San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera has been ruled ineligible for the National League batting title — at his own request.
Cabrera had continued to lead the NL with a .346 batting average despite being suspended 50 games for performance-enhancing drugs Aug. 15. Without Friday’s action from Major League Baseball and the players’ union, there’s an excellent chance he would have been crowned batting champion.
Now Cabrera has been disqualified — but not directly because of his suspension. Rather, the parties cleverly agreed on a temporary rider to Rule 10.22(a) — the provision permitting players shy of the required 502 plate appearances for the batting title to be charged with “outs” to account for the shortfall.
Cabrera had 501 plate appearances — only one away — when his ban was announced. With one additional out, he would have hit .34565 — in other words, still .346. Until Friday’s ruling, he led the NL over Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen (.339) and San Francisco teammate Buster Posey (.335).
However, MLB and the players’ union said in a joint statement that Rule 10.22(a) “shall not be applicable for the 2012 season for any player who failed to obtain 502 plate appearances if such player served a drug suspension for violating the Joint Drug Program.”
In other words, this is a one-time exception. Andrew Baggarly of CSNBayArea.com was first to report the joint decision.
“After giving this matter the consideration it deserves, I have decided that Major League Baseball will comply with Mr. Cabrera’s request,” MLB commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. “I respect his gesture as a sign of his regret and his desire to move forward, and I believe that, under these circumstances, the outcome is appropriate, particularly for Mr. Cabrera’s peers who are contending for the batting crown.”
By choosing such a specific mechanism to enact the discipline, baseball avoided opening the proverbial Pandora’s Box associated with the Steroid Era. This wasn’t a sweeping statement that MLB intends to wipe the record book clean of all PED offenders — the sort of revisionist history Selig has long resisted.
Rather, this was the most convenient means of avoiding the embarrassment of Cabrera winning the 2012 NL batting title without breaking MLB’s longstanding position on the record book.
“I have no wish to win an award that would be tainted,” Cabrera said in a statement released by the union. “I believe it would be far better for someone more deserving to win. I asked the Players Association and the league to take the necessary steps to remove my name from consideration for the National League batting title.
“I am grateful that the Players Association and MLB were able to honor my request by suspending the rule for this season. I know that changing the rules mid-season can present problems, and I thank the Players Association and MLB for finding a way to get this done.”
How would baseball have reacted if Cabrera had reached 502 plate appearances on his own? Perhaps they would have found a different rule to tweak. Or perhaps they would have accepted Cabrera’s achievement rather than risk a change with broader implications.
Cabrera’s effort to remove himself from consideration may engender a small amount of goodwill, at a time when his image remains in disrepair. It’s unclear what type of interest he will generate as a free agent this offseason, and the New York Daily News reported last month that federal investigators looked into allegations that Cabrera associate Juan Carlos Nunez created a fictitious website as an alibi for his positive PED test.
Victor Conte, who supplied performance-enhancing drugs to several elite athletes as founder of the Bay Area Lab Co-Operative (BALCO), said in a Friday interview that Cabrera was correct to remove himself from consideration for the batting title.
“At first, I thought he was stepping up and not saying like so many others (who were caught) – ‘somebody spiked my toothpaste’ or ‘the dog ate my homework.’ Then this business with the phony website was revealed,” said Conte, who currently runs the nutritional supplement company SNAC in San Carlos, Calif. “I think (his request to be disqualified) is the right decision."
FOXSports.com national writer A.J. Perez contributed to this report.