Nelson Cruz hit 22 Major League home runs before entering his age-28 season in 2009. He has 382 since then. Two came yesterday as part of a four-hit, seven RBI outburst in Chicago against the White Sox. Cruz, now 40 and a crucial bat for the pennant-chasing Minnesota Twins, continues to age like a fine wine. Or perhaps he's Benjamin Buttoning, allowing writers to dip back into the overworked Curious Case headline files should they see fit.
Something's going on and we need to get to the bottom of it. The slugging outfielder-turned-designated hitter made one All-Star Game before he turned 32. Since then, he's earned a spot in five. Over the past five seasons, he's finished in the Top-10 of MVP voting in four and in 15th in another campaign. During this torrid stretch he has homered at least 37 times every season.
Last year, in his first go-round with the Twins, Cruz posted arguably the most spectacular numbers of his career, slashing .311/.392/.639 while blasting 41 dingers and driving in 108 runs in 120 games. Now, it's an extremely small sample size, but it's worth mentioning that he currently leads all of baseball in homers, RBI, and hits through three games — which amounts to five percent of the season.
Cruz producing at a blistering pace over a 60-game stretch is very possible. It's not unreasonable to think he could contend for MVP honors. If that happens, he'll be one of the oldest player to ever win it, tied with Barry Bonds (who won it at 40 in 2004). Even more eye-brow raising for Cruz is that he's the second-oldest position player currently in baseball.
Even if those lofty goals fall by the wayside, Cruz has put together a remarkable and unexpected inverted career. The truth can be stranger than fiction and it feels like he just gets better as they days pass. Wish we could all say the same.