Melky’s doping puts sour twist on U.S. pastime 

Barry Bonds. Mark McGwire. Jason Giambi. Jose Canseco. Victor Conte.

Until Wednesday, those were the high-profile Bay Area ties to the performance-enhancing drugs scandal that called into question every slugging record in Major League Baseball from the late 1990s and early 2000s. But that was supposed to be a bygone era. Baseball is a clean game, many claim as some snicker.

But then along comes Melky Cabrera, who proves that baseball players will still hope against hope that their number in MLB’s random drug-testing program doesn’t come up when they need a boost of some sort.

The 50-game suspension slapped on the Giants’ All-Star left fielder, who quickly established himself as a dependable player and fan favorite, was for a positive test for testosterone, a naturally produced steroid hormone that can also be used for doping. We don’t know whether Cabrera, in the midst of having a career year and spearheading the Giants’ run toward another World Series bid, injected himself or rubbed his skin with the testosterone, or whether it was natural or synthetic.

What is most galling is that he felt he could get away with it, even with teammate Guillermo Mota serving a 100-game suspension that expires near the end of this month. Did the “Melk Man” feel the pressure to do so because he will be a free agent at the end of the season, thus set for a potentially huge payday? Did he not think he could keep up his performance for the second half of the season when he took the testosterone sometime before the All-Star break in early July?

It doesn’t matter. Whatever happens to the Giants the rest of the season will be on Cabrera’s shoulders. If the Giants make the playoffs and perhaps repeat the magic of 2010 and win the World Series again — one Cabrera would be eligible to play in — many will say it deserves an asterisk, much like the accomplishments of Bonds. If the Giants falter and watch the Los Angeles Dodgers or Arizona Diamondbacks win the National League West and someone else claim one of the wild-card spots it will be because Cabrera chose a selfish path.

It certainly cost Cabrera dearly. Not only does everything he accomplished this season — .346 batting average (second in the NL), most hits in the NL, All-Star Game Most Valuable Player — suddenly get tossed aside, he took money out of his family’s bank account. He won’t be paid for missing the games, and his previously stellar season would have made him one of the top free agents in the offseason. (The only good thing is that the Giants should be able to bring Cabrera back at a nice discount.)

Cabrera is the fourth major leaguer to be suspended for PEDs this season, matching the total from the previous two years combined.

“Ultimately, it was just a bad decision,” Giants catcher Buster Posey said.

Ultimately? That means baseball players ultimately think they can continue to cheat by taking performance enhancers and get away with it, which is  ultimately a loss for all of baseball.

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