The last Triple Crown in the major leagues was achieved by Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. The fact that a Red Sox was the last to secure one of baseball's rarer achievements has been something of a source of pride for many fans, in the same way Hall of Famer and Red Sox lifer Ted Williams was the last to finish with a .400 batting average 70 years ago. Hey, when you don't win a World Series starting in 1919 until 2004, you learn to hold on to the moments you can. Yaz's Triple Crown is one of those things.
Miguel Cabrera is one game away from winning the first Triple Crown in 45 years. Cabrera is leading the American League in batting average at .331, home runs with 44, and runs batted in with 139. Trout is second in average at .324, Josh Hamilton is 11 RBI behind, and also just one homer back. Edwin Encarnacion is two homers back, while Curtis Granderson and Adam Dunn are three back. All of those threaten Cabrera's homer lead -- some more than others -- but for now, with one game left, he leads all of the Triple Crown categories. Should anyone tie Cabrera for the AL-lead in homers, he's still Triple Crown-eligible. If you don't think that's an appropriate rule, then you will have to stop recognizing Yaz's Triple Crown, too, as he was tied with Harmon Killebrew for the lead back in '67.
Offense was much different in 1967 than it is today. Yastrzemski hit .326/.418/.622 in a year where the average slugger put up a .236/.303/.351 line. That puts Yaz's OPS+ at 193, the 48th-best in the history of the American League among qualifiers. (For reference, Mike Trout's 2012 that everyone is obsessed with features a 169 OPS+, and Cabrera's own Triple Crown-worthy campaign is at 167). That's not to take away from Trout or Cabrera, who both rank in the top 200 offensive seasons in the AL by OPS+, but is meant to point out just how ridiculously good Yaz was relative to his peers at a time when offense just didn't happen. (It should also be pointed out that, while top 200 doesn't sound that amazing for Trout and Cabrera, that 6,769 qualifying seasons exist in the history of the AL. That puts Cabrera's and Trout's seasons in the top two percent in AL history. Yaz? Top 0.7 percent.)
Cabrera is a career .318 hitter, won the batting title in 2011, and has hit .332 over the last four years with the Tigers. Sometimes you can say batting average is made up of a lot of luck, but at this point, it's pretty clear Cabrera is an exceptional contact hitter who collects loads of hits. Give credit where credit is due in this regard: Cabrera's not some one-timer that lucked into a high average season. He's the only kind of hitter who can even threaten to win the Triple Crown these days.
The reason for that? It's not just rate of hits that Cabrera has, but quality of them. He led the AL in homers in his first season with the Tigers (and led in doubles last season), and has averaged 37 bombs a season since coming to the American League. This, despite hitting in a park that leans more towards pitchers. The 2012 season might be the apex of his power, but he's always had prolific pop. Again, credit where it's due.
RBI are the more questionable portion of the Triple Crown, since they have the oldest of old-school tint to them, especially relative to average and (especially especially) homers. Cabrera has even managed to drive in runs in a way that can appease the more modern stat-oriented crowd, though, as yes, he's had the fourth-most plate appearances with runners on in the majors in 2012 -- and the fifth-most runners on -- but also driven in over 21 percent of those runners, the second-most among qualified hitters. He has the combination of both quantity and quality as well as efficiency. Maybe this doesn't deserve as much credit as homers or even batting average, but as much as you can give for RBI, Cabrera merits it.
Cabrera's campaign isn't as good as Trout's, so he's not quite MVP-caliber -- at least not in 2012, anyway -- but that doesn't mean we can't appreciate the historical nature of it. (Well, unless you don't want Cabrera to take Yaz's name out of the record books as the last Triple Crown winner.) There have been just 15 Triple Crowns in the history of baseball, and 13 different Triple Crown winners. The fact that Cabrera has never won an MVP, despite being one of his generation's most productive players -- and a player on pace to be one of the greatest hitters ever -- makes it that much easier to root for him to win the Triple Crown. Some recognition of his greatness, something to be recorded in history before he's potentially inducted into the Hall of Fame 15 years or whatever from now, is deserved.