For a sport so attached to the fact that it has no clock, baseball is notably, systematically attached to time. It is impossible to escape. An element of time is built into some of the more basic measurements here; it’s in the way players are evaluated; this is in the language the game uses to discuss list building. Even if the clock is not displayed, it is still running, always. The streak will end, the weather will change, the center fielder will lose speed. Timelessness is hard to find here: there are few treasured places in baseball where you can think of forever.
And then there is the swing of Miguel Cabrera.
This is where the clock has a chance to stop. It runs when you watch him try to jog, and it runs when you think about the length of his contract, and it runs all around him, all the time, in general. But when does he swing? There is the escape hatch. It no longer opens with each appearance of a plate, not anymore, but it does open quite often. It is not so much a time machine as a gateway to a place where time has no meaning. Because how do you watch the best of that swing – with that power, that ease, that sheer Talent– without imagining that he could do this forever?
Cabrera’s 500th home run on Sunday was a reminder of how long he’s been doing this. It was also a reminder of how much he could make it all natural. The decisive shot was not scored on the outside by nothing special – Toronto center-right, tying the score in the sixth inning, on a change offered to him by Steven Matz. But it seemed so automatic that it was totally simple, almost instinctive, that is, he looked like so many of the hundreds that came before.
It’s reductive to say that anyone is born to hit home runs. He glosses over the incredible work and effort required for even the most natural hitters, as many hitters have pointed out, including Cabrera himself. “When you say something like ‘He’s going to hit a home run every time he’s at home plate,’ people believe him,” he said. IF during his Triple Crown season in 2012. But while it’s not quite fair to say that Cabrera was born to do that maybe just say he was as close as anyone could get, and he always made you believe he just might as well have been.
This was found to be true when he had his first 30-homer season in 2004, and when he won the Triple Crown in 2012, and when he entered the Club 500 on Sunday. The other parts of Cabrera’s game have grown and shrunk along the lines of any reasonable aging curve. Yet his power – in games, in batting practices, in good and bad teams – always felt like it could be a door forever.
The 500 Home Run Club is almost as much a marker of consistency as it is of greatness. It is not enough to be brilliant. A hitter has to be that regular, for at least a decade, probably close to two. (There’s a reason the club are so exclusive.) Cabrera, as much as anyone in recent memory, embodied these twin pillars of consistency and greatness. He was featured on the MVP ballots in every season from 2003 to 2016. He won several batting titles and several home run and hardware titles of all kinds. He only made a brief trip on the injured list until he was already in his mid-thirties. He’s on the verge of 3,000 hits (2,955) and will likely become the seventh player to reach both that milestone and 500 homers. He was one of the best of a generation and he made it seem routine.
The gap between Cabrera’s 499th home run and his 500th could have seemed a bit long – 11 days. It’s tied with Mickey Mantle for the third longest wait among players who have hit both in the same season. As the days passed, Cabrera’s plate appearances started to feel a little less exciting and a little more tense, loaded with expectations. Everyone started to remember their quote from the excitement of the Triple Crown in 2012: When you say something like “He’s going to hit a home run every time he’s on the plate,” people believe that.
But on Sunday, he made that belief not only seem reasonable but necessary. He swayed and made contact, and as the ball carried, it was clear: Miguel Cabrera had found him forever.
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