I remember Carl Yastrzemski. All the kids followed him. It was 1967, the Summer of Love, but for boys sporting high top sneakers and baseball cards in our bicycle spokes, it was the summer of the Triple Crown – or another summer of the Triple Crown. Frank Robinson had won it the year before. And being wide-eyed fans, we figured someone would win it every year.
It didn’t happen that way, of course. Yaz, who went 7-for-8 in his last two games, won the Triple Crown with the Boston Red Sox that summer and remains the last man to lead a league in home runs, runs batted in and batting average.
It has been 45 summers since. The bicycles and high tops are long gone. But now, in our own backyard, Miguel Cabrera is making a serious threat. Right now, with 12 games to go, he leads or is tied in all three AL categories (.332 average, 42 homers, 131 RBIs). He has little of Yaz’s mannerisms or personality, but he does have one similarity with Yaz’s 1967 experience: His team is in the thick of a playoff chase.
“If we didn’t have that intense pennant race… I probably wouldn’t have won it,” Yastrzemski told USA Today five years ago. “When you think about hitting a home run, you usually don’t do it.”
Saturday, after the Tigers’ 8-0 victory at Comerica Park, Cabrera said pretty much the same thing.
“When you want to hit a home run,” he said, “you mess your swing up.”
And he had just hit a home run.
The right mentality
Cabrera showed his awesome ability in the fourth inning against the Twins on Saturday with a high swing on a high fastball that went high into the afternoon. It had the hang time of two punts. For a moment it seemed as if every eye in the stadium were on a 45-degree upward swivel.
“I was kind of like, ÃÂPlease go out, don’t stay in the park,'” Cabrera said. “(It was up so long) hopefully they can move the fence in!”
He burst into laughter – which may be his best friend down this choking stretch. Few major leaguers seem to enjoy themselves as much as Cabrera. It’s as if every time he pulls on a uniform, he dashes inside a childhood photo of himself.
It will take that kind of mentality to win a Triple Crown: an intense focus when the pitch comes in, a jack-o-lantern smile when that pitch goes out. Cabrera is not Roger Maris, losing his hair chasing a home-run record. Cabrera is unbridled joy and unbridled power, stirred in the blender of a pennant chase.
“Miguel’s locked in right now,” manager Jim Leyland said. “I think he’s trying to win the Triple Crown. And when he’s locked in, there’s no better.
“I think the pennant chase is the big thing…but last year I can remember telling him, ÃÂI want to see you win that batting title.’ And he just got locked in so good, it was unbelievable. I mean, he was going for it. And he got it.”
Attention around the globe
Watching him chase the Triple Crown will make a must-watch final two weeks. Cabrera, 29, caught a break with Josh Hamilton’s sinus problems, which have sidelined the Texas star for several days. Still, the rest of the way, Cabrera will be one of those movie swordsmen, fending off multiple threats at once. There’s Hamilton chasing with home runs and RBIs, and Los Angeles’ Mike Trout hot on his heels in batting average.
“It’s hard, you know, because there’s a lot of attention right now, here and even in Venezuela,” Cabrera said. “Everybody watches whatever I’m doing right now.”
Still, Cabrera agreed, his chances are better with the Tigers chasing first place.
“It’s a different feeling when you’re out of it at this point of the season,” he said. “You go nowhere, you go to your house. But right now, it’s like, we got a shot, man.”
Cabrera stays away from newspapers or Internet sites or even TV shows about sports. He said he was spending time watching movies or playing with his kids to keep the pressure off when he’s not at the park. He even has read a few books.
“ÃÂFifty Shades of Grey?'” someone joked.
“Huh?” he said.
“ÃÂFifty Shades of Grey?'”
Right. Who needs 50 shades of grey when you’re chasing three points of a crown?
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or email@example.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.