On April 13, 1954, Henry "Hank" Aaron made his major league debut with the Milwaukee Braves as a 20-year-old kid. He had come up as a shortstop, playing there in the Negro Leagues, but began his career as a tall, lanky left fielder who hadn't quite grown into his frame. He would go 0-for-5 on that day.
On June 20, 2003, Miguel Cabrera made his major league debut with the Florida Marlins, also as a 20-year-old kid. He too had come up through the minor leagues as a shortstop and he too began his career as a tall, lanky left fielder who hadn't quite grown into his frame. On that day, Cabrera would start the game 0-for-4. In the bottom of the 11th inning, with one man on, however, Cabrera hit a walk-off home run to win the game.
When given the task to identify the greatest hitters in major league history, Hank Aaron's name would most assuredly be mentioned alongside Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Willie Mays and Babe Ruth. His legend has been solidified in baseball lore forever. Miguel Cabrera, however, is still writing his story.
A statistical comparison between Miguel Cabrera and Hank Aaron shows that at this point in their respective careers, they are on an eerily similar trajectory.
On Cabrera's 30th birthday, he was practically breathing down the neck of arguably the greatest hitter of all time.
Home runs: Aaron 342, Cabrera 323.
Batting average: Aaron .320, Cabrera .318.
RBI: Aaron 1,121, Cabrera 1,140.
Fast forward to Tuesday night, a little more than a week before Cabrera's 31st birthday, and the parallel between the two sluggers becomes even tighter.
Home runs: Aaron 366, Cabrera 366.
Batting average: Aaron .320, Cabrera .321.
RBI: Aaron 1,216, Cabrera 1,263.
The juxtaposition is especially important given the recent contract extension given to Cabrera just before the beginning of the season. In a Detroit offseason that was already marred in the minds of many baseball observers by the Doug Fister and Prince Fielder trades, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski handed out an eight-year, $248 million-dollar contract extension, ensuring that Cabrera would stay in a Detroit Tigers uniform for a very long time.
So long, in fact, that if the Tigers were to pick up each of Cabrera's $30 million vesting options at the end of the contract, he would stay in Detroit until the age of 42.
Aaron played 23 seasons for the Braves and Brewers, retiring on Oct. 3, 1976, at the age of, well, you probably know where this is going.
It seems as though the majority of analysts, statisticians and fans alike view the extension as a mistake. We have already seen massive extensions from Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols backfire. Who's to say that Cabrera won't follow the same pattern? Well, Aaron might have something to say about that.
Aaron maintained an elite level of production until the age of 39, when he hit .301 with 40 home runs and 96 RBI. But much of what he accomplished cannot be measured with statistics.
During his career, Aaron was the face of the Braves. He won an MVP with them. He collected his 3,000th hit with them. He broke the all-time home run record with them. He went into the Hall of Fame with them. More importantly, he personified the entire organization. After he retired he returned to the organization and has worked in their front-office ever since.
When you think about the Atlanta Braves, you think about Hank Aaron.
Miguel Cabrera has the chance to do the same with the Tigers. He already has a Triple Crown, a few batting titles and a couple of MVP awards with the Tigers. Cooperstown seems like a lock, and he was also the 2012 and 2013 recipient of the Hank Aaron Award for his offensive accomplishments, because of course he was.
The extension assures that Cabrera will be listed among the all-time Tigers greats. Hank Greenberg and Al Kaline and Hal Newhouser and Ty Cobb and now Miguel Cabrera. Maybe someday there will even be a Miguel Cabrera statue just beyond left-center field with the number 24 listed on the wall below it.
Maybe he will return to the front-office and help guide the organization in the right direction for years to come too. Or maybe he won't.
Either way, when you think about the Detroit Tigers, you'll undoubtedly think about Miguel Cabrera.