Melky Cabrera, Michael Pineda, and the Outrage Outage

Melky Cabrera and Michael Pineda. The Karnak question to this pairing is "Who are two guys whose Mensa applications won't be processed any time soon?" Cabrera made his feel-good season suddenly feel real bad when he was caught using PEDs, then further caught rigging a phony web site to cover up his misdeeds. Pineda made a lost season even worse by getting caught blowing .128 behind the wheel of his Nissan SUV, a blood alcohol level that suggests he may have been taking booze intravenously rather than drinking it.

The two men are similar in that both made colossally dumb decisions, but their likenesses end there, particularly in how each case has been handled by the media. To be fair, Cabrera and Pineda possess very different profiles. Cabrera was enjoying an MVP-caliber season before getting caught, while Pineda had completely fallen off everyone's radar after undergoing Tommy John surgery. I doubt the most rabid Yankee fans have given Pineda much thought since April. And then there's the whole bizarre fake website thing, which added a sordid/juicy angle to Cabrera's tale.

By virtue of all this, virtually any news involving Cabrera would trump news about Pineda. And the fact that Bartolo Colon was also just suspended for 50 games for PED use gives extra life to the discussion of Cabrera's offense. Even so, the contrast between the press's response to Cabrera's offense and their response to Pineda's could not be more pronounced, or more telling of its misplaced priorities.

Cabrera's offense sparked outrage even before his idiotic fake website ruse was revealed by the Daily News (a paper that later took the unusual step of sparing space on its editorial page to denounce the outfielder). When the subject was broached on FOX's broadcast of last Saturday's Red Sox-Yankees game, Tim McCarver was very angry that Cabrera could technically finish the year as the NL's batting champion and declared PED suspensions should automatically invalidate a player from winning awards (ignoring the fact that the batting title is a stat and not an award). McCarver was also upset that Cabrera had powered the National League to a win in the All Star Game--and therefore home field advantage in the World Series--with his MVP performance, meaning this year's champion could very well be decided because of that fact. ESPN's Rick Sutcliffe suggested Cabrera should have his visa revoked, the kind of extreme step the government normally reserves for wanted felons and war criminals.

Not all responses had this level of fire breathing; for instance, SI's Tom Verducci used the incident to call for MLB to hand over its drug testing program to an independent agency. Some pointed to the incident as a positive, an indication that MLB's drug policy is working. Others, like the Post's Ken Davidoff, had no condemnation for the sin of PED use at all and instead concentrated on what this meant for Cabrera's impending free agency. Nonetheless, it is significant that even people who don't think PED use is an unforgivable trespass were still discussing Cabrera several days after he was caught. It means that no matter how you felt about what Cabrera did, it was important for the game of baseball to debate its implications.

As for Michael Pineda, his arrest for (extremely) drunk driving made all the papers here in New York, by virtue of him being a Yankee. However, that coverage was confined to strict reportage of the incident. There were no editorial pieces on the subject whatsoever. Zero words were expended in any of the local tabloids to condemn the act, or call for MLB to change its policies regarding players who drive drunk, or demands that his visa be revoked. Nationally, the story wasn't even a blip on the radar. In fact, the only outlet who seems to have gotten angry about Pineda is Bleacher Report, and even their anger is baseball-centric, dwelling on how this incident means he can't handle New York.

I'm one of those people who doesn't care all that much about PEDs. I feel home runs should be kinda hard to hit, and that the game is aesthetically and spiritually better without PEDs, but I don't believe they ruined baseball any more than other forms of cheating did, or sullied its reputation any worse than decades of institutionalized racism. At the same time, I recognize that some people believe PEDs did irreparable harm to the game, and I respect people's right to hold that opinion as long as you can debate the point without punching.

However, even if you do believe steroids, HGH, et al "ruined" the game of baseball, you have to concede that this damage doesn't extend beyond the sport except in vague "think of the children!" ways. And no matter how much you love baseball, you must further concede that any damage done to the integrity of the game pales in comparison to the damage that can be inflicted by drunk driving in real life, and that any player who would engage in such behavior is someone the game should think long and hard about keeping in its ranks.

One player consumes a foreign substance to gain an advantage over others. Another player gets hammered and puts himself behind the wheel of a car, endangering the lives of untold numbers of people, including himself. It seems obvious to me which player has committed the worse offense, and I can't imagine any reasonable person would disagree.

And yet, Cabrera—a player who did something really dumb that only affected him—is being debated vociferously a full week after his offense was revealed. Pineda, who could have killed someone, has already exited the news cycle. If he does reenter it, it will doubtless be as a cudgel to wield on Brian Cashman for making a trade that now looks bad, rather than to be condemned for a monstrously selfish act. Cabrera will play again, but with a cloud over him forever. Pineda will play again and his crime will be mentioned in passing, if at all.

This is a predictable outcome in a sports world where even the most Jurassic scribes believe in the piety of numbers over all, and think anything that could "taint" those numbers is the worst offense imaginable. It is also predictable in a sports world where the sad lessons of Josh Hancock and Nick Adenhart faded quickly from our memories, and where beer in the clubhouse is only decried because of the effect it seems to have on team unity. But predictable doesn't equate to acceptable.

It's important to note baseball's policy against PEDs is punitive, not preventative. MLB does not insist it can stop cheating. Their drug policy is a statement that certain behavior will not be tolerated and will be punished accordingly. The media has moved in lockstep with this attitude, compounding official punishment by condemning those players who are caught and obsessing over their misdeeds (even if that obsession has abated somewhat in recent years). Collectively, their actions make a value judgment on the behavior of players.

Moral judgment can be a powerful weapon. If only MLB—and the media that covers it—could muster that judgement for something that is far more immoral.

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