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Off-day fun, 8/16 edition, or: Why Tim Keown’s article on the Melky suspension is trash

August 16, 2012

But first, the NL West standings:

It’s the same story as last time: The top three teams are even in terms of run differential, with the Giants and Dodgers wrestling for first while the Diamondbacks lag behind like a kid enraptured by a balloon. Meanwhile, in the cellar, the Padres have put some distance between themselves and the Rockies.

Let’s start at the bottom. The Rockies have been doomed by awful pitching, that is easy enough to see (664 runs allowed!). The returns of Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin next season will not be enough to overcome such a glaring deficiency. If the Rockies, in almost 20 years of existence, haven’t yet found a pitching philosophy that works at the mile-high altitude of Coors Field, then either there isn’t one or they are organizationally incompetent.

The Padres have ridden a nice streak to respectability. Their pitching staff has suffered more injuries this year than any other team in baseball, so take their 511 runs allowed with a grain of salt. The best news out of San Diego is they found a nice stable of players acting like above-average batters. Third baseman Chase Headley, the best of that group, has a good chance of being traded in the offseason. But the Padres have found seven other players who can post good numbers without hitting for power, good news for a club with a cavernous ballpark.

I keep waiting for Arizona to make a run, given the strength of their offense and the decency of their pitching. But they haven’t, and the longer they wait to start, the tougher it will be (obviously). I wouldn’t count them out yet; Justin Upton continues his steady climb out of the hole he dug for himself at the beginning of the season. His strikeout rate has decreased each month, and his ISO for August is his highest so far, buoyed by four doubles, which already ties for the most he’s hit in any month.

The Giants and the Dodgers are about even my estimation, even with Melky’s suspension. Trading down from the Melkman to Gregor Blanco hurts, but the emergence of (what I believe is) the real Brandon Belt and the acquisitions of Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence make it almost a wash. Besides, the pitching has always been this team’s bread and butter. Tim Lincecum’s second-half resurgence (yesterday’s start notwithstanding, as I found it kind of fluky) is the most important factor in the Giants’ playoff chase.

***

There has been much hate directed at Melky since the news of his positive test broke. One article by ESPN senior writer Tim Keown stands out in my mind for its insufferable self-righteousness and the fact that it was the only article of the kind I read.

You can read it in full here. I will go through it piece-by-piece to demonstrate everything that is contemptible about Keown’s writing.

The news of Melky Cabrera’s 50-game suspension for a positive testosterone test provides a convenient opportunity to repeat a statement made last week by former World Anti-Doping Agency boss Dick Pound. To paraphrase, Pound said if you test positive for PEDs, you’ve failed two tests: a drug test, and an IQ test.

First, take note of the word “convenient,” as it underpins everything Keown is about to do. He might as well have written: The news of Melky Cabrera’s 50-game suspension for a postive testosterone test provides a convenient opportunity for me to get on my high horse and condemn someone—anyone—from my high moral standing.

Second, notice how he calls Melky stupid without taking responsibility for calling Melky stupid by couching it in a paraphrase—not even a direct quote! This reminds me of Louis C.K.’s great bit about “The N Word.”

(Third, Dick Pound.)

Oh, Cabrera’s case proves many other things as well. For one, testing works; and for another, so do PEDs.

Oh, do tell us how Cabrera’s case proves these things.

Wait, you almost slipped that one past me. Other things? What was the first thing? Oh yeah, Melky is stupid. Again, he says it without really saying it.

The origin story of Melky Cabrera, All-Star, turns out to be mostly mythology. His career ascent — to 2012 MVP candidate from a below-average ballplayer whose regular bouts with disinterest caused his release from the Braves after the 2010 season — was attributed to old-fashioned hard work, with a side order of his mother’s cooking.

Keown uses the passive voice here (“was attributed”) for no reason other than he is being a weasel.

“Who attributed Melky’s ascent to hard work and his mother’s cooking, Tim?”

“Specifically those mongoloids at USA Today. That’s why I linked to them. More generally, people who aren’t me, Tim Keown.”

