melky cabrera getty

Apparently we’re supposed to suspect PED users for the rest of their careers

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Buster Olney has a great exercise in McCarthyism today. And if you consider my use of the term “McCarthyism” too extreme, know that one significant part of the good senator’s m.o. was to use a given person’s past mistakes and associations as proof, in and of itself, of continued wrongdoing. That’s what Olney is doing with Melky Cabrera today.

The upshot: Melky got caught cheating a couple of years ago. He’s now playing well in 2014. You can choose to believe that he’s clean, but if you choose to believe he’s a big fat cheater, well, that’s reasonable. And that’s clearly what Olney is suggesting you do, make no mistake. He uses an analogy involving a bank robber who went unpunished, suggesting that Cabrera has done the same. He makes a note to say that Cabrera is “a good friend of Alex Rodriguez,” which is gratuitous guilt by association. It’s really a mess of a column in which Olney says it’s OK to always consider someone a cheater if they cheated in the past. He even ends it with the sentence “All’s fair.”

Maybe strongly implying that a guy who did the crime and the time two years ago is still doing the crime now and telling your readers that always assuming guilt without evidence it’s not just OK, but probably the smart thing to do is “fair” in Olney’s world. But it’s certainly not a world I would choose to live in. And it’s not the world that Major League Baseball has sought to create with its drug testing system. Indeed, the entire point of the system is quite the opposite.

If Melky Cabrera tests positive for PEDs this season, I will assume his performance was artificially and illegally enhanced. Until that happens, however — or until some other evidence of his wrongdoing besides this sort of odious and baseless innuendo reveals itself — I won’t. If you have a rational and fair way to handle these things apart from that, I’d love to hear about it.

UPDATE: Many of you are referencing the notion of “not giving a past cheater the benefit of the doubt. About that:

The idea of not giving Cabrera the benefit of the doubt is valid. If questioned, no, of course you can’t blithely assume that someone with a dark past is on the up and up. The issue, however, is why are we constantly questioning and whether that questioning is even reasonable.

Some in the comments used an analogy to someone with a criminal record or to a philandering husband. To that I say, sure, if a guy who once cheated on his wife is late getting home with a sketchy explanation or if someone who was convicted for embezzling money suddenly has $100K in the bank, obviously you can’t forget what they did in the past.

However, we don’t, for no reason whatsoever, question past cheaters or past criminals constantly, forcing them to defend themselves when there is nothing to suggest they’ve reverted to their old ways. To do that is patently unreasonable and, depending on the circumstances, offensive. If you can’t live with a cheater, you divorce him, you don’t take him back and then suspect him all the damn time. If you don’t think the sentence served by the embezzler is sufficient, you ratchet up the penalties, you don’t keep him under police surveillance. The same goes for baseball players and PEDs: they did the time for the crime. If that is not enough for you, institute lifetime bans or quit watching baseball altogether. Don’t sit in constant, baseless judgment.

Melky Cabrera is a professional baseball player doing things now that are not unusual for professional baseball players to do in the space of a month or so. Especially when, even if you pretend that anything good he did in the past was via PEDs, the guy was signed by the best team in baseball when he was 17, was touted by scouts and put up good numbers at a surprisingly young age. Was he ever as good as he was in 2012 for the Giants? No, but it’s not like he was pre-super soldier serum Steve Rogers, either. It’s totally reasonable to expect a clean player to do what Cabrera is doing now without suspicion.

If Melky’s name shows up on some email from a drug dealer or he’s mentioned in the next Biogenesis-style scandal, even obliquely, or even if he suddenly develops ADD and has some doctor get him a therapeutic use exemption after all of this time, fine, your questions about him are reasonable and you don’t have to grant him the benefit of the doubt. However, we do not and should not think that good baseball performance is necessarily illegally enhanced performance without anything more. Even if the guy, in the past, took PEDs. To do so is to engage in ridiculous McCarthyist garbage and stretches the notion of “benefit of the doubt” to crazy extremes.

