All of a sudden, Andrew McCutchen has a new legion of fans. As one of this season’s brightest breakout stars, the Pirates’ centerfielder doesn’t need much help attracting a following, but thanks to Melky Cabrera, he now has most of the baseball world rooting for him to win the batting title.
Before being suspended, Cabrera was hitting .346 in 501 plate appearances, which is just one shy of what baseball considers a “qualified season”. However, that doesn’t mean the Giants’ left fielder is disqualified from the batting race. Instead, upon the Giants’ completion of a 162-game season, he will be assessed a hitless at bat and his resultant average, which would remain at .346, will be listed among the league leaders.
The idea of Cabrera winning the batting title while under suspension for PEDs is reprehensible to some. McCutchen is their white knight. With a current batting average of .359, the Pirates’ All Star maintains a comfortable lead over Cabrera. However, with third-ranked Joey Votto injured and Buster Posey a more distant fourth, a significant slump by McCutchen would hand the batting title to the disgraced Cabrera.
Instead of letting it reach that point, some have suggested that Cabrera should be disqualified from the batting race because of his positive drug test. At face value, such an action seems absurd. After all, if Cabrera ends the season with the highest batting average, nothing will change that fact. The record book is a repository for what has happened throughout the long history of the game, not what might have or should have occurred. Erasing statistics not only opens up a can of worms with regard to derivative impacts (e.g., should pitchers who gave up a hit to Cabrera be credited with an out instead) and accomplishments by other players, but it also erroneously stamps all other performances with a seal of approval. So, instead of trying to determine who cheated and who didn’t, it’s better to let history speak for itself.
Even though Cabrera’s statistics should become an unaltered, permanent part of the baseball record book, he doesn’t necessarily deserve to be called a batting champion. Like an Olympic athlete who fails a drug test, there’s no reason why a similarly disgraced baseball player can’t also be disqualified from award contention. Although unprecedented in baseball, there are lots of similar examples from throughout the sports world. In other words, just because Melky Cabrera ends the year with the highest batting average doesn’t mean he must be given the Louisville Slugger Silver Bat and honored with the title of batting champion.
The two main arguments against disqualification go something like this: “nobody cares about batting average anymore” and “if MLB hasn’t taken past action against other ‘cheaters’, then why start now?” The first statement fails by its very existence because if nobody cares about the batting title, it wouldn’t be the subject of debate, and those making the argument wouldn’t be bothering to do so. The second retort is more relevant, but it also relies on a false premise. For starters, rule changes have always been a part of the game. Just because the sport hasn’t taken a particular action doesn’t it mean it can’t start. Also, even though there is no rule in place disqualifying a suspended player from receiving an award, bestowing an honor shouldn’t be held to the same rigor as denying a right. Besides, denying Cabrera the “batting title” doesn’t entail overturning an outcome or altering statistics. It simply involves making Cabrera’s recorded performance ineligible for a particular award.
Regardless of what action MLB takes, either independently or in conjunction with its corporate partners (in this case, Louisville Slugger), Cabrera’s batting average will remain unchanged at .346. Baseball can’t and shouldn’t try to change that fact, but even if his performance wasn’t inflated by drugs, there’s still solid ground for denying him an accolade simply because he broke the rules. Even though I disagree with the notion, it’s not an open and shut case, as many on both sides of the issue would like to believe. That’s why you can bet Bud Selig is rooting hard for Andrew McCutchen to get a hit every time he comes to the plate. The last thing baseball needs is to be bludgeoned by the Silver Bat on the eve of the postseason.