 Clearly, given Wednesday’s news and Cabrera’s shockingly blunt admission of guilt, the emergence was fueled by more than shoulder presses and plantains.

Instead of providing Melky’s full quote, Keown calls it a “shockingly blunt admission of guilt” because that’s the interpretation that fits his perspective. That’s not the most egregious breach of journalism here, since Melky’s statement really does seem like an admission of guilt. Here it is in full:

My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used. I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Program and I will try to move on with my life. I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants organization and to the fans for letting them down.

Still, Melky does not say that he knowingly ingested the substance, or that he used it more than once toward the goal of performance enhancement. If he said either of those things, then I agree that his “admission of guilt” would qualify as “shockingly blunt.”

No the most egregious and lazy part bears repeating and emphasis:

Clearly, given Wednesday’s news and Cabrera’s shockingly blunt admission of guilt, the emergence was fueled by more than shoulder presses and plantains.

“Clearly. As in, so clear that I am going to spend the next paragraph not proving it because I don’t have to, that’s how clear it is.”

It would be tough to overstate the unlikely change in Cabrera’s career. In 2010 with the Braves, he finished with a .671 OPS and a -0.5 WAR, ranking him among the worst position players in the big leagues. After a 200-hit bounce-back season with the Royals last year, he became one of the five best players in the National League this year, with a WAR of 4.8.

He was bad then he was good! Look no further!

(Unless, of course, you want someone to thoughtfully examine the situation, not someone to cherry pick the vaguest of stats in order to support a preconceived conclusion.)

Cabrera’s admission — groundbreaking in its honesty — is almost as shocking as the announcement of the suspension.

Groundbreaking. Shocking. In times like these, the public needs men like Tim Keown who can keep cool and provide a level-headed analysis.

The equanimity with which Cabrera accepted his punishment gives off the faint whiff of resignation. Something along the lines of, Oh, well — it was great while it lasted.

Your whiffs can read people’s minds? I admit, I am impressed with your nostrils.

And make no mistake: Cabrera shook the dice, blew into his hands and let fly. Had his testosterone enhancement gone undetected, it’s possible he could have been in line for a nine-figure free-agent heist in the offseason. (To go along with his All-Star Game MVP award, which now will forever carry a mental asterisk in the minds of baseball people everywhere.) As it stands, it’s difficult to imagine a team taking more than a two-year flier on a guy whose legitimacy is questionable at best, tarnished at worst.

If there are “baseball people” out there (and I don’t mean Mr. Met), I think I am one of them. And I can say that Melky’s All-Star Game MVP will not be accompanied by a mental asterisk in my mind. That’s not because he’s a Giant and I’m a homer, it’s because who the fuck remembers All-Star Game MVPs?

Keown makes one unassailable, if obvious, point: this suspension will cost Melky a lot of money. He fails to look at it the other way, though. If Melky had evaded detection, he stood to make a boatload of money. For someone who grew up poor in the Dominican Republic and who, as a kid, promised his mom that he was going to give her a better life, the use of PEDs makes some more sense. This offseason was Melky’s first and maybe only chance to sign a lucrative free-agent contract. It doesn’t seem so stupid, Tim, if you think about it that way—you know, from a place of empathy.

It’s obvious that Cabrera’s loss through the regular season and, if necessary, the first five games of the postseason, will have a huge impact on San Francisco and the National League playoff race. In a cruel twist, the Giants were allowed exactly one game — Tuesday night — with the Cabrera-Posey-Sandoval-Pence middle of the order they envisioned launching them into late October. Let it be known that it got them a win.

Yes: Let it be known. Let it be known far and wide, light the beacons posthaste. The people need that information, because, because…

Shit. I have no idea why that’s important.

Cabrera’s brush with the PED law had been rumored for the past two weeks, first “reported” by a mysterious tweet from a mysterious user on July 27. At the time, Cabrera issued a flat denial — after contacting Giants trainers and his agent to see if it might be true — and the issue was dropped. The reporter who asked Cabrera about the rumor, Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area, went so far as to write a public apology to Cabrera. From there until Wednesday at approximately 11:30 a.m. PDT, the rumor was treated as just another case of irresponsible reporting. Turns out it was more leak than rumor.

