[ When we last visited the messy Melky Cabrera situation, people were clamoring for baseball to rule Cabrera ineligible for the National League batting championship he seemed destined to win because the Giants outfielder had been suspended for the rest of the season for testing positive for steroids. The suspension froze his average, then as now leading the NL, and because he had already amassed sufficient at bats to qualify for the title, this meant that 1) he would benefit from what was supposed to be a punishment and 2) the most prestigious of all baseball season titles would be won by a proven cheater. I explained why taking the title away from Melky would be unethical as well as unwise:
“…There is a very good reason why the Constitution bans ex post facto laws—laws that make something illegal retroactively, so someone can become a criminal for something they did that was legal when they did it. Allowing such rules is an invitation to an abuse of power, culminating, in the worst case scenario, with the modern day equivalents of the Russian or French Revolutions, where people are executed for “crimes” that were not crimes at all. Even cheaters have rights, and one of them is to know what their risks are when they cheat. Cabrera knew that he risked suspension, a loss of millions in income, and permanent harm to his reputation and career. He did not know that he risked not winning a batting championship if he qualified for it, or being put in the stocks, being exiled to Portugal, or having his children subjected to human medical experiments. Should a player suspended for performing enhancing drug use after testing positive be disqualified from winning a batting championship that season? That seems fair and reasonable, but because Major League Baseball didn’t think of it when they were making the rules, it would be unfair for Cabrera to be subjected to such a penalty, which would embody the inherently unfair principle of an ex post facto law. Some people just can’t process this. People just shouldn’t get away with intentional bad conduct, they say. …Such people are unwittingly willing to dismember the bedrock principle of due process, which requires that we know by what rules and laws our conduct society will use to judge our conduct, and that we know what the penalties for violating them will be, or at least have a the opportunity to find these things out. No, of course it’s not fair for Melky Cabrera to win a batting championship by cheating, but a society that allows him to be penalized in ways he could not have anticipated using a rule imposed after the fact is an unfair society, and ethics is ultimately about building a more ethical society.”
Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Baseball who is always as likely to make a terrible decision as a good one, said that he would not take any action on the matter. But that was not the end of the story…]
Yesterday, Major League Baseball announced that Melky Cabrera would not be eligible for the batting title after all. It seems that Cabrera himself had written to the MLB Players Union and requested that it work with Major League Baseball to allow him to withdraw himself from consideration in the NL batting race. This they did, with the result being that a “one time amendment” to Rule 10.22(a), which describes how a league determines its batting champion, was put on the books. This awful resolution illustrates a wrong response to an Ethics Incompleteness dilemma.
No rule or principle, ethics or otherwise, works all the time. There are always anomalies that occur in which a strict application of the rule or principle involved leads to an undesirable or bizarre result. This is why of all the ethical systems, Kant’s absolutism is the most tricky. Torture is absolutely unethical and immoral, and must never be resorted to under any circumstances. And yet….if the mad scientist who alone knows the location of the cheese bomb that will turn the Earth and every living thing on it into Neufchâtel in 24 hours can only be forced to reveal it if you waterboard him—well, you do it, then.
When faced with the consequences of ethics incompleteness, you have three choices:
1. Apply the rule anyway, and live with the result. This is the conservative approach, and if the anomalies are rare enough, it is often the best one. It makes no sense in the torture-cheese bomb scenario, however. It preserves the integrity of the rule, but nobody’s around to reap the benefits, having all been turned into cheese.
2. Re-conceive the rule to include a reasonable solution to the dilemma created by the anomaly. The problem with this approach: when it is done while the anomaly is still pending, it violates due process, and when it involves an amendment after the fact, it often makes the rule or principle less valid, less enforceable and subject to more anomalies. This is the liberal approach to ethics incompleteness, and sometimes it is unavoidable. Other times, such as with the Dream Acts, it multiplies major problems while addressing smaller ones.
3. Just treat the anomaly as if there were no rule at all, making the most sensible decision, but not amending the rule or principle going forward. This is the favored approach of anarchists and supporters of ethical relativism. It is often the best and fairest response to an individual dilemma, but it is undisciplined and addictive, and rapidly turns into a bad habit that risks leaving all principles and rules vulnerable.
As you can see, any of the solutions may be appropriate in specific instances, or disastrous. In the Cabrera dilemma, baseball opted for a cross between #2 and #3: they amended the rule, but just for Melky, and nobody else. Wrong. The right approach in this case was obviously #2, an amendment to the rule going forward alone, that would make players suspended for positive drug tests in the future ineligible for individual championships and awards for that season. Taking Cabrera out of the race using a “one time amendment” didn’t really limit such an improvised solution to this one time. It creates a precedent…several, actually, all of them bad:
- It creates the precedent of “one time amendments” any time a baseball rule has an undesirable result. That means that no baseball rule can be relied upon, ever.
- It creates the precedent of allowing a player to reject an achievement he has reached under the rules. The foolishness of this was pointed up by Craig Calcaterra, a sportswriter-lawyer who excels in mixing humor with illumination, who wrote, “Quick: Adam Dunn! [The strikeout-prone White Sox outfielder] Call the league and ask to be taken out of consideration for the strikeout title! So another Cabrera, the Tigers’ Miguel, could theoretically reject his looming AL Triple Crown chase, telling the union that he was always a Carl Yastrzemski fan and doesn’t want to take away Yaz’s distinction of winning the last Triple Crown in Major League history (in 1967.) “Just give the rbi title to the next guy in line,” he tells the union. “I’ll take batting and hone runs; no need to be greedy.”
- No, you say? You wouldn’t allow that, you say? Then tell me this: why should the wishes of a drug cheat be respected while those of an honest player with selfless motives be rejected? Melky Cabrera is the last person who should be able to dictate the resolution of a dilemma he caused himself. He not only cheated, but crafted an audacious cover-up scheme once he was caught. This is an obvious PR move by Melky, so his batting championship doesn’t haunt him for all time as a tainted achievement in baseball’s record books, making him among the most visible of baseball’s dishonest steroid users and an infamous villain in the sport for the rest of his playing career and beyond.
You say those players who finish behind Cabrera in his steroid season will be bitter and angry? Good! Maybe then we will have seen the last of the players union obstructing strict drug testing. You say having Melky win a tainted championship embarrasses baseball? Good! Baseball deserves to be embarrassed for allowing steroid use to become as imbedded in the game as it was when everyone was ignoring mutated players and inflated home run totals.
The current rule is inadequate, you say? I agree. Fix it. Fix it for the next time. Melky Cabrera should win the batting championship under the 2012 rule that gives him that distinction. And he should have no say in the matter.
Facts: NBC Sports
Graphic: CBS Sports
Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at firstname.lastname@example.org.