Kaline: Cabrera is greatest Tigers hitter he’s seen

The Detroit News
Miguel Cabrera

Al Kaline’s Hall of Fame career began in 1953 and lasted until 1974. He has been a part of the organization since his playing career ended, first as a broadcaster and later as a member of the front office. He has been special assistant to the Tigers general manager for the past 11 years.

He’s witnessed countless players in a Detroit uniform, and in his estimation, Miguel Cabrera is the greatest Tigers hitter he’s seen.

“He’s one great hitters of all-time. He’s certainly is the best hitter I’ve ever seen in a Tigers uniform,” Kaline, 81, told ESPN’s Buster Olney. “He has tremendous strength the opposite way and to center field, and it’s too bad that he plays in Comerica Park … I mean, it’s not too bad – I’m glad he does – but we have the biggest right-center field in all of baseball.

“I can pretty much say that I’ve seen 60 balls hit to that right-center field – balls caught – that would be possibly home runs or balls off the wall (in other parks).”

Comerica Park is 420 feet to straightaway center and 365 to right-center.

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Kaline continued: “It’s just unfortunate because the players today are taught to use the center of the field more. Back in our day we were basically more pull hitters and occasionally hit the ball the opposite way. But now the players are taught to stay inside the ball and go to center field, right-center field, left-center field – and Comerica Park is a very huge ballpark in center field and right-center field.

While Kaline gives the nod to Cabrera as the greatest Tigers hitter he’s seen, he said he couldn’t yet put Cabrera above Ted Williams or Willie Mays.

“I rank him very close to the top, and the reason I say that is because he can’t run a lick and he still hits well over .300 every year, so he doesn’t get many infield hits or groundball hits. Most of his hits are very will earned,” Kaline said. “But I can’t (put him over) Ted Williams or Willie Mays yet because they’re different eras. And these guys have a lot of things going for them that we didn’t have, and the guys before me didn’t have.

“They have the ability to work out all winter long, they have batting cages all over the place. When I played I had a job every winter, we had no batting cages to go to. We had pitchers throwing batting practice instead of coaches.

“But that’s not taking anything away from these great players today. They are outstanding.”

Kaline, an 18-time All-Star, won the AL batting title in 1955 (.340) and retired with 3,007 hits and a .297 average.

Cabrera, 33, has been an All-Star 10 times and won four batting titles and the Triple Crown in 2012 (.330, 44 HR, 139 RBI). He has 2,421 hits in 14 seasons and his career average is .320.