Posted September 21, 2012

Melky Cabrera’s decision sets dangerous precedent for MLB

Melky Cabrera, San Francisco Giants
Melky Cabrera

Melky Cabrera was hitting .346 when he was suspended 50 games last month for failing a drug test. (AP)

Back in August when Melky Cabrera was suspended 50 games for testing positive for using a performance-enhancing substance, I wrote:

Some have fretted over Cabrera potentially winning the NL batting title even while suspended (and even one official plate appearance shy of the necessary 502); his .346 mark is four points behind that of Andrew McCutchen. But if the home run exploits of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and others can remain on the books — to say nothing of the results of the fixed 1919 World Series — then so should Cabrera’s statistical accomplishment, which after all is an objectively determined rate statistic and not an arbitrarily determined award. While the Olympics and NCAA do vacate results that have been revealed to be tainted by one means or another, those organizations have their own scandals and shortcomings, and should hardly be held before MLB as paragons of integrity and justice.

On Friday afternoon, the idea of erasing Cabrera’s potential batting title became a reality. CSN Bay Area’s Andrew Baggarly reported that Major League Baseball, union officials and the shamed Cabrera have struck an agreement — a “one-time amendment” — whereby baseball will waive Rule 10.22(a). Via the agreement, the phantom at-bat will not be used to determine Cabrera’s final standing in the race, leaving him one plate appearance short of qualifying for the title. “Under terms of the agreement, Rule 10.22(a) will not apply to suspended players,” wrote Baggarly, adding that via statement, Cabrera said that he had “no wish to win an award that would be tainted… it would be far better for someone more deserving to win.”

The move is an odd and unsettling one. Again, the batting title isn’t a subjective honor voted on by the media or uniformed personnel, it’s simple mathematics, a statistical record of what actually happened, and to make an exception to precedent opens up a can of worms that is destined to spill everywhere. We don’t have any real idea what impact PEDs have on player performance; despite the home run records that fell at the feet of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds in the late 1990s and early 2000s, dozens upon dozens of other alleged users appear to have seen little to no performance gain, and even the gains of the tainted players may be distorted by the era of rapid change that included expansion, new ballparks, rule changes, and changes in the baseball itselfthat took home run rates to unprecedented highs.

How far will the revisionism go? Who knows when there will be a movement afoot to disallow Bonds’ all-time home run record, the great bulk of which was achieved at a time when baseball neither tested for nor punished the use of such drugs? How soon until public pressure mounts to strip other players of awards (Sosa and Bonds’ MVPs, or Roger Clemens’ latter-day Cy Youngs) without iron-clad proof of violation, or to deny some team a division title as a means of sanction? What happens if instead of a batting title, the suspended player leads in home runs or RBIs — and maybe stands to prevent another player from a Triple Crown? This slippery slope may have no bottom.

Cabrera’s cooperation may be seen as an attempt to avoid further sanction for his harebrained attempt to blame his positive test on a fictitious website. Or perhaps it’s an olive branch towards getting him reinstated by the Giants, who could activate him should they last longer than five games into the postseason, though Baggarly reported last week that the team has no plans to do so, particularly with Cabrera having failed to address his teammates once the suspension was announced. This move may strengthen the hand of the Players Association to force the Giants to activate him should they make it that far, or else face a grievance. The ramifications of this decision don’t appear to have been fully thought through, and without similarly awkward posturing and “one-time exceptions” in the future, the likelihood is that this will come back to bite MLB somewhere down the road.

12 comments
DwayneHammond
DwayneHammond

If they really want a clean league, why not just cancel their contracts and ban the player forever from MLB at the first offense? If that's contractually impossible today, just make every future contract have a clause that spells this out explicitly? If they really want it clean... What's the downside of this?

Keldorama
Keldorama

Perhaps the "revision" that needs to be made is one to the CBA that states "any player testing positive for a banned substance in the course of an MLB season, commencing with Spring Training and ending with the final game of the regular season, will forfeit all statistcs accrued up to the date of the positive test".  Problem solved with any statistical award or one voted on by the media.  And for players who have incentives in their contracts, cheating will carry a much more significant penalty.

 

I also believe that players won't stop trying to game the system until the incentive NOT to cheat is greater than the incentive to do so.  At this point, Melky has lost nothing but the salary for 50 games...big deal.  The Giants are still in first place and still going to the playoffs  And after the 4th game, he'll once again be eligible to play AND eligible for his portion of the playoff proceeds.  But how much did his cheating actually HELP the Giants?  And how many of his teammates knew about it?  Suppose the forfeiture of individual stats (RBI in the case of this argument), also resulted in the loss of runs for specific games, which could mean vacating wins by a team?  Would the organization actually care...finally?  Would the teammates?

