Well, I guess we can all calm down now. At the end of the season, a known juicer will not be wearing the National League's batting crown.
As CSNBayArea.com was the first to report, suspended San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera has been ruled ineligible to win the National League's batting title this season. His NL-best .346 batting average has effectively been stricken from the record.
Fans and writers alike have been calling for MLB to do something to make sure Cabrera, who is currently serving a 50-game suspension for a positive test for enhanced levels of testosterone, wouldn't end up winning the NL's batting crown when all is said and done this season. It was just a couple of days ago, however, that MLB commissioner Bud Selig told the YES Network, via the New York Daily News, that league officials "generally don’t interfere with that process.”
If Cabrera still wanted to win the National League batting title, MLB wasn't going to get in his way. One assumes that Selig and his underlings weren't crazy about the idea, but hey, rules are rules.
Evidently, Cabrera decided he doesn't want to win the batting title. The word is that he asked to be removed from consideration, and both the union and the league agreed to honor his request by working out an amendment of Rule 10.22(a), which allows players to win the batting title even if they happen to be serving suspensions.
In a statement provided by John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle and others, Cabrera says he has "no wish to win an award that would be tainted." He believes it "would be far better for someone more deserving to win."
Wow. Well played, Melky. How classy of you. Golf clap.
That said, you'll have to excuse me if I don't buy for one second that refusing the NL batting title has anything to do with your desire to keep the integrity of the sport intact.
No sir, that would be too noble. What this really is, my friends, is a rather obvious attempt by Melky to help salvage his public reputation in these trying times. He's also trying to clean some mud off of his prospects in free agency this winter.
The report from CSNBayArea.com saw right through Melky's intentions as well, noting that his refusal to win the batting title is a "clear attempt to rehab his public image and market value." Goodness knows that both things desperately need rehabbing. For in baseball, known cheaters are about as beloved as crying infants at movie theaters.
Melky did apologize for "[using] a substance [he] should not have used" when word of his punishment came out, but he only apologized because, shoot, what else was he supposed to do in that situation? Apologizing for his actions was a simple matter of protocol.
Melky didn't clear his name when he apologized for using testosterone, and his name was further sullied when the New York Daily News reported that Melky had tried to create a "fictitious website and a nonexistent product" as part of an effort to fool MLB into thinking he had used testosterone inadvertently.
He was already a cheater in the eyes of the public. What that report did was make Melky a pathetic cheater in the eyes of the public.
To be fair to Melky, refusing the right to win the NL batting title does make him a little less pathetic. It would have been pretty ridiculous for him to accept the honor and then act like he had actually earned it. Apparently, he's at least better than that.
That doesn't mean he has the public's forgiveness, mind you. And if we're being honest with one another, public forgiveness isn't really what Melky is after these days. He's on the lookout for a big payday this winter, and his refusal to accept the NL batting title helps him just as much in that arena as it does in the public arena.
Melky, of course, is going to be a free agent this offseason. When he was busy hitting .346 with a .906 OPS and all of it seemed cleaner than clean, he was in line to be the second-most appealing outfielder on the market after Josh Hamilton. Who wouldn't want an All-Star outfielder capable of hitting over .340 for an entire season? And a switch-hitter, no less!
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported in early August (before his suspension) that the Giants suggested a contract extension for Cabrera similar to the three-year, $27 million deal Carlos Quentin signed with the San Diego Padres. He must not have gone for it, and it's all too easy to speculate that he didn't go for it because he knew that he stood to gain a lot more leverage in contract negotiations if he went on to capture the NL batting crown.
With a batting title in his back pocket, Cabrera could have pushed the Giants for a lot more than three years and $27 million. He also would have been perfectly able to jack up his price tag by selling his services to various teams around the league. I'm guessing he would have been able to find a four- or five-year offer worth at least $10 million annually.
The odds of Melky getting a deal like that now are somewhere between slim and none. Nobody's going to give Melky that kind of money. And to get any money at all this winter, he's going to have to sell teams on his integrity just as much as he's going to have to sell teams on his talent. Perhaps even more so.
Exactly how much talent Melky has remains in question now that we know he was cheating his way to a .346 batting average, but the good news for him is that there's less of a question about his integrity now than there was before. Prospective employers around MLB can see right through Melky's latest PR stunt just as much as we can, but at least he can tell them that he did the right thing regardless of his true motivations.
It's doubtful that refusing the NL batting title will add a few extra dollars or a few extra years to Cabrera's next contract. But now that he's salvaged at least some dignity by refusing the batting title, he should at least have fewer people hang up on him when he goes calling around this winter.
He had nothing to lose in refusing the NL batting crown. And now that the deed is done, he stands to gain maybe a little bit more.
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