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    Thursday, July 25, 2024

    Miguel Cabrera's career coming to close with Tigers, leaving lasting legacy in MLB and Venezuela

    Detroit Tigers designated hitter Miguel Cabrera speaks to fans while sitting in the dugout during the first inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

    Detroit — Miguel Cabrera sat in a gray chair beside his two stalls in the Detroit Tigers' clubhouse early in the final week of his career, sorting through stuff to get shipped.

    Major League Baseball's only Triple Crown winner since 1967 stuffed dozens of barely used cleats and a bunch of batting gloves in a cardboard box at his feet. Cabrera then put a slew of balls he had signed, each in a zip lock bag, in a tote.

    The bottle of wine, in bubble wrap, that the Oakland Athletics gave him last week along with his personal belongings are being sent to his home in Miami.

    Where's he going to put it all?

    "I don't know," the 40-year-old Cabrera said with a shrug and a grin.

    For Cabrera — and baseball fans — there's a lot to unpack from the career of one of the best hitters ever.

    Cabrera's career will end Sunday afternoon against Cleveland at Comerica Park, where a sold-out crowd will include a few thousands fans paying for standing-room only tickets to cheer him on one more time.

    The 12-time All-Star leaves the game with an impressive legacy. The popular player has also provided a desperately needed jolt of joy in his native Venezuela during a crisis that has pushed millions into poverty and compelled 7.3 million people to migrate.

    Cabrera, who made his major league debut at 20 with the Florida Marlins, has put himself in the conversation with all-time greats at the plate.

    "Hitting a baseball is one of the hardest things to do in sports, and he and Albert Pujols are the two best that I've seen do it my 60 years in baseball," Jim Leyland, who managed Cabrera in Detroit, said in a telephone interview this week. "It's on paper, and in the books."

    When Cabrera led the majors with a .330 batting average, 44 homers and 139 RBIs in 2012, he was the first to win a Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967 with the Boston Red Sox.

    Last year, he joined Hank Aaron and Albert Pujols as the three players in baseball history with 3,000 hits, 500 homers and 600 doubles.

    "One of the things that made Miggy really special is the way he could drive the ball to all fields," said Philadelphia Phillies team president Dave Dombrowski, who ran the Marlins when they signed Cabrera as a teenager and later acquired him in a blockbuster trade. "He could hit to right field as if he was a left-handed pull hitter.

    "Miggy also had so much grit, playing at times when he was hurt badly, and always had a smile on his face because he loves the game so much."

    Cabrera is from the Venezuelan city of Maracay, which is known for producing bullfighters and ballplayers, including Houston Astros star Jose Altuve. He grew up following fellow countrymen Davey Concepcion, Omar Vizquel and Andres Galarraga.

    "I wanted to follow them to make it to the big leagues," Cabrera said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I say to people from Venezuela, 'I think our baseball is safe with Ronald Acuña.'"

    The 25-year-old Acuña, an Atlanta Braves outfielder, became the first player in major league history on Wednesday night to have 40 homers and 70 stolen bases in the same season.

    "There's a lot of Venezuelan baseball players who are doing great things over here and playing well," Acuña said through a translator. "I think we're all doing a good job of just continuing that, but as far as Venezuelan players are concerned, Miguel Cabrera is like a Venezuelan baseball god."

    The Marlins gave Cabrera $1.8 million to sign when he was 16, and after three seasons in the minors, they called him up. He provided a glimpse of what was to come in his major league debut, hitting a walk-off, 11th-inning homer.

    Cabrera cleared the fences three times as a rookie in the NL Championship Series and hit an opposite-field homer off Roger Clemens to help Florida win the 2003 World Series.

    He was an All-Star in each of his four full seasons in Florida. The financially strapped franchise traded him to the Tigers in December of 2007, and he flourished even more.

    He won consecutive AL MVP awards in 2012 and 2013. Cabrera won five of his seven Silver Slugger awards and all four batting titles in Detroit, including becoming the first right-handed batter in either league to win three straight batting titles since Rogers Hornsby did in the early 1920s.

    While the Tigers did have success in Cabrera's prime, winning four straight division titles and reaching the 2012 World Series, they never won it all despite having him and some dominant pitching staffs. The 2014 team alone had what turned out to be five Cy Young Award winners in Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, David Price, Rick Porcello and Robbie Ray.

    Cabrera cashed in on his talent, signing a $152.3 million, eight-year contract in 2008 and a record-setting $292 million, 10-year contract in 2014.

    In between the two deals, Cabrera acknowledged he had a drinking problem and spent three months in an outpatient treatment program following a much-publicized binge during the final weekend of the 2010 season.

    Cabrera's wife and children are expected to attend the games for what the team is calling "Miggy Celebration Weekend," at Comerica Park.

    Even though his production at the plate declined and he didn't play first base much in recent years as the team struggled during rebuilds, it didn't diminish how popular he is among major leaguers, in the Motor City and back home in Venezuela.

    He established the Miguel Cabrera Foundation in 2007, and it funded the renovation of a Little League baseball stadium in Venezuela. He had clinics and competitions for kids in his native country until stopping in 2016 due to the political turmoil.

    When a cancer-stricken Vietnam veteran, given three months to live by doctors, told the Tigers' community relations department he wanted to meet his favorite player, Cabrera came through.

    Wayne Ochadleus had his white Tigers jersey signed on the back — just above the 24 — by Cabrera before Tuesday night's game against Kansas City and posed for pictures with him.

    "This is the best thing to happen in my life," the 72-year-old Ochadelus said.

    The Detroit Tigers Foundation has benefitted from Cabrera's charisma and commitment to give back, including having him host a Keeping Kids in the Game event that has raised more than $3 million to assist children's health and sports initiatives.

    "I want people to remember me here in Detroit as not only coming here to play baseball," he told the AP. "I want to be part of the community. It's what I want to do after I retire."

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