Like most baseball fans born long before there was a designated-hitter rule, I've always recognized Carl Yastrzemski as that last Triple Crown winner in 1967. He was given the distinction after he slugged the Boston Red Sox to their Impossible Dream of a pennant back then in the AL, and I thought it was as simple as that.
I say as much, because I thought Yastrzemski fulfilled the requirements of a Triple Crown winner by leading his league in batting average, RBIs and home runs.
Those are the Triple Crown requirements, aren't they?
Yes, they are, but I didn't know you also could "tie" your way to the honor. So I guess I missed this over the decades, or maybe I just forgot about it: While Yastrzemski's .326 batting average and 121 RBIs were peerless in the AL in '67, his 44 home runs were matched by Harmon Killebrew of the Minnesota Twins.
This brings me to a couple of points. Courtesy of Yastrzemski's tie with Killebrew, the last of the "undisputed" Triple Crown winners was Frank Robinson, when he was the sole leader in the AL in batting average, RBIs and home runs in 1966. Mostly, this tells you how really, really, REALLY difficult it is to win a Triple Crown -- undisputed or otherwise.
I didn't even mention the last Triple Crown winner of any kind in the National League was Joe Medwick of the St. Louis Cardinals.
That was 75 years ago.
In sum, if the baseball gods cooperate this year -- along with that Grinch named Josh Hamilton, who is trying to snatch the AL's home run title away from the man of the moment -- Cabrera is on the verge of accomplishing something that is as special as it gets in baseball.
No, in sports. What else compares with baseball's Triple Crown?
I'm still thinking.
As for other sports, you have triple-doubles in basketball and hat tricks in hockey, but those only involve single games. Then there is football, and I'm still thinking. Nobody can finish an NFL season leading in three or more of that league's individual categories and have it create the same aura of somebody winning baseball's Triple Crown.
As for other baseball things, Cy Young Award winners are huge, but you regularly have them. The same goes for Most Valuable Player Awards, batting title crowns in both leagues, Rookie of the Year honors and no-hitters.
You can even throw in perfect games. There have been 23 of them, compared to just 16 Triple Crown winners.
Cabrera could make it 17.
The slugger continues to spend this season for the Detroit Tigers putting up consistent and impressive numbers regarding his batting average, RBIs and home runs. More impressive, according to research by the Detroit News, Cabrera is the first player to lead his league in those Triple Crown categories this late in a season since Yastrzemski in '67.
Even more impressive, Cabrera has a decent chance to win the "Major League Baseball" Triple Crown.
That's been done just three times.
Mickey Mantle last accomplished as much in 1956, and the other two players were Lou Gehrig in 1934 and Ty Cobb in 1909. In case you didn't know, those are Hall of Famers.
Cabrera's career isn't quite the stuff of Cooperstown, but he is approaching its city limits. At 29, Cabrera is in his fifth season with the Tigers after spending five with the Marlins. And despite a nomadic career that has featured Cabrera moving between third base, first base, left field, right field and DH, he entered Tuesday night's game with a career batting average of .318 to go along with 319 home runs.
Not only that, Cabrera is on the verge of winning his second consecutive AL batting title after finishing last season at .344. He also led the league in RBIs with 126 in 2010 and in home runs with 37 in 2008. Plus, he is a seven-time All-Star, three-time winner of the Silver Slugger Award and owner of a World Series ring.
Now comes Cabrera's biggest feat of all -- maybe.
He began Tuesday night's action with an eight-point lead in the AL over Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels in batting average (.331), and his 133 RBIs were eight better than Hamilton's total. But Hamilton ripped his 43rd homer Monday night to surpass Cabrera's 42.
Still, when you include the Tigers' home game Tuesday night against the Kansas City Royals, Cabrera will have nine games the rest of the regular season to maintain his AL leads in batting average and RBIs. He also will have the chance to survive Hamilton, Adam Dunn (41), Edwin Encarnacion (41) and Curtis Granderson (40) for the home run title.
That means Cabrera could win the Triple Crown by becoming the latest Yastrzemski after tying one -- or even several -- of those players for the home run title.
As a strict constructionist, I prefer undisputed champions, but I went 45 years (see above) without knowing the difference. So if Cabrera "ties" his way to the crown, long live the king.