MLB’s drug policy too soft — teams should be docked wins

Melky Cabrera makes the boo-boo face after an out, which was more common before drugs. (AP photo)

Melky Cabrera makes the boo-boo face after an out, which was common before he juiced.

The objective of a drug policy in professional sports is to deter its use. And yet, there have been 80 violations of baseball’s drug program in the minor and major leagues in 2012 – including 20 alone in the month of August.

The objective of suspending players is in part to have them serve as an example for what can happen if somebody cheats, regardless of the potential rewards that await the player on the other side of the rainbow (and syringe). And yet, the San Francisco Giants’ Melky Cabrera chose to artificially inflate his muscles, which led to him competing for the National League batting title, launching his team into a divisional title race, winning the All-Star Game MVP Award, helping the National League claim home-field advantage in the World Series and setting himself up for the contract of his free-agency dreams.

This is when it’s easy to come to the conclusion that baseball’s drug program doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Suspensions need to be longer: One year with the first positive test. There have been enough warnings and enough education about what can and can’t be used.

Maybe more important, the people who run this game — and any sports league — need to start looking at penalizing teams for using illegal players.

I’m talking about taking away wins.

The NCAA does a lot wrong in its enforcement, but one thing it does correctly is it punishes programs that use ineligible players, vacating victories and sometimes championships. The problem in college athletics is that by the time the investigation has been completed and the punishment comes down, the season is over. It becomes more of a symbolic gesture, even if it leaves a permanent grease spot on the program and some individuals.

That’s not the case here. Even if Cabrera, who was suspended 50 games last week for mutant-like levels of testosterone, doesn’t play another game for the San Francisco Giants, the team already has benefited from his ballooned a .346 batting average. Cabrera isn’t the cartoon that Barry Bonds morphed into late in his career, but he was a career .275 hitter before this season. (We can debate whether he was even clean last season with Kansas City, when he jumped from a .255 average, four homers and .354 slugging percentage with the Braves in 2010 to .305, 18 and .470 with the Royals.)

In Cabrera’s last game with the Giants on Aug. 14, he doubled and scored a run in a 6-1 win over Washington. The Giants were 64-53, tied for first place in the National League West. Cabrera played in 113 of the 117 games. If this was college, the Giants would lose any victory among those 113. A less extreme approach would be for baseball to come up with a standard formula: For example, 20 percent of all wins Cabrera played in. But some penalty is needed as a deterrent.

I would love to hear an argument against this — something beyond, “You just can’t do that.”

A Major League Baseball official declined comment, other than to point out that any increased player suspensions would have to be collectively bargained. He left open the possibility for further measures against Cabrera, but he said MLB has never considered vacating wins.

Baseball was in denial about performance-enhancing drug use for years. It implemented its first serious testing program only after officials and the players’ union were humiliated by Congress in 2005. Are we really to believe teams didn’t know about rampant PED use that led to shattered records (as well as wins and potentially World Series titles)? Why do teams skate?

The obvious downside to vacating wins is that clean players and coaches and certainly fans would be unfairly punished. But such is the case now with NCAA sanctions.

The threat of increased penalties could force teams to step up their own policing of the drug program. The resulting peer pressure among players also presumably would have a ripple effect, down to the minors (where 76 of the 80 positive tests occurred).

Commissioner Bud Selig would like to get past the ugly Cabrera episode. But it’s worth noting it was his plan to have the All-Star game winner gain the home-field advantage in the World Series. Cabrera helped the National League win. He also cheated. So Selig effectively is not only enabling cheating, he’s rewarding it.

Baseball could overturn this by simply giving home-field advantage to the team with the better record. But maybe that’s considered too radical of an idea.

By Jeff Schultz

160 comments Add your comment

Jorge Luis

August 21st, 2012
2:11 pm

@DanWeiner

August 21st, 2012
2:13 pm

not just no, but hell no.

