On Melky And Morality

Yesterday, San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for testosterone. It’s upsetting to me in that a talented player whose charisma and charm makes him loveable to his team’s fan base would ultimately cheat at baseball. After all, using testosterone is agreed upon by the players and owners to be a breach of conduct.

It is not upsetting to me because Cabrera broke some sort of arbitrary moral code beyond breaking the rules of Major League Baseball  by using a substance he believed would improve his performance. In my opinion, the only moral choice he made was with regards to doing something against the rules. He is not a horrible person, nor is he selfish.

It would take a level of naivety of which I’m not capable to imagine that competitors in a highly competitive field aren’t going to seek out every advantage possible to triumph over their competition. It would take an equally unsound measure of naivety to trust my limited understanding of what advantage there is to be gained through the use of banned substances, at least to the point of vocalizing or writing out accusations about the fiber of someone’s character.

Certainly, it’s bothersome that players cheat in baseball as a means of getting ahead. However, because the idea of performance enhancing drugs has been elevated to a level of notice other areas of cheating have not been, it receives a higher level of attention. And that’s not even discussing the far more reprehensible cases of bad behavior that have included drinking and driving, as well as, in the case of Delmon Young, hate speech and physical assault.

Adding to my general annoyance is the specific moral grandstanding of certain baseball writers who descend from on high to deliver shame upon a player’s head. This is done not out of concern for the overall health of athletes – the supposed reason the use of banned substances are treated so severely – but merely to promote themselves as a voice of sound judgment and moral responsibility.

Typically, these writers jump to the following conclusions:

  • The use of banned substance has improved a player’s ability.
  • The accomplishments of that player, which are given a sudden and arbitrary level of importance, should be called into question.

There is no concrete evidence to suggest the levels at which taking substances will improve your performance. Yes, the use of so-called performance enhancing drugs allow your body to do things physically that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to do, but how that transfers to skills on the baseball field, we cannot say. The list of what we would consider poorly skilled baseball players who have been caught using banned substances is just as long as the list of what we would consider to be highly skilled players.

This is why it’s unreasonable to both: a) smear Melky Cabrera’s name beyond the fact that he broke the rules of the game and b) call into question any of his accomplishments, which have suddenly gained an increased amount of importance, while he was supposedly using a banned substance.

Comments (33)

  1. Jon Heyman seems ready to burn Melky at the stake.

  2. Dustin,

    Why is it unreasonable?

    The rules of baseball are not unfair and any player that knowingly goes out of his way to break them deserves his name smeared. The rules are put in place for a reason and this player went out of his way to attempt (whether he did or not is not the debate here) to change the level playing field. That is a disgraceful act of poor sportsmanship towards his fellow professionals including his teammates, 24 players who have now badly been let down by someone you claim not to be selfish.

    Melky Cabrera’s rise from a poor baseball player less than two years ago to one who leads the league in hits is one that raised eyebrows even before the news of him testing positive. Whether or not the PED’s led to his improvement, the fact that he was an awful baseball player in 2010 means it is absolutely reasonable to call into question his accomplishments.

    • Sounds like somebody’s a BARVES fan.

    • It’s not unreasonable to say he cheated. He did. He broke the rules. You can even call it a disgraceful act if you like, but I think a lot more players than Cabrera are doing disgraceful acts and not getting caught.

      What’s unreasonable is to make the leap from him cheating to him being morally reprehensible. He is not that.

      You say the rules are in place for a reason, but what’s that reason? To guarantee their own health? I’d suggest that optics are far more important to MLB than health. Why do we care what substances other adults choose to put in their bodies? Why is this such worse behavior and receiving of far more attention than drinking/driving or Delmon Young physically assaulting someone while using a racial slur?

      Also, you’re taking major leaps in logic assuming that substances led to his revival last year and this year. You also can’t have it both ways. He either let down his teammates or he’s worthless without drugs, not both.

      • No, the rules are in place by MLB because THEY believe that they directly improve a player unfairly and it is their attempt as an organisation to keep the game as clean and fair as it possibly can.

