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