Kovacevic: Can't crown cheating Cabrera
Major League Baseball isn't exactly keen on erasing or attaching asterisks to records. Pete Rose, banned for life for gambling, still has all 4,256 hits. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, the Syringe Brothers, still have all 1,189 combined home runs.
Even the famous “asterisk” often connected to Roger Maris' 61 home runs is a myth. Only happened in the movies.
But maybe now is a good time to consider one for real.
The case of Melky Cabrera fairly screams out for it.
Until he was suspended Wednesday for 50 games for use of testosterone, the Giants' outfielder was having a prodigious season. He was the All-Star Game MVP and batting .346 with 11 home runs and 60 RBI. That average was second in the National League only to the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen.
Now, astonishingly, Cabrera might win the batting crown.
Stay with me through the explanation. It's worth it.
A batting champ must have a minimum 502 plate appearances to qualify. Cabrera had 501 when commissioner Bud Selig blew the whistle, and now, he's done for the season. One short.
Neat timing there, right?
But wait. Turns out Cabrera actually is eligible because of the Tony Gwynn Rule.
It's officially called Rule 10.22(a), but it's known that way because the Padres' legend took the batting crown in 1996 with a .353 average on just 498 plate appearances. He was four shy.
The rule allowed that because Gwynn would have led the league even if he'd gone 0 for 4 in those missing plate appearances. His average would have dropped to .349, five points better than second-place Ellis Burks' .344.
No, really. Look it up.
Bill Madlock won his 1981 batting crown with the Pirates the same way, only he wasn't lucky — or unlucky — enough to have it become the Mad Dog Rule.
What all this means now: McCutchen or anyone else must bat at least .347 to win the title.
For now, McCutchen is leading the league — and the majors — at .359. Even with his recent slide, he's had an MVP-type season, and I'll be stunned if he doesn't take off again soon. Drawing three walks and lashing a single Thursday in the 10-6 victory over the Dodgers was a strong sign he's shrinking his strike zone back to the norm.
With the hardest part of the grind in the six weeks to come?
That wouldn't be easy for anyone in Dead Ball Era II. Jose Reyes was the league's batting champ last year at .337. Carlos Gonzalez won it the previous year at .336. Only once in the past eight years — Chipper Jones (.364) and Albert Pujols (.357), both in 2008 — has anyone finished as high as .347.
And now, the bar is being set by a confessed cheater.
The only credit Cabrera deserves here is that, unlike just about anyone suspended in any sport, he openly admitted it: “My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used.”
Maybe he had no choice, no tainted brownie to blame, but he still at least came clean.
That's all he deserves, though. There's no sane thought process in which he would be allowed to claim a batting crown.
Forget the precedents of Gwynn and Madlock as it applies to the Gwynn Rule. Those gentlemen didn't cheat. Even if applying mythical at-bats to their ledgers looks a little silly, there was nothing amiss with their achievements. They earned them by the book.
Cabrera, as defined by the very same book, broke the rules. His hits — and who knows how many? — were ill-gotten gains.
If his positive sample was taken in July, as two Bay Area newspapers report, then Selig could wipe out all of Cabrera's hits from that time back to the date of his last clean test.
That won't happen, of course.
But even if Selig wants to keep baseball's asterisk-free approach to history, he has an easy escape hatch: Forgo the Tony Gwynn Rule in this one instance. Let Cabrera forever linger one plate appearance shy. His hits remain intact, but he's disqualified from the crown.
Selig's got the authority within the famous “best interests of baseball” clause, and it's imperative that he uses it.
Not after the fact, either.
McCutchen and others have far larger concerns in August than individual milestones — “I'm not even thinking about stuff like that,” McCutchen will say — but it matters to any player by September. And it's only fair that all of them know what they're up against, if it's each other or a static .347.
The latter should be outright disqualified.
Call it the Melky* Rule.
Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.