A's reflect on Miggy's impact on the game

September 23rd, 2023

This story was excerpted from Martín Gallegos’ A’s Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

OAKLAND -- With the Tigers in town for a four-game series this weekend, the A’s are soaking in the experience of playing against likely future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera one last time before he retires at the end of this season.

For manager Mark Kotsay, his connection to Cabrera dates back to 1999, when the slugger first signed with the Marlins out of Venezuela as a teenager. A member of the Marlins that year, Kotsay recalled a 17-year-old Cabrera showing up to then-Pro Player Stadium shortly after signing to take batting practice with the big league club.

What Kotsay and his teammates witnessed that day felt out of the ordinary.

“It was eye-opening from the first day, really,” Kotsay said. “His ability as a 17-year-old to come into a professional environment on a big league field and take BP probably better than most that were taking BP that day, myself included, was impressive. He started in the opposite-field gap and worked his way around to the pull side. At 17 years old, you don’t see that often.

“From that day, all of us knew he was special. In terms of the career he’s had and put together, that’s a tribute to him and his work ethic and just maximizing the ability that was given to him.”

Asked where Cabrera ranks among baseball’s all-time greatest right-handed hitters, Kotsay said, “He’s right up there. I played with some pretty good ones. Frank Thomas was pretty darn good. Chipper Jones was good from both sides. But he’s definitely one of the top right-handed hitters in the game since he’s come into the game and dominated the way he has.”

A’s right-hander Luis Medina, who started Thursday’s series opener against Detroit, considered the opportunity to compete against Cabrera an honor.

“For a long time, I had been wishing for this opportunity to be a part of his history, and it happened,” said the 24-year-old Dominican. “I’ve heard of Miggy since before I even thought about playing professional baseball. I knew the legend he was and all the numbers he put up and the success he’s had. It’s a great moment to share the field with a legend.”

Left-hander Ken Waldichuk got his chance to face Cabrera on Friday night. After retiring him in the first inning, Cabrera came back in the fourth and smacked the 624th double of his career, which tied Hank Aaron for 13th-most in MLB history.

“He’s just a smart hitter,” Waldichuk said. “You never know what he’s going to do. He’s a guy that looks like he can read you. It’s kind of that guessing game of, ‘Man, I hope what I throw is not what he’s sitting on.'”

Growing up a Cardinals fan in Memphis, Brent Rooker recalled watching Cabrera in the postseason with both the Marlins and Tigers. When playing for the Twins in 2021, Rooker was able to get some memorabilia signed by him.

“He’s one of the best hitters we’ve seen in the game,” Rooker said. “The numbers he’s put up for the duration of his career are unbelievable. Being out there with him as he winds down his incredibly historic and impressive career is definitely pretty cool.”

A’s rookie Zack Gelof said he watches highlights of Cabrera’s 2012 Triple Crown season at least once a month, admiring the slugger’s ability to use the entire field.

“It’s pretty sick,” Gelof said. “He’s one of the best hitters ever. I’ve got a jersey I’d love for him to sign. But even if not, I just want to talk to him. What he’s done for the game is awesome. He’s had an awesome career. When he came in the league, the highlights of him going against greats and not backing down and just knowing what he’s got works, he had that since the first day he stepped in the box.”