This morning, I learned that Melky Cabrera had been suspended for performance-enhancing drugs. Like every other morning, I followed my breakfast with a visit to Twitter. After reading some choice baseball articles, I was disgusted to learn that this problem was still one that exists in Major League Baseball.
After reading the reports, most of them courtesy of Andrew Baggarly (@CSNBaggs) I had formulated my opinion.
It was time that the MLB fixed this image once and for all. No baseball fan likes going to ESPN.com and learning that the lead story is another negative PR piece on the MLB, just like no Dodgers fan likes learning that the reason Cabrera was tearing them up in the NL West was because he was injecting himself with extra testosterone.
Cabrera’s suspension hurts the Giants, it hurts their fans and it hurts Major League Baseball.
On a day in which Felix Hernandez threw a perfect game, his story was overshadowed by everything Melky Cabrera. And that’s not fair to anyone.
The fact that MLB players are still using PEDs in 2012 is absolutely mind-boggling. Included is a sample conversation of talking points I’ve thought about since learning of the Cabrera news.
Cabrera’s failed test is the same test that 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun failed over the offseason, but Braun was able to get out of the test once the arbitrator agreed that the test sample was mishandled.
Cabrera, however, had no such luck.
After the initial failed test came through and Sample B was tested, Cabrera lost his appeal and has been suspended for 50 games. After Braun’s failed result, you would have to expect that he would understand the consequences of his actions.
"My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used,” explained suspended Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera. “I am deeply sorry for my mistake."
His batting average was .346 (second-best in NL) and led the National League with 159 hits. From 2005-10, his batting average was .267 with a .379 slugging percentage and he was hitting a home run once every 59.5 at-bats.
This season, his slugging percentage spiked to .516 and he hit a home run once every 35.3 at-bats. For those who doubt the effects that steroids can have on an athlete, the statistical incline is the most telling explanation of the improved play.
If the MLB was willing to suspend NL MVP Ryan Braun immediately after he had a career year for the league, there was clearly no way that Cabrera was going to slip through the cracks.
Braun was never suspended. On a technicality, he was able to play this season and has continued to dominate without an ounce of extra testosterone in his body. But his lesson was heard across the league.
The MLB was serious about not letting PED users participate in their organization on a competitive level without suffering the consequences.
Of all teams to suffer this problem this year, even a Los Angeles boy like myself would have to admit that it’s a shame it’s San Francisco.
Cabrera plays left field for the San Francisco Giants. Historically speaking, the most notorious “steroid user” of all time happened to play that exact same position. From a public relations perspective, the Giants have been doing everything in their power to wipe that image from their brand and help re-create a new one with likeable pitching stars like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain.
But rumors swirled of the suspension in the MLB three weeks ago, wrote Buster Olney on Twitter. In turn, the Giants traded for Phillies outfielder Hunter Pence. The Giants released a statement saying that they “were extremely disappointed to learn of the suspension of Melky Cabrera.”
The most telling statement from the San Francisco Giants, however, came at the conclusion of the piece.
Of all teams in the MLB, one could make the case that the San Francisco Giants have the most at stake when it comes to their aid in the Joint Drug Prevention & Treatment Program following the Barry Bonds scandal that surrounded their organization. Today, the club stepped up with an effort to help clear their public image.
“We fully support Major League Baseball's policy and its efforts to eliminate performance enhancing drugs from our game.”
The #SFGiants clubhouse had been substance free for like eight years too. We now know what the Melk Men were delivering.— Grant Gurewitz (@GrantGurewitz) August 15, 2012
In fact, the Giants had Cabrera in their lineup until 90 minutes before the game, and he was batting third and playing left. Cabrera, who was the MLB All-Star MVP and the leading All-Star vote-getter, leaves the Giants with 45 games left in the season and a dead-heat tie with the Dodgers for first place in the NL West.
So why would players continue to do steroids?
By and large, they’re not. We haven’t suspended the number of players that we had in previous years and the Giants had been almost entirely clear of drug-related suspensions.
That’s why it continues to shock me to learn that people like Melky Cabrera still exist in this world.
When performance-enhancing drugs were first introduced into the equation on a mainstream level, it was deemed socially acceptable for the casual MLB market because it helped ratings go through the roof.