        No one said this is worse behavior than the two examples you mentioned and you shouldn’t assume it is just because baseball banned him for this. When a player gets a DUI that means he has broken the laws in place by authorities and it is up to them to deal with that. MLB could, like the NFL, then decide to add further punishment to the crime but they should not be called out if they do not. It is their business to police their game first and they have done that here.

        How is it a major leap in logic by questioning a major league player’s accomplishments this season (now he has been caught) when he has a proven track record of being nothing more than an average at best player in the game?

        I can tell you this – 30 MLB GM’s will also take what you describe ‘a major leap in logic’ this winter when Cabrera goes from getting $80 odd million in the free agent market (which he would have gotten had he not failed the test) to nothing more than half that now.

        • Melky is a 27 year old player peaking at the exact age he should be. If anything is enhancing his performance its luck. Testosterone didn’t inflate his babip.

        • Hey Kristian, I’ve been away for the afternoon, but I wanted to respond to your points.

          1. This seems naive to me. Amazing that MLB didn’t concern itself at all with what you’re suggestion the purpose of the sanctions are when use of PEDs was serving to reignite interest in baseball. Please explain how HGH serves to improve performance at all. How are these substances being used differently than a cortisone shot, or if you want to look to the past, the almighty greenies. MLB’s stance on PEDs is largely for the sake of optics.

          If your belief is true, why wouldn’t it seek to ban other stimulants that don’t receive the attention that testosterone, HGH, etc. do. These are the recognizable faces to performance improvement, and so, MLB bans it, not for the betterment of competition, but so that it can point to its actions when people question whether they things they’ve heard of as being bad are still in the game.

          A belief that so called PEDs improve performance is full of bad assumptions. Many baseball players bulk up and lose ability because of it. There’s absolutely no measurement or reasonable justification to blindly stating it improves performance other than that’s what’s been previously assumed.

          2. We’ve gone beyond societal laws in this conversation. We’re talking about the morality of Cabrera’s decision. I’ve already stated that he has cheated by breaking the rules, but you’ve said it’s worse than that. That it is a disgrace.

          I offer those examples as actual disgraces. That is the immoral and reprehensible behavior your ire should target, not cheating in terms of the MLB rules that seem completely arbitrary and poorly constructed to me.

          How can any of us a) determine how PEDs improve performance, b) make the distinction between banned substances and allowable substances.

          There’s far for grey area in this matter than you’re acknowledging.

          3. It’s a major leap in logic because as I’ve stated above, there’s no way to determine if the use of the banned substances improved his performance, and if so, in what way they improved it. We also don’t know how testosterone was being used. What if he was taking it to rehab an injury faster? We have no clue.

          4. First of all, what the majority of people do isn’t justification for an argument being true. Secondly, I’d suggest that any loss of potential income for Cabrera isn’t because GMs foresee a talent drop off, it’s because they now have an excuse, a justification for lowering price. Perception is every bit as important as reality.

          As a side, I also think people are overstating just what Cabrera will receive on the FA market because of this incident. Again, a lower total from what he would get will be the results of optics and the public perception of his reputation, not reduced talent evaluation.

      • You may not agree with any of the following assumptions, but it should demonstrate how, hypothetically, PED use could have a negative effect on every other player in the MLB.

        Only Cabrera takes PEDs.
        Cabrera without PEDs: 1-1.5 WAR player
        Cabrera with PEDs: 3.5 WAR player
        Salary for next 5 years without PEDs: $20m ($4m per year)
        Salary for next 5 years with PEDs: $80m ($16m per year)
        MLB revenue does not increase because of Cabrera PED use.
        0 inflation in MLB wages for 5 years.
        Total MLB wages = $3bn

        Cabrera has effectively stolen $60m from the rest of MLB players, or about 2% of the total MLB payroll.
        The average MLB player (exluding Cabrera) will be paid about $15,000 less for each of the next 5 years.

