FOX Sports Exclusive
Selig, MLB must act in batting race
Melky Cabrera won’t go away.
Even as the first-place San Francisco Giants have moved on — quite famously, in fact, with a 13-7 record since his steroid suspension — Cabrera’s name remains a nuisance to any fan who checks the National League batting statistics.
That’s right: Cabrera still leads the league with a .346 batting average.
At a time when Major League Baseball is taking commendable steps to address performance-enhancing drug use, bestowing the batting title upon Cabrera would be a grand and unnecessary embarrassment. And he’s a genuine threat to win it, unless Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen (.345) finishes with a flourish.
Hoping that McCutchen gets two hits each night is a poor strategy to see that justice is served.
Commissioner Bud Selig has been reluctant to enact retroactive discipline — asterisks, forfeiture of wins or NCAA-style omission of records — for steroid-era offenses. I understand why. Once you start tinkering with the historical record, it’s hard to stop. (Is it right to take away the World Series trophy because the champions had a known juicer — when the runners-up might have been just as guilty?) As hollow as Cabrera’s All-Star Game MVP award seems today, wresting it from his grasp at this stage wouldn’t accomplish much.
The batting race, though, is one instance in which MLB must act — and it doesn’t need to be that complicated.
MLB should add an additional criterion for the batting and ERA titles: Players suspended for a PED offense must be automatically disqualified, because their violations gave them an unfair statistical advantage, on top of the obvious cheating.
MLB doesn’t need to do anything about the “counting” categories, such as home runs, hits, RBI, wins and saves. If a player misses roughly one-third of the season, as Cabrera will, he’s going to fall in those rankings as a function of time. Unless the suspension occurred in the final days of the season, those statistics likely will take care of themselves. But the batting and ERA titles — based on “rate” stats — are different.
In Cabrera’s case, the PED suspension artificially limited his sample size. As a result, he had to excel for a shorter amount of time than the hitters who played by the rules.
That’s cheating squared.
Meanwhile, pitchers must throw one inning per team game to qualify for the ERA title; in effect, any pitcher with 162 innings in a season is eligible. Under the current rules, a starting pitcher might be suspended in August (as Cabrera was) and remain eligible through the innings he accumulated.
MLB can’t allow players to benefit statistically by stopping the clock on their season through PED use. That’s like a high-school student receiving an “A” on a test he missed because he was suspended for fighting in the cafeteria.
Cabrera didn’t get caught just so his batting average would remain frozen in first place. But his actions had that effect. He’s the baseball equivalent of the Olympic badminton players who attempted to gain an edge by playing to lose. They ran afoul of the basic tenets of sportsmanship and were disqualified. Cabrera should meet the same fate.
The basic requirement for the batting title is 3.1 plate appearances per team game, which works out to 502 over the course of a 162-game season. Cabrera had 501 — one shy — before his ban was announced Aug. 15.
However, a rarely cited statistical provision allows any player who is short — regardless of the reason — to qualify as long as the shortfall turns into “outs” for accounting purposes. With one out added to Cabrera’s ledger, he’s hitting .34565 — in other words, still .346.
But that specific rule isn’t the problem here. The issue is that Melky Cabrera, antihero, still has a chance to become Melky Cabrera, champion.
Selig doesn’t need to change history. He just needs to adjust the rules in a way that reinforces the sport’s drug policy and our own sense of fair play.