Fans were constantly tuned in to the star power of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa battling for the single-season home run title. The media was attached at the hip to Barry Bonds and his attempt to break Aaron’s record. That was the central narrative to that particular decade of sports.
But that’s not where we are as a league anymore.
We now have a younger group of fans and baseball purists who recently elected to put the ball that Bonds broke the home run record with into the Hall of Fame with an asterisk burned into it.
We don’t need steroids to drive our market anymore. Instead, we have increased ESPN coverage for sports, with their ratings higher than ever.
The @MLB account on Twitter has nearly 2.4 million followers.
Video games and podcasts and MLB.TV accounts make it easier than ever for fans to have access to Major League Baseball.
Major League Baseball in 2012 features a new generation of fans and, more importantly, a generation of players that are completely removed from the controversial Steroid Era. Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper was five years old when McGwire and Sosa exchanged 500-foot bombs in the 1998 MLB season.
By the time our current young generation of fans grows up and attempts to become fanatics (or for a select few, professional baseball players), they would be too young to even remember the name of someone like famed baseball player and “steroid yellow journalist” Jose Canseco.
As Mike Trout gets more coverage and accolades, fans may realize that the future of the MLB seems to be in the hands of finesse players around the league like him. The young Angels outfielder is a five-tool player who can leap into the stands to rob a home run and then hit one in his next at-bat.
The 6’1” and 200-pound outfielder may be undersized, but he also acts as an MVP candidate at only 21 years old.
He's also 10 times more likable than Barry Bonds ever was.
It absolutely would!
Joe Sheehan points out that Cabrera’s upcoming free agency is going to be the ultimate test as to how Major League Baseball is going to treat an individual who has tested positive for PEDs.
Many expected Cabrera to earn up to $50 million in free agency once his contract elapsed. While he still may see a high contract offer, some speculate that he cost himself a lot of his reputation with the failed drug test.
This is an absolute tragedy for Cabrera’s career. He had a legitimate chance to win the MLB batting title and was in the middle of a career year. As an individual who is hoping to find redemption, it’s interesting to see what individuals across the league are saying about Cabrera.
Take, for instance, an individual who has been associated with PED allegations his entire career. Former teammate Alex Rodriguez delivered some very interesting comments this afternoon.
"I'm sure he's sad and confused. He's a young man and has a great opportunity -- and challenge -- to turn a negative into a positive." ARod— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) August 15, 2012
The damage, however, has been done.
Very few would imagine that Cabrera would earn even a fraction of what he was otherwise expected to net over the offseason. But players like Alex Rodriguez, despite admitting to steroid use in the past, are still relevant names in the MLB.
Cabrera came into August 15th with 146 wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) and an impressive 4.5 WAR (wins above replacement player), which was the 11th-best in the National League.
That means that he was able to earn San Francisco an extra 4.5 wins, enough to potentially earn them a playoff spot in such a tight race, while playing under the noticeable effects of PEDs.
This doesn’t sound fair to teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have sold the ship all season long to bring in clean talent like Shane Victorino or Hanley Ramirez.
Some may feel like the time that Cabrera will serve will be more than enough to show the league that he has done his time.
Still others might argue that even the 50-game suspension that Cabrera is prepared to serve is not enough.
Until MLB and the union toughens the drug policy, risk/reward scales will always encourage cheating. 1st test: 1 season. 2nd test: Lifetime.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) August 15, 2012
I tend to think that Olney may be right in his assessment. Perhaps a season ban for a first offense would be a strong warning sign. From there, a death penalty should be in order.
The fact that Cabrera may be able to play this postseason is absurd. The increase in his numbers have been ridiculous over the past two seasons and his talent is nothing short of illegitimate.
Major League Baseball is a privilege. Cabrera is being paid to play a children’s game, not the other way around. Baseball has enough talent in its pool right now to go on without someone who has tested positive for a PED.
There’s no reason to let this happen again. For the upcoming seasons, I vote that we use these individuals as an example and help clear our identity entirely of the “steroid game” that we once were.
Bryan Kalbrosky is a Featured Columnist for the New York Mets. He is a baseball junkie and has been writing for Bleacher Report for well over a year. He also writes for the Trends N Topic Team at Bleacher Report, and is a Featured Columnist for the Oregon Ducks. Be sure to check back for more of his stories in the future. Follow @BryanKalbrosky