        It might be small in relative terms, but it’s not nothing. Every subsequent PED user further redistributes money from non-PED users to PED users

        If PED use involves the player improving from below replacement level to replacement level then the impact on the marginal replacement level player’s (the guy who would have been in the majors if nobody cheated) income is massive.

  3. I think the 50 game suspension is sound enough.

    No need to destroy his reputation.

  4. The moral issue of steroids has always been that it encourages young athletes to use unhealthy and dangerous substances in order to succeed. At the height of the “steroid era” there was virtually no chance for a young player to succeed without causing physical harm to their bodies. Emery boards and Vaseline don’t shorten lives.

    • No, but the choice to drop out of school in the hopes of chasing a baseball dream at the age of 13 amongst countless Dominican youths certainly harms livelihoods and leads to a lot of problems. To pretend like PEDs are the only aspects of professional sports that harm the lives of innocent children is plain wrong.

      • Who’s pretending? And what does that have to do with my argument?

        • Your implication is that steroids are ‘worse’ than emery boards because they shorten lives. My point is that comparing PEDs to emery boards and vaseline is to pretend like no other forms of cheating exist, certainly none which are worse than emery boards or vaseline, and that this is why we should condemn Cabrera. My point (poorly articulated, I’ll admit), is that not only are there means of cheating that are ‘worse’ than emery boards in terms of ability to increase one’s likelihood to win, but that don’t ‘shorten lives’, and that children shouldn’t emulate, but also that many ways of playing the game cleanly can have incredibly adverse effects on one’s life, and set a terrible example for ‘the children’.

  5. Wonder how this post would have looked if Brett Lawrie was the one ‘Roiding?

  6. I’m pleased to see that you seem to be moderating your ‘PEDs do nothing’ stance a little bit (or at least it seems that way to me).

    However, there’s still some faulty logic here that you seem to manage to avoid using when discussing any other topic.

    “The list of what we would consider poorly skilled baseball players who have been caught using banned substances is just as long as the list of what we would consider to be highly skilled players.. ”

    I can’t believe that you look at that sentence and think that you have justified your point. You must surely know that nobody is making the claim that anybody taking PEDs will become a superstar. Rather, there is a good chance that PEDs make each player a certain percentage better than before. As with any drug, you wouldn’t expect that percentage to be the same for everyone.

    However, if that percentage is significantly greater than 0, then it clearly is a problem for anybody who chooses not to take PEDs, both for low skilled players and high skilled players.

    We don’t have reliable enough data on when players started taking PEDs and at what dosage to measure the effect, but we have plenty of anecdotal evidence from baseball and others sports that there is a significant effect.

  7. The reason there is no evidence that anabolic steroids improve performance is because there has never been a single study on their effects outside of legitimate medical conditions like wasting.

  8. Thank you for your post, as always. I agree that Cabrera is not a horrible person. He made a horrible decision.

    I do, however, respectfully disagree with you about him not being selfish. What he has done is, in my opinion, the very epitome of selfishness. Thinking only of his personal success and achievement (whether or not for the overall benefit of his team). He has potentially cost his team a post-season birth, the very same entity he was trying to give a leg up to by cheating. Seems like the ultimate sacrifice to me. To lose the respect of even one of your teammates has to be one of the most troubling aspects of this situation.

    I do not claim to be morally superior to any Tom, Dick or Sally. But I am aware when my potentially (poor) decisions have detrimental effects on others. He has slandered the Giants reputation and minimized the hard-working, honest work of others on his team and the staff. My point here, is that perhaps we should not be solely focused on what this drug use has done to improve HIS game or to harm it, but rather focus on what it has done to the collective organization.

    I wish the best for this Giants team, but should they fall out of contention, as a result of this drug use or otherwise, I think we all know where the fingers will be pointed (deservedly so or not). In choosing to cheat, Cabrera has invited this burden on himself and if I were his teammate, I’d be last in line to share it.

