by request: jackie brown (quentin tarantino, 1997)
music friday: pussy riot

melky cabrera

I feel obliged to say something, and that right there is reason enough to be pissed off.

This is a personal reaction. I do not give two shits about the use of so-called performance “enhancing” drugs in baseball. I’m not pissed because Melky used testosterone, I’m pissed because he got caught. Cheating happens in baseball, and I’m not one to try very hard to extract moral lessons from the sport. What matters more than anything to me is that the Giants will have to play the rest of the season without Cabrera, not that Cabrera cheated.

My opinion about the efficacy of PEDs, specifically in the case of Melky Cabrera, is largely in agreement with Jack Dickey in this article (the full article details Dickey’s analysis, and I’ll leave it for you to click on the link so I don’t have to cut-and-paste everything Dickey wrote … I’ll just give the conclusions):

[A] closer examination of Cabrera's numbers suggests an alternate possibility: Performance-enhancing drugs haven't done much at all for his offense. …

This year's version of Melky is more or less last year's version of Melky, only with a different approach at the plate: more ground balls. And last year's Melky was more or less the same old Melky he had always been, just a little lighter on his feet. That transformation isn't outlandish for a player entering his prime, and it sure as hell isn't indicative of a player receiving a significant chemical boost.

One can question Dickey’s methods, and some commenters offer useful critiques. But you can also find in the comments a type of “analysis” that is meat-headed. A couple of examples: “Of course these things worked. Why else would so many players constantly keep taking them and risk everything.” And: “Players simply wouldn't take the risk if they didn't see a tangible benefit to what they're doing. What the hell would the point be?” My take on such arguments is much like another commenter who noted that “They believe there are benefits and there may be. But, how many athletes go around with those stupid ‘magic bracelets’ and other stupid hokum?”

Meanwhile, to my mind, Cabrera’s biggest offense is being stupid. Victor Conte, founder of BALCO and someone who knows a thing or two about PEDs, thinks “maybe as much as half of baseball” is using PEDs, adding “The only people that get caught are the dumb, and the dumber.”

This isn’t an attempt to excuse Cabrera because everyone else does it. Like I say, I don’t care who does it. I’m selfish … I only care about how it affects me, and that lies solely in Melky’s future absence from the Giants’ lineup.

What I tire of … and it goes without saying that a fan of the Giants and of Barry Bonds has had extensive opportunities to be tired … what I tire of is the endless attempt to turn this shit into an excuse for moralizing. Gaylord Perry goes to the Hall of Fame on a road greased with Vaseline and spit, and everyone thinks it’s cute. Players switch from glasses to contacts to laser surgery, and everyone congratulates them for taking advantage of advances in science. But drugs are treated as a moral issue. And I don’t care if you smoke weed, I don’t care if you’re a junkie, I don’t care if you are a drunk, unless you crash into my car driving while drunk or rob my house because you need money for a fix. And I don’t care if a baseball player does something outside of the rules to improve his performance. I think the player is stupid, I don’t think his performance is being improved as much as he believes, I don’t like it when a guy on my favorite team gets caught. But I don’t worry about the broken-hearted little kid who thought Melky Cabrera was a role model, I don’t worry about what Melky Cabrera says about American morality, I don’t care about anything except that the Giants are worse now than they were yesterday, and that I’ll have to listen to a bunch of pseudo-moralists whine about the decline of western civilization. I’ve been there before, and it was just as boring to me then as it will be now.



The moralizing isn't that interesting to me either. What is that he was a very ordinary player for five seasons, got appreciably better in season six, got a lot better in season seven (which also happens to be his free-agent season), then failed a drug test. It's also astoundingly selfish that he would put his team's fortunes at risk like that.


I suppose the second part of that post is me moralizing...but surely there's some point at which it's self-evident that someone has acted selfishly. Unless you want to argue that Carbrera was in fact thinking of the team's fortunes by taking the PEDs in the first place. In which case, I'd bring up the free-agency factor. In a way, it reminds me of Edwards' adultery while running for president. Not the relative seriousness of their actions, where Edwards wins (loses) hands-down, but the way Edwards was seemingly oblivious to what his actions would mean, if he'd been found out at a point where the nomination was within his grasp, to his party.

Steven Rubio

I'm really glad yours is the first response, because I trust your take, and I know we differ on a lot of this.

I don't think Melky was thinking of his team's fortunes, but I have never thought such thinking was necessary in baseball. A basketball player who puts themselves first will shoot when they shouldn't, avoid teammates at will, and generally bring the overall play of the team down. Baseball is too much of a one-on-one sport, though. The best way to help your team is to be selfish and play the best you can, whatever the reasons. If Melky was being selfish (and I think many/most baseball players are selfish), a side effect was that it was good for the team. If Melky does well, it isn't at a teammate's expense the way it might be in other team sports.

The more obvious point, of course, is that he put the team's fortunes at risk, and I can't disagree about that. To me, that demonstrates not that selfish play is bad for the team, but that stupidity is bad for the team.

Also, while I try to retain an open mind, I don't actually think Melky Cabrera got better because of PEDs. I'm sure he thought that is what would happen. But I think the biggest factors in his improvement are 1) his age, 2) luck, and 3) perhaps an improved mental attitude, although I'm wary of bringing that up and I don't really have any knowledge of this. There are plenty of possible explanations for his good play that don't involve PEDs, and not enough evidence, in my opinion, that PEDs lead to a marked improvement in performance. We make the connection when a player like Melky is caught, but lots of players are caught, and most of them surprise us because they are not having great seasons.

So, to hypothesize: I'm guessing Melky wanted to improve his game and believed PEDs would help in that area. I'm guessing he didn't think he would be caught, at least partly because so many players do it and so few are caught. I'm guessing that thinking he wouldn't get caught led to his being careless. And now that he is caught, he is in the spotlight because he's playing well and was, up until now, a good story, with the All-Star MVP and the goofy Melkmen and Melkmaids in the crowd at AT&T Park. And the casual observer, not thinking or perhaps not even knowing about the Eliézer Alfonzos and Dan Serafinis and Carlos Almanzars and Jamal Strongs and Alex Sánchezes, will assume all PED users turn into great players.

I find the comparison to Edwards to be interesting. Guessing yet again, I'd say you are right, Edwards seemed oblivious. But like I say, I don't think Melky was oblivious, nor do I think he felt he was above the law. I think he knew the consequences but didn't think he'd get caught.

I'll add one thing in Melky's favor, although it's a back-handed compliment. Like most of us, I find the post-punishment apologies to be insulting to our intelligence. "It was an over-the-counter nutritional supplement", "it was cold medicine I got from my doctor", "my sample was tampered with behind my back" ... jeesh. Melky's statement yesterday was straightforward: "I did something that is against the rules and I got caught. My bad." That doesn't excuse what he did, but it's a refreshing approach to being caught.


The luck factor is significant: Melky's BABIP this year is .379.


The BABIP is a persuasive piece of evidence for luck.

I don't know--I've been on the fence for years, and I'm still there. If there are players who use PEDs and don't get any better, maybe it's like any kind of regiment or strategy to improve performance: works for some, not for others.

Anyway, I'm interested to see whether Cabrera backs into the batting title (McCutchen would have to "slump" to about .315 the rest of the way), and also whether the Giants make the playoffs and go far enough for Cabrera to be reinstated. Both situations would be awkward for Selig, and I always enjoy that.


It'll also be interesting to see how Cabrera does on the free agent market this fall. I suspect that the hypocrisy will be thick as a brick.

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