The metrics can evolve to become an advanced species, but the round-tripper is still the king of the baseball world. It's a binary event. Either something is a home run or it is decidedly not. In a world of gray and nuance, a ball's flight is judge, jury, and executioner. More times than not the carom off the bat is deemed insufficient of such marvel. There is nothing else like it in sports, where the defense tips their caps without moving a muscle to impede such a free trip through enemy territory.
It's a classic bit in this American fabric, a blank canvas for symbolism among our more creative minds. The home run is mighty in force but quaint in the abstract. Mankind can go to space and go to every corner of the Internet and still the homer has maintained its place in the zeitgeist through earnest charm. And while counting stats can come and go like the afternoon clouds over a Detroit matinee, something about the trek to a milestone can open a cynical heart and provide a wide avenue for appreciating the journey up the mountain top for whichever slugger is climbing most publicly.
Miguel Cabrera, the greatest right-handed hitter of his generation, reached the 500-level of the mountain Sunday afternoon in Toronto. An abysmal start to his 2021 year laid bare what still remains true: that he will never again resemble the player he was in his prime. But the 38-year-old, who still to this day embodies the on-field devilishness of an 8-year-old, has at stretches been a blurry facsimile of his self. His quests for both 3,000 hits and 500 homers have rejuvenated a Tigers fanbase that felt they'd hit rock bottom at 15 games under .500 in May.
Like so many of the previous 499, Cabrera's milestone mash disappeared over the fence the opposite way. For 19 years he's plied his otherworldly talent from foul line to foul line. It's not as though feathers in his cap are needed. All of this is bonus material for a player who may be next to impossible not to respect for his greatness. Because it's just so obvious, even when he isn't hammering everyone over the head with a large round number.
Cabera is the greatest righthanded hitter of his generation and Major League Baseball's only Triple Crown winner over the past 53 years. There's a chance he finishes with a career average over .300 and 550 longballs. Such would be exclusive company with Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Manny Ramirez.
That he is getting this moment at what is either the true tail end of a first-ballot Hall of Fame career or a prolonged valley is a baseball gift. A poetic second bookend for the fearless rookie whose first act as a professional was to go through a World Series run without blinking at age 20. Cabrera captivating years ago with a limitless potential he would eventually realize — and captivating now — proves the greats of this game spend a lifetime in it. And the sheer absurdity of someone doing all the things he's done with a bat in his hands is laid bare.
A legend like Cabrera is defeated in battle with more frequency than seemed possible 10 years ago, yet he still wields his sword with percussion and guile. There's a mountain of vanquished souls in the rearview.
There's been a joy closer to the surface on Cabrera this season, perhaps because these finish lines are in sight. When he smiles it's a reminder of all the previous ones on the grandest stages and most important moments. On both his face and baseball's.
He's king for a day, 19 long years in the making. Another crowning achievement.