JoshTown

August 21st, 2012
2:24 pm

I’m actually not against that. Coming up with the amount of wins vacated could prove difficult, but I do agree that they need a tougher policy. Cheaters shouldn’t be rewarded, and it also hinders them getting signed by another team next year. “Well, is this guy gonna cost US 15 wins too?” and then they steer clear. Obviously these guys can weather the storm with their other millions of dollars, so something else needs to be done. And something needs to be done about the All Star Game. And getting some more instant replay calls in. And don’t even get me STARTED on the DH… Go Braves :)

kevin

August 21st, 2012
2:25 pm

smaller sample size and all but the Giants have a better record without Cabrera than with.

Supes

August 21st, 2012
2:27 pm

Yes, that would go a long way toward clubs “policing” their own players and not just turning a blind eye…docking wins would help. You know what would help more…random blood sample testing…and yes Ryan Braun is a bigger cheat than the Melk-Dud and not only did he NOT miss games, people still refuse to believe he’s using PED’s…MVP yeah right.

kevin

August 21st, 2012
2:29 pm

More thoughts: two schools of thought, one saying. There is no I in team. Therefore, you should not punish the team for an individual act. Or Therefore, you should punish the whole team because the actions of one which is part of the whole.

@CRuleSportsGuy

August 21st, 2012
2:30 pm

I absolutely agree with you, Jeff. What’s to stop teams from taking on possible guys like Melky in the future if they aren’t penalized?

I understand the point of “Well, they won’t have him the rest of the season, and if they make the playoffs they won’t have him then, either.” I get that. But they reaped all of that production from him ILLEGALLY – and in a game ultimately driven by the W-L record, wouldn’t vacated wins cause teams to do their drug homework on a player?

Plus, name a team that would keep taking risks once the first team lost 10-12 wins for a guilty player.

@CRuleSportsGuy

August 21st, 2012
2:31 pm

And for the record…..to those who think Ryan Braun cheated….uh, look at his production this year. You don’t think the MLB’s keeping close tabs on this guy? They don’t like being proven wrong.

Get over yourselves.

steve

August 21st, 2012
2:33 pm

Your an a & &, stupid opinion from a stupid person. Keep hiding behind your desk at home and making fun of people getting hurt. The AJC wonders why the subscription base is shrinking? Your one of the reasons, along with the other writers. Michael Carvell said the NCAA is investigating a Rubin Foster’s transfer in the state of Alabama, when was not true. When 790 the zone’s morning show calls you out on a lie, there is a major creditably problems with the AJC reporters.

Herschel Talker

August 21st, 2012
2:39 pm

Schultzie:

Melky is a piece of trash.

HT

Disbott3000

August 21st, 2012
2:44 pm

But wouldn’t that create an odd imbalance when you redistribute the wins? Say the Braves had played 6 games against the Giants and lost them all, and Washington had only played 3 games so far and won 2 of 3. Out of nowhere, the Braves would pick up 5 games on the Nationals through no fault of their own (Admittedly, I would love for this to happen, but we can’t live in a dream world.)

It’s not that it wouldn’t be fair to the team with the cheater. It’s that it might not be fair to the rest of the teams in that teams division. But, hey, if you can figure out a way to make it work in an equitable way, then go for it.

Joey

August 21st, 2012
2:44 pm

Dang, I just wish he woulda been on PEDs when he played for us . . .

say hey heyward

August 21st, 2012
2:44 pm

Great idea….only way to ever really get PEDs under control!

Chuck

August 21st, 2012
2:53 pm

Agree 100% with premise presented here, but where is the Tuesday Countdown?

DL

August 21st, 2012
2:57 pm

Not sure how I feel about taking away wins yet, but this did get me thinking about some other options. The first being fine the team. The main problem here would probably be than in order for the fine to be big enough to have a serious impact on a high revenue team, it would probably end up being more than a lower revenue could handle. My other idea is to penalize the team by forcing them to play with a smaller roster for awhile, say maybe 25 games with a 23 man roster. I think it would be similar to scholarship reductions for college teams. Just some ideas, probably very flawed one.

