When I started this series, I spoke of the different ways people would interpret the meaning of "best player." How do you weigh peak performance compared to longevity? Do players we have seen in our lifetimes get preferential treatment over past legends? Does the era that someone played through have a role? The beauty of interpretation finally came to fruition in our last poll, as Miguel Cabrera benefited from a late surge of votes to become our #4 player in Tigers history.
*Played for the Florida Marlins from 2003-2007.
Cabrera, the first non-American on our list, was born in Maracay, Venezuela in 1983. He signed with the Florida Marlins as an amateur free agent in 1999, and put up less-than-stellar numbers in the minor leagues before he torched the Double-A Southern League for a 1.038 OPS in 69 games before being called up to the majors that season as a 20 year old. He wasted no time making an impact with his new team, hitting a walk-off two-run home run in his very first game. Later that season, Cabrera made his presence known in the World Series, hitting an opposite field home run off Roger Clemens at Yankee Stadium.
The Marlins won the series in six games, and Cabrera continued to blossom into one of the game's greatest hitters. In his first five seasons, he made four All-Star teams while hitting .313/.388/.542 with 138 home runs. Shortly after his fifth year in Florida, the Tigers came calling on what is probably the greatest December day in Detroit Tigers history. Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis came to Detroit in exchange for a package of prospects who are primarily trivia fodder for fans curious to see what names were sent to Florida in exchange for one of the greatest hitters of all-time.
Since Cabrera has become a Tiger, he has only gotten better at the plate. In six seasons, he has hit .327/.407/.588 with 227 home runs and 737 RBI. He has won three consecutive batting titles -- becoming the first right-hander to do so since Rogers Hornsby -- and two straight MVPs. He won the 2012 Triple Crown, and seems to be a yearly challenger for the holiest of baseball holy grails.
If there were ever a doubt that we are blessed to watch a hitter of Miguel Cabrera's caliber take swings everyday, that shred of doubt vanished on August 9th, 2013. After a lengthy at-bat against the greatest closer of all-time -- including fouling two pitches off his left leg -- Cabrera hit a game-tying home run to dead center. The at-bat has already become legendary among the Tigers fanbase, and it is best viewed in its entirety.
The fact that Cabrera was voted in ahead of a legend like Charlie Gehringer speaks to both Cabrera's incredible peak -- we have run out of adjective during the last couple seasons -- and his immense potential. What if Cabrera does this for another three or four years? There isn't much doubt that he would surpass Greenberg and Kaline on this list if we were to do it again in five years, but could he ever catch Ty Cobb and be considered the greatest Tiger ever? Moments like the one above definitely tilt the ledger in his favor.