Two Cabreras Amid Major League Ups and Downs
As the Major League Baseball season draws to a conclusion with its reorganized playoffs and upcoming World Series, it is easy to look back on an interesting campaign that, like so many seasons gone by, was loaded with heroics and blunders.
Errors, as always, occurred on the diamonds by players and umpires. Add the mistakes in front offices and even in the commissioner’s office, plus some serious fan misconduct in Atlanta, and we have a package of MLB boo-boos that are not at all pleasant.
Most notable among the quite recent lapses was Chipper Jones’ wild throw into right field on an easy double-play ball that led directly to the abrupt end of the Atlanta Braves’ season in the game that also ended his illustrious career.
Later in that one-and-done 6-3 wild card loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Braves were victims of a terrible call by Sam Holbrook, the left field umpire. Using what most folks feel was poor judgment, Holbrook invoked the infield fly rule on a pop fly to short left field in the eighth inning just as the ball dropped between the Cards’ shortstop, Pete Kozma, and leftfielder, Matt Holliday.
Instead of having the bases loaded with one out and a chance to survive, the Braves ended up with men on first and third with two out because Holbrook made a bad judgment call. Braves fans in Turner Field responded by throwing all sorts of trash and other debris onto the playing field, actions that caused the Cardinals to run for the shelter of their dugout. The game was halted for about 20 minutes while the ground crew picked up the mess. Then the Braves made the third out without scoring.
When the game ended, the umpires quickly ran for cover lest they be hit with flying trash. But the Braves made too many errors themselves to deserve the victory.
Then there are those bungled front office decisions that seriously impact teams. Take the Boston Red Sox, for instance, who fired Manager Terry Francona a year ago after the unprecedented September collapse of the Bosox. The popular skipper, who led the Sox to two World Series Championships, 2004 and 2007, was replaced by Bobby Valentine in hopes he could straighten out misbehaving Red Sox players.
Instead, Valentine talked publicly and too critically of some of his players, seemed to get no handle on the miscreants, lost considerable talent that was traded away or injured, and was himself fired last week after the Red Sox completed their worst season since 1965.
Francona was hired last week as manager of the Cleveland Indians, who need the leadership he provided for the Red Sox some time ago.
Downright Wrong Decision
Also, there was what may be considered a curious, if not downright wrong, decision by MLB Commissioner Bud Selig when he accepted Melky Cabrera’s offer to remove himself from consideration for the 2012 National League batting championship.
Cabrera, the San Francisco Giants’ leftfielder, was batting .346 when, on Aug. 15, he was suspended by the commissioner for 50 games because he tested positive for testosterone, a banned substance. There were 45 regular-season games remaining.
According to MLB rules, Cabrera was eligible for the batting title despite the suspension. However, he had 501 plate appearances when he was suspended, one short of the minimum required in order to win the batting crown.
But those MLB rules allow that a player, who for any reason misses games and thus some plate appearance, may be counted as having an official hitless at bat for each of the necessary number of plate appearances needed to reach 502. Cabrera needed just one such at bat so that 0 for 1 can be added to his season total of official hits and at bats in order to get 502 plate appearances. With that addition, he still ended the regular season with a NL leading .346 batting average because of 159 hits in 459 at bats.
When he was suspended, Cabrera was second in NL batting to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen, who was at .358 then. But McCutchen slipped to a season-ending .327, good for the official second place in NL batting. Cabrera’s teammate and the San Francisco Giants’ catcher, Buster Posey, will be declared the 2012 NL batting champion with a .336 average.
When Cabrera asked to be taken out of consideration for the batting title, Commissioner Selig said, “Major League Baseball will comply with Mr. Cabrera’s request. I respect his gesture as a sign of his regret and his desire to move forward, and I believe that, under the circumstances, the outcome is appropriate, particularly for Mr Cabrera’s peers who are contending for the batting crown.”
The problem with all of this is that Commissioner Selig puts into question what MLB has done with and should do in the future with those records of home runs, batting averages, runs batted et al. that are achieved by players known to have used performance enhancing drugs.
But Selig said this was a one-time deal and only covered the NL batting title situation of 2012.
Fine. But how about the home runs by Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez, all of whom are currently listed among the top 15 home run hitters in MLB history? They have all been accused of using banned substances or been proven users of same.
It seems incorrect for the commissioner to pick and choose what records will count and what ones won’t count for those players caught drugging. If one player is to be barred from winning the batting title because of a drug suspension, then all players known to be users of performance enhancing drugs should be forbidden to win any such title in batting, pitching or fielding performances. The MLB rules must be changed to reflect this so that it is a known part of any suspension punishment for drug use.
Now, the Positives
These mistakes of judgment and execution during the MLB season were countered by numerous excellent achievements that serve as balance against the minuses of the year.
There were two men in particular who stood well above all others this year —- one in each league.
First there is Miguel Cabrera, the Detroit Tigers’ slugger, who is no relation to Melky Cabrera. Unlike many a prima donna pro athlete, Miguel Cabrera easily moved from being the first baseman to becoming the Tigers’ third baseman because the team acquired Prince Fielder, who can’t play anywhere but first base.
While getting used to third base, Cabrera kept hitting the baseball like no other player in the American League as he became the first man in the major leagues to win a Triple Crown in 45 years. The Red Sox’ Carl Yastrzemski won the AL Triple Crown in 1967.
Cabrera took the trifecta with a batting average of .330, 139 runs batted in and 44 home runs.
The other player who stands above all others this year is the 37-year-old R.A. Dickey, who remade himself from a has-been fast ball pitcher into the only knuckleball pitcher in MLB. As a result, he became the first 20-game winner for the New York Mets in 22 years. This was not easy considering that the Mets went into a state of collapse in the second half of the season and had a poor season after a promising start.
But Dickey is far more than just a changed pitcher. He is a mountain climber who made it up Mount Kilimanjaro during the past off season to raise money for aid to those suffering from human trafficking. He is also an English lit scholar who might be a professor someday.
But most telling of his character, following years and years of keeping quiet about it, Dickey admitted in a memoir that he was sexually abused as a child. He has been speaking to children and adult groups about such abuse for months since his book was published.
Dickey has overcome much more than just a deteriorating fast ball to become one of the best pitchers in MLB in 2012.
Even with all of those mistakes and errors, bad calls and poor executive decisions, it was, overall, a good and interesting MLB season.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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