Bob

August 21st, 2012
2:57 pm

As a cylcing fan, SF Giants fan, and USC parent during the Bush era, I detest that the wins are marred unsatisfying and embarassing (Has the TDF testing been completed so I can celebrate Wiggins’ win?) I emphatically support a penalty that includes vacated wins. Delete, their runs scored & their RBI’s and recalculate each game’s score.

RecentWreck

August 21st, 2012
3:02 pm

Eh, baseball likes to keep a lot of statistics. Dock them at twice their WAR.

Scott

August 21st, 2012
3:08 pm

Why not figure out a system using WAR as calculated by saber metrics. Melky is 4.3 wins more valuable than an average player? His team looses 4 wins and adds 4 losses. Don’t try to figure out how it affects other records just leave those teams how they are. Incase of a tie the team with the cheater goes home.

BOO BOO And TT

August 21st, 2012
3:08 pm

WOW!!!! I wish Melky would had did this as a Brave, we could had used those extra victories…….. Instead of the extra losses that he helped create for us……

RYAN

August 21st, 2012
3:10 pm

DONT STEAL IDEAS FROM J. A. ADANDE (A WELL KNOWN SPORTS COLUMNIST) AND PUBLISH AN ARTICLE AS YOUR THOUGHT. ADANDE MENTIONED THE SAME POINTS ON AROUND THE HORN LAST WEEK! YOU SHOULD BE DOCKED FOR ENHANCING STOLEN THOUGHTS

bali

August 21st, 2012
3:10 pm

dan patrick… said give players 100 game suspension on first time being cought …..second offense lifetime ban from baseball…taking away wins would be fair also…think the courtrooms would fill up pretty quick…taking money away from the organization that the player played for might help….

MoGA

August 21st, 2012
3:12 pm

It’s hard to argue against you JS. The Giants made and will make a lot of money from his cheating. They might even gain a division title from it.

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2012
3:15 pm

Joey
Dang, I just wish he woulda been on PEDs when he played for us . . .

<< Now that’s funny.

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2012
3:17 pm

Ryan — 1) I like J.A. Adande; 2) I don’t watch Around the Horn, possibly the dumbest show ever created; 3) I wasn’t aware he proposed the same thing, but good for him.

Anything else?

Steve

August 21st, 2012
3:19 pm

Ryan is mad he didn’t come up with the idea and call MLB about it.

MatthewH

August 21st, 2012
3:24 pm

Dale Murphy also proposed this. He tweeted about it after Melky was suspended. His thinking was the same as yours: the “mob mentality” in the clubhouse would police the problem.

Vikster

August 21st, 2012
3:25 pm

It sounds like a great idea but if you take away the wins, attendance will drop and therefore revenue will drop. The Braves need to fill seats the remainder of the year so we can keep Michael Bourn. I’d hate to think that if this happened to the Braves because of the actions of some stupid kid the team gets punished and it trickles down to signing a long-term deal with one of our best free agent players. If the MLB powers that be can prove the Giants organization knew and turned the other cheek then that’s another story. Seems Melky was doing the crotch chop during the last Giants visit to make up for what he lacks in his little testoterone infused Cabreras.

Steve

August 21st, 2012
3:26 pm

Hate to tell you Vikster but Bourn will not be re-signed, unfortunately.

dawgnation1

August 21st, 2012
3:27 pm

Love the idea, Jeff. This clown got what he deserved.

FIRE HERSCHEL TALKER!! (he’s an idiot)

Bad Idea Gene

August 21st, 2012
3:28 pm

I suppose you want the NL’s ALG victory rescinded, too?

