Column: Easy to tell these batting champs apart
Strange as it seems that two guys with the same name could win batting titles in the same season, it's hardly the happy coincidence it sounds like.
The good news is that baseball fans won't need a scorecard to tell Miguel and Melky Cabrera apart. A lab test will suffice.
Through Wednesday's games, Detroit's Cabrera, Miguel, was on pace to accomplish something even more historic. He was leading the American League in both batting average and RBIs, and was only one behind Texas' Josh Hamilton - 42-41 - in the home-run race. And because Hamilton is battling a sinus problem that affects his vision, the Rangers are likely to use him sparingly the final weeks of the regular season, boosting Cabrera's chances of winning a Triple Crown.
Yet even if Miguel Cabrera becomes the first player to claim the trifecta since Boston's Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 - and wins the league's MVP award, too - his achievements could still be overshadowed by the other Cabrera.
That's because San Francisco's Melky - at 28, some 16 months younger than Miguel and no relation - could very well win the NL batting title while serving a 50-game suspension handed down in August after a positive drug test.
Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has already weighed in on that very possibility, saying he's powerless to do anything about it.
``We'll see how it all plays out,'' Selig told reporters after sitting for an interview for the YES Network. ``We generally don't interfere in that process. We'll take a look at it at the end of the year.''
And ``look at it'' is about all Selig intends to do.
``You can't change records'' he said earlier in the interview, ``because once you get into that it would never stop.''
Hard to disagree with Bud on this one, since neither he nor all the blue-ribbon panels that investigated the game's Supersized Era can say with certainty where the timeline begins or ends. Deciding how many tainted entries the record books hold would be trickier than answering how many ballplayers can dance on the tip of a hypodermic needle.
For the same reason, Selig can't go back and void the results of July's All-Star game, when Melky Cabrera's contributions won him MVP honors and locked up home-field advantage for the NL in the World Series. (Wouldn't that be a kick in the shins if the Tigers and Giants wind up playing in it?) But even if there is little the commissioner can do, it's not as though Melky Cabrera is getting off easy.
He hasn't been seen much in San Francisco since last month's suspension and the Giants apparently plan to keep it that way. The club isn't expected to bring Cabrera back and add him to the playoff roster, and probably won't re-sign him for next season. Since Cabrera becomes a free agent at the end of it, the hit to his reputation will probably translate into a much shorter contract with way fewer dollars than the $70 million or more he might have expected.
It's hard to gauge how much respect he's lost in the clubhouse, though the few friends who reached out to him have yet to hear anything back. Most of his teammates are keeping their distance.
``No thoughts on that,'' Giants manager Bruce Bochy replied Thursday, when asked about Melky. ``That's the last thing on my mind.''
On the other hand, just about everybody in baseball has been forced to keep tabs on the other Cabrera, especially opposing pitchers.
Miguel's home run in a 6-2 win Wednesday night over the visiting A's not only helped the Tigers stay hard on the heels of the White Sox in the AL Central race; it left teammates used to his heroics in awe. That's because his latest highlight moment came on an 0-2 fastball that Oakland pitcher Jim Miller had every intention of wasting.
``You just don't see that,'' said Detroit pitcher Justin Verlander, who was credited with the win. ``You execute your pitch, 94 (mph) up at his chin, and he hits a home run.''
Verlander, the reigning AL MVP, has no doubts who deserves that award this season. It's a debate Miguel Cabrera has so far refused to get involved in, saying only that it would be ``a dream.''
``But right now,'' he said, ``I got to focus on trying to help us make the playoffs.''
Here's hoping he's successful, and that his turn in the spotlight of postseason baseball clears up any lingering confusion. Because the last thing Miguel Cabrera should have to worry about after a season like this one is hanging onto his good name.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.