Great Moments in Not Understanding The Rules

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Bill Livingston of the Cleveland Plain Dealer is a Hall of Fame voter. In the past he has voted for players who used PEDs, but he’s never been totally happy with it, seeing the whole PED mess as a dilemma for voters.

On the one hand he doesn’t like voting for users and doesn’t like harming those who were clean by shifting votes away from them, but on the other hand, he doesn’t want to pretend history didn’t happen and that baseball hasn’t been filled with cheaters forever. What to do?

This year he decided to abstain altogether. A fair and noble act if one is as conflicted as Livingston happens to be. Except . . . he didn’t actually abstain:

Major league baseball will confer bronzed immortality on a few players Wednesday when the results of the national baseball writers’ balloting for the Hall of Fame will be announced.

I had a 2017 ballot. I returned it signed, but blank, with an explanatory note.

A blank ballot, signed and submitted, is not an abstention. It’s counted as a vote for no one. Each “no” vote increases the denominator in the calculation of whether or not a candidate has received 75% of the vote and has gained induction. An abstention, however, would not. So, in effect, Livingston has voted against all of the players on the ballot, both PED-tainted and clean, even though it appears that that was not his intention.

This is the second time in three years a Cleveland writer has had . . . issues with his Hall of Fame ballot. In the 2014-15 voting period, Paul Hoynes simply lost his ballot. Now Livingston misunderstood how to abstain.

I worry quite often that Ohio is gonna mess up a major election. I guess I’m just worrying about the wrong election.

Hall of Fame voters are making news, not exercising democratic rights

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Last month the Baseball Writers Association of America voted to make all Hall of Fame ballots public beginning with next year’s vote for the 2018 induction class. In the past 24 hours or so, as this year’s Hall of Fame voting period comes to a close, a lot of folks have been talking about that. Most notably in Jayson Stark’s piece over at ESPN regarding next year’s brave new public world.

Stark is pro-transparency on the ballots, as are the vast majority of BBWAA members who voted on the public ballot measure (it passed 80-9). Not everyone Stark quotes in his article is on board with it, though:

“I’ve already seen a lot of people change their votes from one year to the next,” said one of the strongest dissenters to this decision, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. “People have changed their votes based on public opinion.”

Two other sources in the story, Scott Miller of Bleacher Report and a voter who asked to remain anonymous equated their Hall of Fame vote with democracy and invoked the sanctity of the secret ballot. “The No. 1 reason I was against this rule is that in this country, it’s a democracy, and everyone has a vote on different things. And I hate to see a blanket rule that forces everyone to go in one direction,” Miller said. Here’s what the anonymous guy said:

“To me, a secret ballot is a fundamental of democracy. You should be able to vote your conscience without having to explain your vote. But once it’s public, you’re open to public pressure. And that’s not what we want in a democracy. We’re not elected representatives. We’re chosen to be part of a voting group.”

This is ridiculous of course. Voting for the Hall of Fame is not exercising democratic rights. It is making news and making history. Hall of Fame voters are making decisions which will fundamentally alter baseball history and which matter greatly to a large number of baseball fans. They are not advancing their own or society’s interests at the ballot box the way citizens do on election day. Despite the fact that the form of their action here is, technically speaking, a ballot, they are making news in the same way a GM makes a news with a trade, the commissioner makes news with a rule change or a team makes news by winning a World Series.

Would any of these voters — who are credentialed members of the media, by the way, and like to style themselves as truth-seeking members of the Fourth Estate — accept silence from the people who make the news on the beat they cover? Would they be content if the newsmakers whose acts they chronicle demanded anonymity the way they themselves do now? Of course they wouldn’t. And if they got the same silent treatment they’d prefer to give, they’d write one of those petulant little columns they love about players who “duck the press” after a game.

Suck it up, journalists. Act the way you expect the newsmakers you cover to act and own your decisions. Don’t pretend for a moment that you’re not the subject of, and not the reporter of, the story when Hall of Fame season comes around.