  9. In addressing ones morality, there is also the fact that possession and usage of non-prescribed anabolic steroids is illegal under both US and Canadian law. There is also no “supposedly” about his use, he fully admitted his guilt in his press release. As for his not being selfish, if violating professional rules and federal laws to enhance one’s earning potential before heading into free agency is not a perfect example of someone that is concerned primarily for his own self-interest then perhaps we don’t hablo the same ingles.

    • The problem with this premise is that it assumes that the US and Canada have sound, rational policies regarding possession and use of drugs and other substances. I don’t believe that to be the case in any way, shape or form, and it’s quite a stretch to say that absolute adherence to a deeply-flawed policy is reflective of one’s morality. In fact, I’d say that many of the problems regarding drug policy in both countries is due to the conflation between morality and drug use, and the false assumption that substance use/abuse is reflective of one’s moral character.

      The MLBPA agreed to the rules regarding banned substances insofar as the testing program, and the consequences of failing a test. In this regard, Cabrera will get what’s coming to him, and rightly so. However, to say that he is immoral because he violated badly-formed and irrational laws is conflating two very different issues.

    • As an addendum, I’d like to point out that the USE of illegal drugs is not, in itself, a crime in Canada. Possession most certainly is, as is the operation of a motor vehicle or heavy machinery while under the influence of illegal (and sometimes legal) substances. However, simply using the drugs is not illegal, so if he were never actually in possession of any PEDs (and simply had them administered to him by another person) then he has not admitted to anything that would be illegal under the Criminal Code of Canada.

      I don’t know what the situation is in the USA (and it’s probably different from state to state) but up here, there are no laws on the books that he has admitted to breaking.

      • Actually, that is not true. Under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act it is illegal to seek or obtain anabolic steroids. The fact that someone else administers the steroid is irrelevant.

        • It’s very relevant, because it’s the person doing the administration of it who could be charged with possession. Anabolic steroids are a Schedule IV substance, which puts them in the same group as barbituates and tranquilizers, many of which can be legally possessed and prescribed by a doctor, (and in theory, administered as one well).

          It’s entirely possible that he received a prescription for it, and possessed it legally (though if the doctor prescribed it without a good reason it would be his ass on the line). Even if that wasn’t the case, and he had someone else inject him, he might never have been in possession of the substance itself.

          Receiving a testosterone shot that you never touch or possess is not illegal; it’s a strange legal quirk but it’s absolutely true.

  10. lol at “It is not upsetting to me” and “nor is he selfish”

    what a crock of crap…

    go dodgers!

  11. Yeah it doesn’t necessarily mean Melky is a “bad person”, but I think it’s safe to say that we can look at him as a less good person than if he had never chosen to cheat. But still, in the grand scheme of things, he’s probably a better person than all the drunk driving, woman beating dirt bags that populate pretty much all sports and real life for that matter.

    It’s fair to argue that it’s reasonable to seek every advantage in a competitive field, whether it is for increased performance or greater longevity, but it’s also fair to cast some moral judgment on those that seek advantage outside the rules of the game. Some players succeed or fail in the game based on their natural talents and hard work, and when those talents begin to fail them they fade graciously (or sometimes not so graciously) from the game. What they don’t do is cheat to gain or maintain what they could not legally. We may mock them for sucking, but they don’t cheat. To state that there is no moral element here whatsoever is a pretty tough sell.

    It doesn’t even matter how much PEDs affect performance. The bottom line is that players who take them BELIEVE it will give them an illegal edge, which means they are making a conscious decision to cheat, results be damned.

    I get your point about not having broken any “arbitrary moral code beyond breaking the rules of Major League Baseball” but that in itself is a decision that bears moral implications. I think we can all agree that competing fairly is more moral than competing unfairly, but that competing unfairly is less morally reprehensible than driving drunk or physically harming fellow human beings. Just because there are worse things that baseball players do doesn’t absolve Melky of any moral judgment whatsoever.

  12. There are some really good points in this post that I’d like to spend time writing a response to. Unfortunately, I have a funeral to attend this afternoon. I will catch up later tonight though, so please keep moving forward with this discussion. And thanks to most of you for not using cliches and keeping this civil. I appreciate that immensely.