ChillyMutt

August 21st, 2012
3:30 pm

I agree Jeff. 50 game suspension seems like a slap on the wrist for Melky. Then when you add his attempt at fraud (the faked product), the severity of the suspension is laughable. And its seems logical that if you use a player that is cheating, your team should forfeit the game. The problem is proving that the player was ‘dirty’ for all games they played. Shouldn’t the team only be penalized for the games they used a ‘dirty’ player? More frequent and comprehensive testing is needed.

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2012
3:31 pm

MatthewH — Good for Murph! I’m sorry I missed that — follow him on Twitter and everything. Would’ve called him had I known.

Braves fan

August 21st, 2012
3:31 pm

It’s hard to control what a single player does, then penalize a team for one bone head’s decision to cheat. A 50 game suspension is a good punishment. I do, however, believe that the outcome of one single game (All-Star Game) should not determine the home field advantage for the World Series. This should provide evidence as to why the change should be made.

Here’s a good topic you next article Jeff….when will Gonzales bench Uggla?? Braves need to move Prado to second base and Reed Johnson to LF. That will improve the line up significantly. One HR ever couple weeks, combined with numerous strike-outs dictate that it is time for a change if the Braves want to play in the post season. Also, when is Simmons due back??

B

August 21st, 2012
3:31 pm

I love the idea, at the very least they should lose the number of games based on the wonderful new statistic of WAR, I know it’s not a lot, losing a guy like Melky would cost the giants somewhere around 4.5-5 games based on that method, but at the very least I think that would be an acceptable starting point…

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2012
3:32 pm

Vikster — “It sounds like a great idea but if you take away the wins, attendance will drop and therefore revenue will drop.”

<< Attendance would go down in S.F. — but it conceivably goes up in a city that benefits from it in the division or wild card race.

GTBob

August 21st, 2012
3:32 pm

If you take away wins then nobody will go to Giants games the rest of the season and nobody will watch Giants games on TV. This would cause a huge loss in revenue. You would effectively end the pennant race in the NL West. Are you also going to adjust other teams records who lost to the Giants? What if a team passes another team in the standings because of retroactive schedule updates? Would that be fair? Trying to erase history is always a dumb idea, no matter who is trying.

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2012
3:33 pm

On Bourn: I agree it’s less than 50-50 he is re-signed here because of likely asking price, but I don’t think door is shut completely. He likes it here.

yep

August 21st, 2012
3:36 pm

I don’t think you should vacate wins. Then you’ll have to figure out what to do with records of every other team that played the cheaters team. It would be easier to just rule them ineligible for the playoffs or something.

how about...

August 21st, 2012
3:38 pm

I agree, but it would be far easier to let them play in the post season, if they make it, but forfeit any associated profit ( including gate, concessions, parking, etc) and no player share payout.

Laplace's Demon

August 21st, 2012
3:38 pm

As a Dodgers fan, I wholeheartedly approve this message. The giants are cheats and scofflaws and everything they do is tainted with the stain of moral malfeasance.

Paul

August 21st, 2012
3:38 pm

Jeff,

I have to disagree with your opinion here for a couple of reasons. Mainly, the glaring difference between the NCAA and MLB is professionalism.

To dock San Fran would be to imply that they somehow participated in the cheating or performance enhacning. In the world of professional sports — particularly with a vagabond like Cabrera — the individual player looks out for himself above all else (including team) in several cases. Diva wide receivers, holdouts in the NFL, Mark Texiera, A ROD, the list goes on. These people don’t consider consequences to themselves much less to their programs while they chase their payday.

On the other hand, college athletes are gaining some advantage because of WHERE they are and WHO they are more often than HOW they perform. Obviously, bigger stats equal more cash in the backdoor handshake, but Tulane boosters aren’t as feverish as, say, USC boosters. As such, it is easier to implicate the athletic department or program in the case of the individual player or (more often) a GROUP of players.

