The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

September 23, 2012

Thoma column: The inconvenient truth of Melky Cabrera

Such is the power of the commissioner of baseball that his very wish wipes out objective fact.

Or so Bud Selig imagines. Facts are stubborn things, however, and they have a tendency to override wishful thinking.

Melky Cabrera had 159 hits in 459 official at-bats, a .346 batting average, through the games of Aug. 14. Then he was suspended for the rest of the season for using performance-enhancing drugs.

Cabrera is still hitting .346. And nobody in either league is hitting for a better average.

Yes, he is one plate appearance shy of qualifying: The rules say a hitter must average 3.1 plate appearances per team game to qualify for percentage titles. But the rules — specifically Rule 10.22 (a) — also call for empty at-bats to be added if the player would win the title with them added.

Rule 10.22 (a) has been used once — 1996, when Tony Gwynn was four plate appearances shy of qualifying. Adding four empty at-bats still left him five points ahead of Ellis Burks, and Gwynn was the winner.

Add an 0-for-1 to Cabrera’s line this year, and he’s still hitting .346. He’s still leading the National League in batting average — and unless Andrew McCutchen of Pittsburgh (hitting .339 entering the weekend) gets really hot in these final games, Cabrera will be the legitimate winner of the title.

A lot of people are unhappy about that, however. Cabrera’s a cheater. And with the connivance of the players union, Selig declared on Friday that Rule 10.22(a) won’t apply to the Melk Man.

This is silly stuff, not least of all because all the fuss is over a stat (batting average) that savvy followers of the sport now recognize as relatively trivial. Traditionally important, yes, but overrated.

Still: The highest batting average is not a subjective award, such as selection to the All-Star Game or being named Most Valuable Player. This is objective truth: Base hits divided by official at-bats.

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