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SNYDER: Melky Cabrera’s PED case illustrates how rewards outweigh risks

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FILE - This March 1, 2012 file photo shows San Francisco Giants baseball player Melky Cabrera. Cabrera has been suspended for 50 games without pay after testing positive for testosterone. The commissioner’s office says the suspension is effective immediately. Major League Baseball said on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012, that Cabrera tested positive for the banned performance-enhancing substance, which violates MLB’s joint drug prevention and treatment program. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Melky Cabrera, in the midst of an MVP-like season for the San Francisco Giants, tested positive for testosterone around the All-Star break. Major League Baseball announced Wednesday that the Giants outfielder is suspended for 50 games.

Ryan Braun, who won the MVP award with the Milwaukee Brewers last year, tested positive for testosterone after the 2011 regular season ended. After he won his appeal in February, MLB vehemently disagreed with the arbitrator’s decision, which was based on a technicality and not the test’s veracity.

Those cases — not to mention the three other major leaguers suspended this season — bring us to the sad conclusion that performance-enhancing drugs in baseball are alive and well. Especially in the minor leagues, where there have been 70 suspensions this year (although 19 were for a “drug of abuse,” meaning some players still are interested in getting high more than making highlights).

I have no idea if testosterone provides a buzz, but it definitely delivers a boost. Cabrera, who averaged .267 with eight homers and 54 RBI during his first five seasons, was a different player last year. He hit .305 with 18 homers and 54 RBI for Kansas City, crediting it to working harder, eating better and drinking less.

The uptick is even greater this year, as Cabrera leads the NL in hits (159) and runs (84). He’s also second in batting average (.346), and has increased his on-base plus slugging percentage from .809 last season to .906 this season.

But Wednesday, he had some explaining to do.

“My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used,” Cabrera said in a statement released by the players’ union. “I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Program and I will try to move on with my life. I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants’ organization and to the fans for letting them down.”

We shouldn’t be shocked or surprised that baseball’s history of drug-aided performance has continued past the Steroid Era. The freak show is over, so we no longer see the gigantic craniums, bulging biceps and puffed-up physiques of yesteryear.

But with fast-acting creams and patches designed to avoid detection, players nowadays can achieve the desired results without the glaring visuals.

They certainly have the incentive. Before his breakout season with Kansas City, Cabrera hit a career-low .255 with just four homers and 42 RBI, leading to his release by the Atlanta Braves. He signed with the Royals for less than half of the $3.1 million he made in 2011. But he’s making $6 million from the Giants this year and was poised for a big contract next winter as a 28-year-old free agent.

If the failed drug test occurred after Cabrera signed, say, a five-year deal for $75 million, his 50-game suspension would have cost him about $4.6 million. More than a few players (and nonplayers) will determine that the risk doesn’t outweigh the reward. It’s not like they’re robbing a bank and could face years in prison.

Cheaters don’t even face much condemnation from their teammates or peers.

Giants catcher Buster Posey told reporters that “ultimately, it was just a bad decision.” Robinson Cano, Cabrera’s former teammate on the New York Yankees, said, “I’m always going to be there for him.” As per usual, players around baseball lamented the consequences instead of lambasting the act.

Cabrera can serve his suspension and be activated after the Giants’ fifth postseason game, should San Francisco make the playoffs. He still can win the batting title. He still can sign a free agent deal that’s worth more than he ever made.

He lost a ton of money, but he didn’t lose much respect.

The baseball fraternity will embrace him when he returns. The Giants are particularly forgiving. San Francisco has signed several players in recent years, including Guillermo Mota, Clay Hensley, Jose Guillen and Miguel Tejada, who either have tested positive or were linked to banned substances in the Mitchell Report.

Some players can’t resist the temptation to cheat because the money is so great and the penalty is so weak. Their brethren understand that and can’t come down hard. They might be in the same boat one day.

Or at this very moment.

About the Author
Deron Snyder

Deron Snyder is an award-winning journalist and Washington Times sports columnist with more than 25 years of experience. He has worked at USA Today and his column was syndicated in Gannett’s 80-plus newspapers from 2000-2009, appearing in The Arizona Republic, The Indianapolis Star, The Detroit News and many others. Follow Deron on Twitter @DeronSnyder or email him at deronwashtimes@gmail.com.

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