Even Melky Cabrera agrees that he doesn’t deserve the National League batting championship. That makes it unanimous. Not that I believed we could count on him to make the honorable choice, since he had made the dishonorable choice all season long to get his average up to .346.
I am one of those people who was annoyed to see Cabrera’s name atop the NL averages list every morning since he was serving a 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s substance abuse policy. It seemed so wrong that he was eligible to win the title after being caught cheating and admitting it, too.
That would have been such a sleazy victory, but I figured nothing could be done about it because the number reflecting his average was a bigger one than any numbers aligned with any other players in the league. In other words, I felt it was up to Andrew McCutchen (.339) or Buster Posey (.335) to catch the San Francisco Giants’ outfielder and relieve the sport of the embarrassment.
I had no idea there was a quirky rule out there that could make Cabrera’s average vanish. To be eligible for a batting championship a player must average 3.1 plate appearances for each of his team’s games. If he came up slightly short, then oh-fers could be added to his appearances and if his average still topped the No. 2 guy he would still be the champ.
There was actually a loop-hole out there. If the Players Association and MLB could agree, the rule would be waived. Cabrera, who may or may not have been pressured by friends or enemies to withdraw, came forward and said it would be wrong for him to win the coveted batting championship. He actually used the words that it would be “tainted.”
I just about fainted when I heard that Cabrera did this. He was right. His winning the title would certainly taint it. It would have been the all-time asterisk achievement. I just didn’t think he would care. For all I knew Cabrera was relishing having baseball over a barrel. Maybe he thinks that choosing this path will help him find a job when his suspension ends.
This seems like one of the goofiest situation baseball had ever faced, where raw numbers were devalued, not because of the numbers themselves, but because of the owner. Some people who are outraged by the confessions of other steroid uses would like their statistics expunged from the record books, but baseball has been disinclined, for good reasons, not to go back and re-write history. The difference here is that Cabrera’s average was history in the making. The batting average he attained during 2012 will remain on his lifetime record–he just won’t be rewarded for it.
A better parallel than trying to figure out who took what drug when as they hit tons of home runs during baseball’s recent era when performance enhancing drug use seemed to be rampant, is how the Olympic Games deal with medalists. When a gold medalist flunks a drug test, the medal gets taken away and the silver medalist moves up on the podium. Cabrera was caught in the act, not when he finished his performance, so he got DQ’ed even before the silver medalist was determined.
This cooperation between the player, the players’ union, and the administration of the sport makes perfect sense. I’m surprised there was even a mechanism in place to make everything work out this smoothly.