Miguel Cabrera, the slugging third baseman for the Detroit Tigers baseball club, has won the first Triple Crown – that is, he led his American League in batting average, home runs and runs batted in – in the big leagues in 45 years.
Cabrera, one of the finest players in the game, smashed 44 homers, drove in 139 RBIs and hit .330.
Only fifteen players in history have accomplished the superlative feat-- the last time was in 1967 when Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox led the A.L. in all three categories.
Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby and Lou Gehrig are among the other immortals who boast a Triple Crown on their resume (Williams and Hornsby actually did it twice during their amazing careers).
Interestingly, there has not been a Triple Crown winner in the National League since 1937 (Joe Medwick of the St. Louis Cardinals).
Winning a Triple Crown is extremely difficult for a number of factors, although luck and happenstance also play a role. Generally speaking, sluggers (that is, those batters who focus on their power) do not hit for high batting averages, while singles hitters with high batting averages tend to hit few home runs.
Thus, a Triple Crown winner possesses the remarkable qualities of patience at the plate, a good eye for strikes and solid power. It is indeed a rare combination of talents.
However, Cabrera’s superlative accomplishment highlights something else about Major League Baseball – the inexorable rise of Hispanics in the game.
Cabrera, a native of Venezuela, is just one of hundreds of Hispanic players who have completely overhauled the face and character of the national pastime; somewhat paralleling the changing demographics of the U.S. as a whole.
According to Fox News Latino, between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of big league ballplayers of Hispanic descent mushroomed from 13 percent to 28.3 percent (a 218 percent spike).
The proportion of minor leaguers who are Latinos is even higher (42 percent, according to ESPN), suggesting this particular pipeline of talent will continue to pump in big leaguers for years to come.
The tiny nation of Dominican Republic (population: 10 million) has produced an extraordinary number of ballplayers – accounting for an estimated 10 percent of Major League rosters, including superstar Albert Pujols, widely acclaimed as the best player in the game. Given the rich seam of talent there, every Major League ballclub is heavily invested in the Dominican.
Not only are Latin players entering the Major Leagues in large numbers, but they are also increasingly dominating in terms of performance and excellence.
Since 2000, Hispanics have won five batting titles in the American League (including Cabrera this year), while Latins have claimed four titles in the National League.
In terms of power, Hispanics have made an overwhelming impression.
Since 2001, Hispanics have won EVERY home run title (although in 2009, Carlos Pena, of the Dominican, had to share the award with non-Hispanic, Mark Teixeira). In the National League, Hispanics have won six home run banners since that time.
As for the RBI title, since 1998, Hispanic players have grabbed 11 of the 15 crowns in the American League (four in the national League).
Latinos have fared pretty well in the pitching department as well, although more so in the American League. Since 1999, Hispanic pitchers have won the covered Cy Young Award six times (including Pedro Martinez twice).
However, Latins have not made much headway in the front office. Only one team owner (Arte Moreno of the Los Angeles Angels) is of Hispanic descent.
Currently, only about 5 percent of players in the Hall of Fame are Latino, including Roberto Clemente. But given the sheer excellence of this generation of Hispanic players, Cooperstown will obviously adopt a very Latin flavor in the coming decades.