On Melky Cabrera’s 50 Game Suspension
As always, many apologies for taking so much time between posts. I had been working on an entry this morning about rising tensions in Northeast Asia, but that’s going to have to wait until tomorrow. I know this is a political blog, but I hope the readers will be kind enough to let me indulge in a bit of commentary about some breaking baseball news from earlier this afternoon.
Today had been a relatively slow news day. I went through my usual routine news gathering in the morning, followed by attending the daily State Department briefing around noon. Around the time I was leaving the NHK bureau to go to a think tank event in the afternoon, I was hit by what felt like a ton of bricks.
BREAKING: Giants OF Melky Cabrera suspended 50 games without pay after testing positive for Testosterone, a performance-enhancing substance.
— MLB (@MLB) August 15, 2012
My beloved Giants would be losing arguably their best hitter for the rest of the regular season and potentially the beginning of the playoffs if the team qualifies. As I sat through a discussion titled “South Korea and Liberal Internationalism: The Middle Power Theory Reexamined,” my emotions swung from despair (why us?) to confusion (how could this happen?) before settling on anger (how dare the Melk Man deceive me like this?). As I calmed down, though, I realized that I really shouldn’t be too surprised.
Just two years ago, Cabrera was an afterthought. Playing for the Atlanta Braves, he had put up a dismal stat line of .255/.317/.354 (BA/OBP/SLG), which put him well below the league average. Last year on the Kansas City Royals, his batting average climbed a full 50 points to .305, and this year he had been producing at the pace of .346/.390/.516 and was rightfully chosen as the MVP of the All Star Game last month. The Melk Man’s rise from mediocrity to superstardom seemed too good to be true. Now we know it was. I almost felt like I should have seen this coming, but that really did nothing to quell my anger at Cabrera for jeopardizing what has been a fairly successful season for the Giants so far.
San Francisco baseball and performance enhancing drugs have had a bit of history together. With Cabrera’s suspension people will surely start drawing comparisons to the ever-polarizing homerun king of Major League Baseball, Barry Bonds. Despite the fact that he is loathed everywhere else in the country, Bonds continues to enjoy whole hearted support from his fans in San Francisco (myself included) and that doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon. So how can I explain my outrage at Cabrera while Bonds gets a free pass in my book?
It’s actually pretty simple. Bonds was an outlaw in a time of lawlessness. Until 2006, MLB did not test for banned substances including PED’s, meaning that steroids and all other performance enhancers were de facto legal. This was baseball’s equivalent of the Wild West. There was an “anything goes” attitude that affected just about everybody on the diamond, from the nameless players fighting to keep their places in the Majors to the game’s biggest stars. As perverse as it sounds, it was a level playing field. All players could put anything in their bodies without fear of consequences from the league. If a player chose not to use performance enhancers, that was his personal choice.
Now things are different. Cabrera knew he was breaking the rules and he admitted as much. “My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used. I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Program and will try to move on with my life. I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants organization and to the fans for letting them down,” he said in a statement through the players’ union. To me, the key is that Cabrera knew he was not just jeopardizing his own future, but the future success of his team. He knew what he was doing was wrong and he knew that if he was caught, he would be directly harming his team’s chances of success. As self serving as it is for me to say this now, none of these worries hung over Bonds’ head.
When reliable reports of Bonds’ PED use started to come out, I remember my dad telling me that he felt betrayed — betrayed by the fact that all of those mammoth homeruns and memorable moments were somewhat of a mirage. Honestly, I didn’t care too much. If Bonds had to face pitchers hopped up on ‘roids, why shouldn’t he be on them as well?
Now I know exactly how my dad felt. Cabrera betrayed me. He betrayed his teammates and the Giants organization. Most importantly, he betrayed the sell-out crowds that paid good money to see him play every day. Damn right you’re sorry, Melky. You’ve let us all down.