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.