By Jason Keidel
» More Columns
You wonder if John Sterling has a signature call for Melky Cabrera’s latest feat…
We’re not supposed to say we’re surprised anymore by anyone who cheats in sports, at least in the netherworld of PEDs. So when we hear of Melky’s malfeasance, a 50-game suspension that he won’t even pretend to appeal, it made sense that someone would try to slip under the MLB’s flawed radar.
But it’s impossible not to scratch your head at someone who tries it given all the information they have on the drugs and the drug testers. So much for the notion that the chemists are way ahead of the long arm of Johnny Law.
Who would have thought Jose Canseco would be the bard of the steroid epoch? Canseco squeezed much veracity from the mendacity of his time, and everything he said in his books, pressers, and public appearances has checked out. No doubt he did it out of greed and need, not a sudden surge of virtue. But if he’s right, he’s right. Call him a rat if you like, but the sport of baseball is better off now because of Jose Canseco, as odd and incongruous as it sounds.
Ryan Braun beat the system before this season, his lawyer pulling the strings on a tattered collection process to wedge his client from the very suspension Cabrera faces.
At first, I was thrilled to see one man beat The Man, for a change. There’s a little rebel in all of us who roots against The System, or any overbearing apparatus that wastes taxpayer money and lays waste to undermanned, underfinanced citizens who have no chance against the endless bankroll of Big Brother.
On some level we understand the impulse to improve, even using dubious methods to get there. But what boggles the collective psyche is doing it and knowing you’ll get caught. Or at least knowing if you get tested you get caught.
What was Cabrera thinking? Clearly, he wasn’t. Even if they can’t find the exact drug he took, they can determine his testosterone levels and whether the spike in his ratio was natural. Braun’s numbers were stratospheric, yet he got a pass because the man who took his sample skipped his trip to FedEx and brought Braun’s cup o’ urine to his crib over the weekend.
Over the last 48 hours the phone lines have been flooded with theories and possible punishments. Some suggest offenders get more than 50 games; some want teams to pay fines; and others want teams to vacate wins for harboring serial cheaters. The latter, a rather popular argument this week, is impossible to implement or defend.
Chances are every team pays a player who cheats. So how do you vacate wins when both pitcher and batter are juicing? It’s quite possible, if not probable, that the system is working to the extent it can, and the dearth of decent offenses (just ask the Mets), surge in great pitching, and spate of perfect games (more this year than any in history) indicates that PED testing has been a titanic deterrent.
Of course, these stories have subtexts. In the case of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, two legendary jerks who never thought the rules applied to them, we smirked at their suffering. Since they have a Leona Helmsley, only little people pay taxes worldview, let the government swat them around in public for our pleasure, even if the politicians did it solely for themselves, to preen from their perch on Capitol Hill.
But some cheaters are cherished. Rumor has it that Melky, a popular player in the clubhouse, was jettisoned from the Bronx because he was still living La Vida Loca. Quite understandable. A man in his 20s in New York City playing for the New York Yankees has options most of us don’t. In fact, we’d be a little surprised to hear a man his age and appetites wouldn’t be caught at a club, whether the women are clothed or not. But once Cabrera’s aura affected Robinson Cano, Melky became quite and quickly dispensable. That’s understandable, too. Think of the Melky/Robbie tandem as Billy/Mickey 50 years hence. You don’t mess with your best hitter.
But Melky was mashing this year, batting a robust .346, second in the National League. He was on the sweet, serendipitous end of his walk year. All players dream of having their best season right before free agency, before they sign their first, fat deal: the one that sets them up for life.
The surreal irony in Cabrera’s case is he just might win the NL batting crown, despite being banned for the rest of the season and being one at-bat short of qualification. With 501 plate appearances, he’s allowed to take an 0-for-1 to reach the requisite 502 appearances. An article from Yahoo! Sports suggests that current NL hitting leader, Andrew McCutchen, will dip to .342 and lose the title to Melky, perhaps the first and last glory Cabrera will enjoy in the majors.
This gaffe cost Melky millions, not only because he was caught with his arm elbow-deep in the PED jar, but also because teams can’t ascertain his talent. Was he becoming great on his own and relied on a few chemists to refine his flowering talent? Or is he still the mediocre player in pinstripes we watched for five years? Is he simply a product of steroids?
This we don’t know. But we do know Melky really messed up, costing him countless dollars, cents, and sense.
Feel free to email me: Keidel.Jason@gmail.com