest such gap between such career landmark hits since the nine-year period between Mike Schmidt’s (1987) and Eddie Murray’s (1996).

That the combination of talent, consistency, and longevity required to hit five hundred major-league home runs always has been rare and appears likely to remain so does not in any way diminish the significance of the accomplishment. And although the Washington Post isn’t projected to produce any journalism on the level of Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate work in the foreseeable future and hasn’t since, neither has Cabrera taken time to comment on the Post’s weaker competition during the zenith of institutional print media. (Selections from today’s online front page for modern reference.)

Thus, a humble suggestion that the Washington Post aim its performative social criticism elsewhere. Cabrera, with his excellent resume and obvious love of the game, can handle it, but it doesn’t become them. Perhaps the editors just are embarrassed that their own team can’t hang onto this type of historic player and so responds by lashing out at other greats. Regardless, I look forward to not reading a Washington Post sportswriter’s forthcoming book on Stephen Strasburg’s career entitled The Final Days.

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