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The news of Melky Cabrera's 50-game suspension for a positive testosterone test provides a convenient opportunity to repeat a statement made last week by former World Anti-Doping Agency boss Dick Pound. To paraphrase, Pound said if you test positive for PEDs, you've failed two tests: a drug test, and an IQ test.
Oh, Cabrera's case proves many other things as well. For one, testing works; and for another, so do PEDs.
The origin story of Melky Cabrera, All-Star, turns out to be mostly mythology. His career ascent -- to 2012 MVP candidate from a below-average ballplayer whose regular bouts with disinterest caused his release from the Braves after the 2010 season -- was attributed to old-fashioned hard work, with a side order of his mother's cooking. Clearly, given Wednesday's news and Cabrera's shockingly blunt admission of guilt, the emergence was fueled by more than shoulder presses and home-made chow.
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It would be tough to overstate the unlikely change in Cabrera's career. In 2010 with the Braves, he finished with a .671 OPS and a -0.5 WAR, ranking him among the worst position players in the big leagues. After a 200-hit bounce-back season with the Royals last year, he became one of the five best players in the National League this year, with a WAR of 4.8.
Cabrera's admission -- groundbreaking in its honesty -- is almost as shocking as the announcement of the suspension. The equanimity with which Cabrera accepted his punishment gives off the faint whiff of resignation. Something along the lines of, Oh, well -- it was great while it lasted.
And make no mistake: Cabrera shook the dice, blew into his hands and let fly. Had his testosterone enhancement gone undetected, it's possible he could have been in line for a nine-figure free-agent heist in the offseason. (To go along with his All-Star Game MVP award, which now will forever carry a mental asterisk in the minds of baseball people everywhere.) As it stands, it's difficult to imagine a team taking more than a two-year flier on a guy whose legitimacy is questionable at best, tarnished at worst.
It's obvious that Cabrera's loss through the regular season and, if necessary, the first five games of the postseason, will have a huge impact on San Francisco and the National League playoff race. In a cruel twist, the Giants were allowed exactly one game -- Tuesday night -- with the Cabrera-Posey-Sandoval-Pence middle of the order they envisioned launching them into late October. Let it be known that it got them a win.
Cabrera's brush with the PED law had been rumored for the past two weeks, first "reported" by a mysterious tweet from a mysterious user on July 27. At the time, Cabrera issued a flat denial -- after contacting Giants trainers and his agent to see if it might be true -- and the issue was dropped. The reporter who asked Cabrera about the rumor, Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area, went so far as to write a public apology to Cabrera. From there until Wednesday at approximately 11:30 a.m. PDT, the rumor was treated as just another case of irresponsible reporting. Turns out it was more leak than rumor.
(The idea that Cabrera felt the need to ask his agent and trainers to see if the rumor was true seems, in retrospect, a damning precursor to both the announcement of the positive test and the admission.)
Cabrera had become a fan favorite in San Francisco, in that uniquely San Francisco way. On a team that has become fixated with creating marketable trinkets to attach to players -- panda hats for Sandoval, baby giraffe hats for Brandon Belt -- Cabrera's "Melk Man" conceit took things to a new level. A whole group of guys dressed as milkmen (none of whom looked anything like Cabrera) sat together in the outfield and provided an insufferably ubiquitous presence on the television broadcasts. (They are also rumored to be on the Comcast payroll, sitting in seats provided by the Giants.)
The Giants have a knack for attracting players who are: (1) prone to cheat, and (2) ignorant and/or arrogant enough to get caught. Cabrera is the third Giant to receive a 50- or 100-game suspension under baseball's new testing procedures, the most of any team. Guillermo Mota (100 games, earlier this year) and catcher Eliezer Alfonzo (50 in 2008) are the others.
Don't feel sorry for the Giants, though. A hopped-up Melky undoubtedly gave them more production -- and, therefore, more wins -- than the God-given Melky ever would have. They gave up a flawed pitcher in Jonathan Sanchez and got 117 of the best games of Cabrera's career.
In fact, let's just go ahead and say it: History will wind up recording those 117 games as the very best Melky -- and his pharmacological help -- had to offer.