The San Francisco Giants have made a great deal of headway up the NL West standings without the services of their former leading man, Melky Cabrera. And it’s panned out, at least for now. With their magic number down to four games, the Giants have just about solidified their first place bid for the 2012 MLB playoffs and will soon battle it out with the NL’s best to possibly secure their second World Series appearance in three years. But when faced with such a high task and an unlikely feat, it’s best to be equipped with every possible advantage.
Cabrera, appropriately named “the Melkman,” has been the center of controversy this year after news broke of his performance enhancing drug use. Consequently, the league handed down a 50-game suspension, to which he is currently serving. However, the suspension will be lifted six games into the playoffs and, as a result, Cabrera will have the opportunity to rejoin his team under the Giants discretion. So why not?
As it stands right now, the Giants clubhouse has insinuated that they will not allow Cabrera to return to the team, under higher moral ground. I respect that. In fact, I admire it. But I have some reservations.
In the modern age, the league is a shell of what it used to be. The time when baseball was to be treated with integrity, honor and upheld to the highest standards and principles is, unfortunately, behind us. The league has transformed into a different game. A game in which people lie, cheat and steal to get ahead, and stay ahead. Why just look at some of the game’s past work: the BALCO scandal, Pete Rose betting on baseball, numerous individual PED use, corked bats, trapped balls and, my favorite, pantomiming an injury at the plate to take a free base. Is it just me, or has there been some credibility lost?
“There is a culture of deception in this game,” Chicago Cubs team president Andy MacPhail said in the wake of Sammy Sosa’s PED use in 2002. “It’s been in this game for 100 years. I do not look at this in terms of ethics. It’s the culture of the game.”
“Everyone cheats,” Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said in 2005. “If you don’t get caught, you’re a smart player. If you get caught, you’re cheating.”
Now, the league slowly tries to rebuild itself, distancing the game from the cheating, the scandals and the steroid use that has left us battered and bruised. For those who do choose to use PEDs, there are other leagues to consider (think softball, where teams are only allowed to hit a certain number of home runs in each game).
But let us refocus. Cabrera is a cheater. He even tried to cheat his way out of cheating, creating a phony website to duck his drug suspension and blame a foreign substance. No public relations firm can combat the waning public sentiment he has against him. But time heals all wounds. People forgive, and they eventually forget. Especially when it comes to the diluted perception of cheaters in the game and its ongoing struggle with those wrongdoers.
Still, we love it. We, at times, can’t get enough of it. And that goes for all sports. But cheaters win. And win often. The asterisk marks across the names of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, reveal little. If we saw them around town, or sitting in the stands of a ball game, we’ll think to ourselves “Wow, that’s Barry Bonds! He’s the home run king!”
While we still know the mark of a cheater, we no longer care as much. Look at Alex Rodriguez. He’s cheated. He even admitted he cheated. But we still give him just as much credit as any other league MVP or World Series hero. We just look back at the world differently, usually accepting whatever happened in the past and moving on, as if we’re suited to be blissfully ignorant rather than be forever stubborn. Whether it be right or wrong, it’s clear by the very culture of the game, that players and their respective teams will do anything to win, and that it can be accepted, eventually.
So why not jump on the bandwagon?
In Cabrera’s case. There was an admission of guilt. There was a sentencing. That sentence is being served. Now we move forward. If the Giants have any reason to believe that Cabrera could still help the team, then why not?
Many speculators express their concerns of a moral code in the business of baseball. They maintain that Cabrera’s presence could affect the team’s chemistry and the confidence of the guys who will be replaced by the move. But baseball is about statistical value more than it is about team chemistry. Those who contend that baseball is a team game, they’re wrong! Players go up to the plate, one-by-one, and they either get on base or they don’t. There is no help from teammates. Nor is there any team chemistry involved in fielding a ground ball, or a pop fly for that matter. Any college shortstop with half a brain could turn a double play with little to no previous engagement with his second baseman. So team chemistry is a far cry from a good answer for displacing Cabrera during the post-season.
Simply put, Cabrera was an All-Star this year and he could still be a significant upgrade from the Giants outfield cast. His stats before his suspension are almost unfathomable. He batted .346 with a .390 on-base percentage, .516 slugging percentage and an impressive .906 OPS. The switch-hitting 28-year-old put the ball in play more than any Giants player on the team, and recorded a league-best 159 hits before his inevitable shutdown. While you can certainly make the case that PEDs made him that outstanding player he may no longer be, his career numbers (.284/.338/.414) alone set him apart from San Francisco’s current starting left-fielder Gregor Blanco (.245/.333/.349).
I understand that there are enormous financial and public relations factors that weigh into Cabrera’s future with the Giants. I understand that there should be no place in baseball for performance enhancing drugs or cheating by any means. And I understand that this is not a popular opinion, nor one that Giants fans will initially accept. But we live in a culture that promotes winning, almost to a we-will-do-anything-to-win degree. That being said, the Giants should give Cabrera a fighting chance. His career statistics outweigh that of the Giants current starting left-fielder, along with the few other players that manager Bruce Bochy rotates through the position on a day-to-day basis. So keep him on the roster. And use him at the most advantageous of times. It could be the difference between a first-round exit and a World Series ring.