  13. I don’t see the moral code he has broken as being in any way ‘arbitrary’. I’m not referring to the right or wrong of PEDs in the larger sense, but to his single act of choosing to take a substance that he know was not legal (in the rules of baseball) to take.

    He knew that taking the substance was wrong – yet he chose to do it anyway. It is that conscious decision to break the rules that brings his character into question.

  14. I wasn’t expecting a complete exoneration of Melky from you Parkes, but c’mon man, “don’t smear his name?” Going to AT&T and seeing Cabrera jerseys and Milk Man costumes and just the overall adoration of him makes me even more furious that he cheated. He lost the trust of his fans and tarnished the Giants name. Honestly, I thought as a Giants fan, you would be more irate.

    The majority of my friends are huge Giants fans (I kid them about being bandwagoners after the ’10 WS win, and that Oakland still loves them) and every time I gave them guff about some minute detail in jest, they would counter with MELKY IS GOD. And I couldn’t say anything back, because that guy had the stats to back it up. But now, everything gets called into question.

    You can say that there’s no statistical proof that PEDs influence whatever, but the fact is the guy CHEATED. He didn’t take the drugs for fun, he took them to DO BETTER. To play better. He knowingly tried to boost himself unfairly above the rest. Whether or not the PEDs do anything doesn’t really matter. It’s the fact that he attempted to cut a corner rather than play the game fairly. He deserves to be smeared until he retires, and it’s really sad you don’t see that man.

  15. The Phillies are thrilled of this suspension. They were looking for a cheap OF for next year who might actually do something. Melky will sign for 4 yrs – 24 million with Phillies (bye, bye – 5yrs / 80 million)

  16. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Melky’s performance was better because of his PED use for the simple fact that Melky himself would not bother taking on the risks of using PEDs if he didn’t notice an increase in his performance from doing so.

    I do however take issue with the idea presented here that he was somehow an average player beforehand. Melky has always shown huge potential and flashes of brilliance and he’s just reaching the age now where he should be entering his prime power years. His eye at the plate and ability to make contact are amazing and always have been. None of that changes because of PEDS.

    What should change because of PEDS are his BABIP and total bases because the increased speed and strength from the PEDS are helping make that same good contact occur with more power. And that is exactly what we’re seeing statistically.

    For the millionth time people…changes in BABIP are not always due entirely to luck!!

  17. I think that another prescient point to consider is the effect that his PED use may have had on the employment market in which he works. Not only is he potentially positively impacting his own career by improving his statistical performance in a contract year, he is also (especially as a player who, in his last couple years in KC, had become a marginal talent at best) potentially negatively impacting the careers of players in the minor leagues who could be playing in his place in the majors, either this year or next.

    While I definitely think the moral outrage over the use of PEDs is somewhat overblown, especially in the case of a certain former San Francisco Giant where the Hall of Fame is concerned (300-300 isn’t good enough, even if you take out the extra 400 plus homeruns?), I think there is a place to be judgmental of players who break the rules and engage in behavior agreed to be out of bounds and known to be detrimental to their health in order to arguably improve their performance. While I understand the argument that competitors are going to go to all lengths necessary to improve their skills in order to protect their livelihoods, it doesn’t excuse the fact that this behaviour is illegal under the rules of the sport, potentially harmful to the player in question, and distorts the labour market within the game to the detriment of younger/marginal players trying to earn their own shots.

  18. Either you make steroids legal or you give one year suspensions for first timers and second timers get banned for life. The guy cheated. However, I believe that Cabrera is not someone without morals, he simply made a mistake and got caught. It happened. Move on. No need to speculate on his “inflated” stats, he got caught juicing up. He got punished for it. Justice is served (according to the rules). However, if you’re going to take a “hard line” on performance enhancing drugs, suspend first timers for 162 games, not 50. That will make players less likely to “cheat”, in my humble opinion.

  19. So…cheating, lying thieves aren’t morally reprehensible? That’s news to me.

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