Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers 3rd baseman, is closing in on the first Triple Crown in baseball in 45 years. The last one was in 1967 with Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox. (The Triple Crown signifies a hitter that finishes the season leading in the statistical categories of batting average, home runs, and runs batted in).
It is a very cool statistical achievement, in part, because of the length of time since it has been accomplished. But it is also cool because it captures what it means to be a good overall hitter. You hit home runs (power), you hit consistently (average), and you bring runs in (RBI).
What is significant about Cabrera is that the Tigers have clinched their division and Cabrera could sit these two games and secure the Triple Crown without taking another bat this regular season. Rookie Mike Trout is nipping at his heals for the batting average, and Josh Hamilton is one home run behind him. So, in fact, he might need to play to secure the crown. Nevertheless, Cabrera is taking the risk and playing. He is putting his reputation, his chance at baseball immortality, on the line by playing these two games. That is the honorable and classy thing to do.
I think the following selections from Heather Reid’s “Socrates at the Ballpark,” (from Baseball and Philosophy) enlightens us to why:
“Baseball, and sports in general, require a similar admission of fallibility. To enter into competition is to risk one’s public reputation and even one’s own self-conception…But to compete is to risk failure. All you can do is offer your best performance and hope it survives exposure to competition…Athletes always risk failure, but this constant risk, this admission of fallibility creates the desire to learn, to train, to improve…Winning is only possible if you are able to risk losing…” (279).
Cabrera has been challenging and proving himself all season. He needs to do that for two more games. He might fail and lose out on the Triple Crown. But if he risks it, and wins, it will be all the more meaningful for him and for fans.
(As a Red Sox fan, I would be remiss in failing to remind readers that in 1941, Ted Williams had .400 batting average heading into the last two games (a double-header) of the season. Williams chose to play in both games, risking his record breaking average. Williams ending with a .405 average.)