 

Radical?  Absolutely.  And in reality, the incremental steps necessary to clean up the game once a for all would be smaller and less impactful.  But it is way past time for MLB from the Players Association to management to ownership to finally put its money where its mouth is regarding cheating in the game.  Otherwise, dump all the pretense and we can call Major League Baseball what it really is: as fake as Professional Wrestling.

 

Just one fan's opinion...

markianmc
markianmc

I am very much on board with the argument made by the "other " Mark below: this is not a case of MLB setting a precedent to disallow controversial awards or championships.  It is being asked to allow a player who was caught cheating to take himself out of the running for an award he did not fairly earn.  I am not a Cabrera apologist--I don't know the legitimacy of his motives, and I don'r care.  The fact is he is admitting he is undeserving of an award he could potentially win, and there is a strong sense of fairness to this in my opinion.  The "rightness" of Cabrera's decision to take this step is not diminished by the fact that no one else caught or suspected of cheating in other cases did not take a similar action. Honestly, would anyone (outside of the Bay Area anyway) be disappointed to hear BB admit that the fact that he was juiced for the last 400 HRs of his career means he cheated and that Hank Aaron is still the "real" HR king? Not sure then how Cabrera "owning" his cheating in this way can be construed as a bad thing.

Hey Man
Hey Man

the argument here against cabrera's decision and trying to apply that to bonds, for instance, is not exactly apples and oranges.  i agree you can't go back and definitively determine how many home runs PEDs were responsible for, so you can't reasonably discount his HRs and strip him of his home run king status.  However, I find it easy to justify and not be in conflict with the above by saying that if a player is suspended due to breaking MLB drug policy and that is why he does not reach the requisite ABs for a statitical title, then the phantom AB clause should not apply. 

Michael10
Michael10

1. Melky tested positive.

2. Melky tested positive AFTER the implementation of an MLB drug prevention policy.

3. Melky tested positive AFTER the implementation of an MLB drug prevention policy and asked to have HIMSELF removed from consideration.

4. This isn't revisionism--the season is still in progress.  The batting title has not yet been determine and therefore nothing has been "stripped" from anyone.  If anything, it's "preventionism"--again, at the request of the offender.  (It's supposed to be for this year only, but why not leave the rule in place?)

Mark V.1
Mark V.1

I disagree.  It might be a dangerous precedent if MLB had forcefully stripped the honor from him.  But, conversely,  Cabrera is willingly giving up the distinction.  Accordingly, the precedent that is set is merely that the player and the union can willfully agree to give up his distinction.  From what I understand, the union and MLB could always do this; thus, nothing has change.  A player's cooperation in such matters is rare as it is and I don't see how this case will effect other attempts at "revisionism."  Selig himself said he wouldn't have otherwise gotten involved in this had it not been for the MLBPA's (and Cabrera's) request.

blcartwright
blcartwright

@jay_jaffe So what will they do next year if a suspended player has 600 PA?

Andy B
Andy B

Comparing Cabrera coming forward (so we are told) before the end of the year to voluntarily remove himself from contention for distinction as a league leader in a prominent statistical category, when he was suspended during the same year for using performance enhancing drugs, which he admitted to doing, is quite a bit different than some amorphous revisionist movement surfacing down the road demanding awards be stripped from players that neither admitted guilt, nor did things in violation of the rules then in place.  Cabrera should be commended for this.

AbPow
AbPow

Thanks to this charade, I'm rooting for rains to hit the Los Angeles area on October 3, washing out the Giants-Dodgers game and leaving San Francisco with 161 games played.  This would allow Melky to qualify for the batting title as he'd only need 499 PAs in this scenario.

kranepool
kranepool

@jay_jaffe WOW I looked at that quick thought is said Melky vs Meth #BreakingBad

Matt20
Matt20

I think you're overstating the sanctity of the batting title being "a statistical record of what actually happened." The fact that MLB is willing to add phantom PA's to get a player to 502 sort of distorts that position does it not? Cabrera withdrawing from the title as a suspended player is every bit as logical as adding pretend AB's. Not that I don't understand the theory behind adding the AB's, but it's still not something that "actually happened." 

 

This is good for the game. This feels like one of those "my editor made me write the opposing view point just to do it" type posts. Let's not make controversy where there isn't. 

 

bobrav
bobrav

 @Andy B Cabrera and commended in the same sentence?????