Keown does not attribute any of this information. Keown gets his information out of the ether and you can get out if you don’t like it.

(The idea that Cabrera felt the need to ask his agent and trainers to see if the rumor was true seems, in retrospect, a damning precursor to both the announcement of the positive test and the admission.)

Okay, so I found two slightly different takes on what happened. In his public apology, Andrew Baggarly said:

Let’s be clear: There is no evidence that there is any shred of truth to these rumors. Cabrera knew nothing about it. He contacted the union and his agent. They told him the rumors were unfounded as well. If Cabrera had failed a test, he and the union would’ve been the first to know. The rumor, to my knowledge, is a red herring. Cabrera even suggested to me that Dodgers fans could have made it up as a distraction.

CBSSports said:

Quite understandably, Cabrera was upset and even contacted his agents in an attempt to find out what was happening.

Keown changes the wording just enough to make Melky look worse. So “to find out what was happening” becomes “to see if the rumor was true.” Contacting the players’ union and your agent when the rest of your season is in jeopardy is not a suspicious thing to do, but Keown, with hindsight so perfect we can but envy it, makes it seem so.

Keown continues:

Cabrera had become a fan favorite in San Francisco, in that uniquely San Francisco way. On a team that has become fixated with creating marketable trinkets to attach to players — panda hats for Sandoval, baby giraffe hats for Brandon Belt — Cabrera’s “Melk Man” conceit took things to a new level.

Dear God, the Giants are fixated on making money! How dare they sell things that people keep buying?

Also notice how he attributes the Melkman phenomenon to Melky himself. This ESPN article provides a different origin story.

 A whole group of guys dressed as milkmen (none of whom looked anything like Cabrera) sat together in the outfield and provided an insufferably ubiquitous presence on the television broadcasts.

“You may not be whimsical about Melky’s name unless you look like him, understand? And you, Mr. Broadcast Director, how dare you show fans who dress up as many times as you see fit? Don’t you guys know that I know what’s best? Why doesn’t anyone listen to me?!”

(They are also rumored to be on the Comcast payroll, sitting in seats provided by the Giants.)

Passive voice alert! Unsourced rumor alert!

The rumor is out, and that’s all you need to know about it. Go ahead and Google “melk men rumor” or any possible permutation of that. If you don’t find it, that’s your fault, not Tim Keown’s.

The Giants have a knack for attracting players who are: (1) prone to cheat, and (2) ignorant and/or arrogant enough to get caught. Cabrera is the third Giant to receive a 50- or 100-game suspension under baseball’s new testing procedures, the most of any team. Guillermo Mota (100 games, earlier this year) and catcher Eliezer Alfonzo (50 in 2008) are the others.

No one escapes Tim Keown’s keen eye.

Don’t feel sorry for the Giants, though. A hopped-up Melky undoubtedly gave them more production — and, therefore, more wins — than the God-given Melky ever would have. They gave up a flawed pitcher in Jonathan Sanchez and got 117 of the best games of Cabrera’s career.

They reaped the benefits of cheating. Kind of like how I, Tim Keown, am reaping the benefits of cheating by writing about it for money.

In fact, let’s just go ahead and say it: History will wind up recording those 117 games as the very best Melky — and his pharmacological help — had to offer.

Yes. History will say that. And Tim Keown just beat history to the punch.

Tim Keown’s accomplishments (beneath the article):

  • Senior Writer for ESPN The Magazine
  • Columnist for ESPN.com
  • Author of five books (3 NYT best-sellers)

At the end of the day, Tim Keown is all of these things, and I am just Editor for Suspended, In Suspenders. I doubt he will ever get wind of this critique, and even if he did, he wouldn’t change; Fire Joe Morgan slammed him back in 2005 and that was a legitimately popular publication when it was still extant.

But even those accomplishments are massaged. He was merely a ghostwriter for four of his five novels (all except his first). Three of his novels can be found for one cent on Amazon. I think I’ll wait for a sale.

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From → Baseball

One Comment
  1. Molls Balls' Balls permalink

    Dick Pound

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