Miguel Cabrera smashes his 500th home run.

Cabrera is the 28th member of the 500 home club. (Wikipedia).

He kept us waiting a little bit. In quick succession, a matter of a few games, he hit home runs 495, 496, 497 and 498. About a week later, 499 left the yard.

 500 was one swing away. One swing and Miguel Cabrera would join an elite club, whose membership numbers less than thirty, whose ranks include names like Aaron and Mays.

A game passed, then another, then another. It was August 11 that his last dinger soared over the fence. By August 18, his bat had gone cold. In the past week, he’d had just two hits.

Each day that passed without another homer intensified the anticipation tenfold. Each day without another homer was a letdown, adding to the crush of disappointment.

His bat woke up on August 19. Cabrera went 2-for-5 against the Angels that day, driving four runs in. But just as quickly as it had been jolted to alertness, it fell back asleep.

0-for 5 on the 20th. 0-for-3 on the 21st.

Then 1-for-5—with a home run—on the 22nd.

Steven Matz has allowed just two hits against Cabrera—both home runs. (Wikipedia).

After a ten-day span that felt like ten years, Cabrera finally clobbered number 500, a sixth inning solo shot off Blue Jays hurler Steven Matz, his first hit in 13 at-bats.

Twenty-seven sluggers had done it before him, and none since David Ortiz in 2015.

But the trek to 500 wasn’t easy. Not just the jump from 499 to 500, either—it took a while for Cabrera to get to the magic number at all.

One of the game’s premier stars early in his career, he debuted with the Marlins in 2003 and lit up the stage in 2004, earning his first of 11 All-Star selections. From that point through 2014, he averaged 34 home runs and 119 RBI per season. He won the Triple Crown in 2012. He took home two MVPs and five Silver Sluggers. Only twice he drove in less than 110 runs, and never less than 100; only twice he had less than 30 homers, and never less than 25.

By the end of his age-25 season, he had 175 home runs. Just triple that and he’d be at 500 by his mid-30s, with a few years to add to his total. At the end of his career’s first decade—he wasn’t even 30 yet—he already had more than 300 dingers. 321, to be exact. Just double that and he’d be up there with Griffey and Thome, and not even 40 years old.

Cabrera spent five years with the Marlins. (Wikipedia).

One of the game’s most reliable players during that 11-year stretch, Cabrera played no less than 148 games in any given season, averaging 157. But in 2015, he hurt his calf, played just 111 games, and slugged 18 home runs.

Sure, he was still an All-Star and he led the league in batting average, but it was a portent of worries to come.

A confluence of two distressing issues, one involving health and the other a sudden decline in power, contributed to Cabrera’s downfall. The latter started in 2014, when his slugging percentage dropped more than 100 points from the year before. The prior season, he had led the loop with a .636 mark; the next, it was .524.

But the problem went from inconvenient to concerning in 2017, when the number fell to .399. It hasn’t reached .450 since.

Then there’s health. Cabrera has had problems with his calf, his groin, his hamstring. In 2018, he missed most of the year after undergoing surgery to repair a bad biceps.

And as his power was failing and his body was falling apart, time kept marching forward. He kept getting older. More than anything else, it seems, age drags a player down hardest.  On April 18, 2021, he turned 38.

Cabrera’s ascension to the 500 home run club went from a no-brainer to a maybe.

In 2017, he hit 16 home runs to put him at 462—a good 2018, a Cabrera-esque 2018, would get him there. He hit 38 home runs as recently as 2016, a one-off rebound campaign.

He hit three home runs in 2018. 465 for his career; 35 away. A good 2019 would get him there. He’d hit 35 home runs five times in his career. It could be done.

He hit 12 home runs in 2019. 477 for his career. 23 away. Did he even have 23 left in the tank? Was he finished?

He hit 10 home runs in 2020. 487 for his career. 13 away. His contract was up after 2023; would the Tigers keep him that long?

His batting average declined each year from 2018 to 2020, from .299 to .250. As late as July 27 this year, it was in the .230s. Cabrera hadn’t just lost the ability to hit home runs, he couldn’t hit anymore, period.