I also don’t believe that, in one-sided cheating cases such as this one, the teacher should be fired for having a classroom with a cheating student. Such would be the case with San Fran (given our knowledge to this point)

Respectfully,

Paul @paultsullivan

Tom

August 21st, 2012
3:40 pm

I would suggest docking wins based on whatever that players WAR was during the time they were cheating. What would prevent the player from saying he just juiced up two nights ago?

And in the ever so rare case, what if it truly was an accident or false positive?

Backdoor Slider

August 21st, 2012
3:44 pm

MORE FREDI MISMANAGEMENT

Consider these well stated comments from Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk on Fredi’s mismanagement of the bullpen last night:

“Nationals 5, Braves 4: I suppose you can yell at Dan Uggla for messing up the play with the infield in and a runner on third in the 13th inning which allowed the winning run to score. But perhaps it’s also worth noting that the Braves played perhaps their most important game to date, in a series that, if they don’t win, the division title is basically out of reach, with their best relief pitcher sitting on his butt. But hey, at least Fredi Gonzalez saved Craig Kimbrel for a save situation that never came. Not having him then would have been terrible. Far better to leave everything up to Cristhian Martinez in a situation when a strikeout is absolutely critical, not the guy who strikes out 15.8 batters per nine innings.” — End quote.

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2012
3:44 pm

“Yep — I don’t think you should vacate wins. Then you’ll have to figure out what to do with records of every other team that played the cheaters team. …”

<< Not necessarily. You just take the wins away. Don’t apply them to other teams. That’s how it works in college.

Norm DePloom

August 21st, 2012
3:46 pm

The trouble with using WAR is that a few players have a negative WAR (see Francoeur, Jeff). Obviously you wouldn’t add wins to that player’s team, but there would be no team penalty in that instance. So maybe there should be a minimum penalty. For highly productive players like Cabrera there could be a scaling factor based on WAR.

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2012
3:46 pm

“Laplace’s Demon — As a Dodgers fan, I wholeheartedly approve this message. The giants are cheats and scofflaws and everything they do is tainted with the stain of moral malfeasance.”

<< Once you started, “As a Dodgers fan..” I could’ve figured what would follow. But kudos to you on raising the bar in commenting with “the stain of moral malfeasance.”

jake

August 21st, 2012
3:47 pm

The ASG was so lopsided I’m not sure that the melkster did anything to sway the outcome. I liked the post above. Take away his runs scored and his RBI’s, adjust the score of every game he produced a run in, and recalculate the team’s record.

Loyal Fan

August 21st, 2012
3:50 pm

I totally agree with some kind of formula. These teams need to hold their players accountable even if it affects the whole team win record. Melky’s incident should be a wake up call to the MLB that what they are doing isn’t working. Its not good enough.

Oh ya, and to the poster, Steve, you mad bro? If you don’t like the Ajc, don’t read it. No one wants to hear your rants on here about the AJC. I am not a big fan of Carvell either, but this news is about informing the public and can widely be considered as entertainment this days. The whole Reuben thing would be as absurd you if Auburn never had a track record of cheating or even had a track record of being investigated on Cam’s deal. That is why you can comment now on these blogs, so people can talk about these issues.

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2012
3:51 pm

1) To deny that SF didn’t participate in cheating would be like denying USC should’ve been held responsible for Reggie Bush’s parents living rent free in a house, or boosters giving money to players. Doesn’t matter if a coach or school official is directly implicated or not.
2) I am of belief that athletes would be so ostracized by peers if team was penalized that it would make a difference in their decisions.
3) Please, no analogies with teachers. Because then we’re going to get into what teachers get paid as opposed to what coaches get paid. Doesn’t work. Besides, the teacher has relatively nothing to gain by student cheating. The team has everything to gain by the athlete cheating.

Jeff Schultz

August 21st, 2012
3:54 pm

I would like to put a moratorium on any reference to WAR or any statistic I consider stupid, which in this case would be most statistics, or anything created by the Bill James School of Pocket Protectors.