Since Major League Baseball began tracking and compiling stats for intentional walks in 1955, 25 players have drawn at least 30 in a single season. Not surprisingly, Ted Williams was the first player to receive 30 free passes. In 1957, the Red Sox left fielder drew 33 intentional walks, 86 unintentional walks, led the league in on-base percentage (.526), slugging percentage (.731), OPS+ (233, the highest in the Majors since 1941, when Williams had a 234 mark) and batting, with a .388 average. Williams did this in his age-38 season; it is, to this day, one of the more remarkable achievements in baseball history.
No player would reach 30 intentional walks again until 1969, when Willie McCovey drew 45. That remained the high mark until 2002, when Barry Bonds collected 68. Bonds then obliterated that record and seemingly pushed it to a limit that will remain forever untouched when he drew 120 intentional walks in 2004.
While the Major League mark has been continually pushed higher, Williams' AL standard of 33 in 1957 has never been surpassed. George Brett drew 31 in 1985 and John Olerud tied Williams' 33 in 1993, when he hit .363 and flirted with .400 deep into the summer (he was hitting .391 after a 1-for-3 game on Aug. 27). And just this past season, Miguel Cabrera finished with 32 to become only the fourth player in league history to draw at least 30.
In 2010, Miguel Cabrera hit .328, got on base at a .420 clip (the best in the league), slugged over .600 (.622), had 38 home runs (and a total of 84 extra-base hits), compiled a league-leading 179 OPS+ (the best of his career) and also led the league with 126 RBIs. Cabrera's 126 RBIs left him tied for seventh-most for any player with at least 30 intentional walks. For most players, a season like this would stand out like a sequoia in the middle of a pygmy forest. But for Cabrera, his 2010 was simply another data point on an extraordinary career arc.
Consider that in 2010:
Cabrera hit at least 30 home runs and drove in at least 100 runs for the sixth time in his first eight seasons.
Collected more than 300 total bases for the seventh straight year.
Hit at least .320 for the fifth time in seven full seasons.
Had an OPS+ above 125 for the seventh consecutive season.
Raised his career OPS from .925 to .939.
Did all of this before turning 28 years old.
Eight years into his career (Cabrera debuted on June 20, 2003, and played in 87 games that first season), the Tigers first baseman is fashioning a career modeled by few others, and his walk down the runway has followed a path reserved for many of the greatest ever.
Players born in Venezuela with WARs above 2.0 in 2010
In 2010, Cabrera was one of 74 Venezuelan-born players to play in the Major Leagues. Of those 74, 11 of them put together a 2.0 WAR season or better. WAR is an acronym for Wins Above Replacement, or the number of wins a player adds to the team above what a replacement player would add. That group of 11 was book-ended by a pair of Tigers: Cabrera and outfielder Magglio Ordonez (even though Ordonez's season ended in late July).
The owner of the fifth-highest WAR among the Venezuelan players -- Victor Martinez -- signed as a free agent with Detroit in November (which, incidentally, gives the Tigers six players from Venezuela on their 40-man roster: pitchers Armando Galarraga, Lester Oliveros, Jose Ortega and Brayan Villareal and position players Martinez, Cabrera, Ordonez and Carlos Guillen). Martinez, with more than 800 career games behind the plate, currently is tied for the 15th-highest OPS among catchers (since 1901) through their age-31 seasons.
Of the top-25 WAR seasons by a player born in Venezuela, the quartet of Cabrera, Ordonez, Martinez and Guillen is responsible for six of them.
Roger Schlueter is a senior researcher for MLB Productions. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.