It wasn’t only his power that suffered. About halfway through his career, he had over 1,800 base hits. At this point, he might be looking at 3,500 had he not faltered; he just recently passed 2,950.

But one swing made us forget all that.

When that 500th moonshot finally thundered off Cabrera’s bat on August 22, 2021, those struggles to get there, the questions and concerns and worries all went away.

Miguel Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers legend, the best player in Marlins history, now stands among the elite.

History won’t care how long it took him to join the club. The ghosts of Babe Ruth and Mel Ott don’t tut-tut because Cabrera took a winding path to their fraternity.

All that matters is he’s in the fraternity, today, now, in this moment—and forever.

Bill Freehan, who made 11 All-Star Games, has passed away

Bill Freehan, an 11-time All-Star catcher with the Detroit Tigers in the 1960s and 1970s, has passed away at 79.

He was the premier catcher of the Second Dead Ball Era, which ran from about 1964 to 1972, and was one of the best of his generation.

The 15-year veteran slugged 200 home runs, including 20 or more in a season three times, and ranked second behind only Johnny Bench among catchers of the 1960s and 1970s in that category.

Indeed, it is difficult to think of a better backstop not named Bench from that two-decade span. Ted Simmons was excellent and so was Gene Tenace. Tim McCarver could hold his own and even Jim Sundberg was beginning to make a name for himself.

But none of them, save for Bench, matched Freehan.

The voters knew it. They selected him to 11 All-Star Games, including 10 in a row, among the most of any player not in the Hall of Fame. And the writers, they were privy to his greatness. They awarded him five Gold Gloves for his defensive acumen—and they were well-earned. He led league catchers in putouts six times and fielding percentage thrice.

At the time of his retirement, he ranked among catching greats—legends, even—in almost all statistical categories. He was just two behind Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey in home runs and was a full ten ahead of Cooperstowner Ernie Lombardi. He ranked just behind Mickey Cochrane in total hits and just ahead of Roy Campanella in walks.

But he wasn’t just great in aggregate.

There was the 1968 World Series. Freehan didn’t contribute much in the actual Fall Classic—just 2 hits and 4 walks—but his regular season propelled them to that point.

Behind Willie Horton, he was the team’s superstar. His 25 dingers tied for second on the club, as did his 24 doubles. He had 84 RBI—good for second on the team—and his .366 on-base percentage finished behind only Al Kaline’s .392.  

A few years later, Freehan helped the Tigers to the American League Championship Series. Though the 30-year-old played just 111 games that year, his presence was felt in the postseason. It was a losing effort against the Yankees, but Number 11 did his part. He slugged a home run and knocked a double. He had 3 RBI.

As the seasons passed, wearing the tools of ignorance began to take its toll. Few did it as long as he did. His offense began to slip and, despite still showing flashes of his former greatness, he retired after the 1976 season.

Cooperstown awaited.

But the voters gave him hardly a look.

Perhaps they can be forgiven. In his only year on the ballot, 1982, he was competing with 14 future Hall of Famers for votes. They included Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson and Harmon Killebrew. Juan Marichal and Don Drysdale ranked among them, too. And don’t forget the players who never made the Hall, like Gil Hodges, who were garnering significant support, as well. It’s easy to be crowded out in such a field.

But what cannot be forgiven is the cold shoulder the writers gave Freehan. He didn’t earn a handful of votes and another look in 1983. Rather, he appeared on just a couple ballots, less than one percent of the total, and was swept into the dustbin of history.

This catcher who made more All-Star Games than Torre, Lombardi and Simmons, Hall of Famers all, this catcher who won more Gold Gloves than Carter and Piazza and Fisk was given a couple pity votes and then shooed away.

It’s an injustice.

But one, perhaps, that might soon be corrected. The Hall of Fame has a knack for inducting individuals only after they pass away. It happened to Ron Santo. It happened to Marvin Miller, Nellie Fox and Leo Durocher.

And for the sake of all that is holy,

It’d better happen to Bill Freehan, as well.