The first time that Giants fans paid any real attention to Melky Cabrera, he was on the Atlanta Braves. It was the bottom of the ninth in game four of the 2010 National League Division Series. The Giants led the game by a score of 3-2. Brian Wilson, San Francisco’s beardy closer, had walked two men, putting the potential game-winning run on base. Melky came up to the plate with two outs. A single could tie the game, or maybe even win it if the ball fell in just the right place.
Cabrera wasn’t yet the hitting machine that he would be two years later. He grounded out to third, bringing the Braves’ season to a close. The Giants won the game, advanced to the next round of the playoffs, and eventually won their first World Series since the team moved to San Francisco in the 1950s.
Following the loss, the Braves released Cabrera. The Kansas City Royals scooped him up for the 2011 season where he showed a marked improvement. However, despite his .305 average and 18 home runs that year, the Royals traded Melky to San Francisco in the off-season. Once he was wearing Giants orange and black in 2012, Melky became more than just an up-and-coming outfielder with a little bit of promise. He was a phenomenon.
He racked up a league-leading 159 hits as if he were the second coming of Tony Gwynn. He tied and broke obscure team records once held by the great Willie Mays. Melky was the 2012 All-Star Game MVP, an award that came with a trophy and a bitchin’ Camaro. We, the Giants fans, cheered him on like he was Will “The Thrill” Clark, and Melky soon collected catch phrases to go along with his searing line drives.
The Melk Man delivers.
Today just before noon, we learned that the Melk was full of hormones—enough to land Cabrera a 50-game suspension, and end his season as the Giants are struggling to hold onto first place.
We had seen this before as Barry Bonds’ skull expanded like he was the Incredible Hulk. This wasn’t natural, but we still worshipped Bonds from the bleacher seats anyway. Jose Canseco, the Typhoid Mary of Major League Baseball steroid use, played for the A’s on the other side of the Bay. BALCO, the company that supplied Bonds and several others with the juice, was housed in a nondescript office in Burlingame. By 2012, we should’ve known better, but we didn’t.
Just five years after Bonds played his last game in San Francisco, we wanted to believe that the Melk was organic; that Cabrera could go from zero-to-hero. It seemed as if the entire population of the Bay Area logged into Major League Baseball’s website to vote over-and-over again to get Melky into the All-Star Game in July, and it worked. Melky’s virtual coattails also pulled catcher Buster Posey and third baseman Pablo “Kung-Fu Panda” Sandoval into the starting lineup of this year’s National League All-Star team. This pissed off New York Mets’ General Manager Sandy Alderson, who was reduced to tweeting his outrage. San Francisco Giants fans felt good about this. We had the ballpark that was walking distance from Twitter’s HQ. New media had beaten old media.
So when Melky hit his homerun and won that MVP trophy, we felt like we were a part of his victory and vindication because we had all come together to put him there. Melky was a meme. He was virtual, viral, crowd-sourced, and community-driven.
The grassroots effort to rally Bay Area baseball fans to put Melky on the All-Star team was led by the Melk Men, a group of fans that showed up to AT&T Park dressed in old-timey milk man attire with white hats and orange bowties. The Melk Men did a dance called the Melkshake that looked like Axl Rose’s stage gyrations if the Guns N’ Roses singer were completely cartilaginous. The Melk Men became as big a phenomenon as Melky himself. They were interviewed by ESPN and the San Francisco Chronicle. San Francisco Giants radio announcers Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow lauded the Melk Men's extra effort, with Krukow getting especially excited with the addition of the Melk Maids. Even Melky himself took notice. After his triumph at the All-Star Game, Melky took the time to thank the Melk Men for helping him get the votes he needed to get there. This humility on the part of the All-Star made San Francisco love him even more.
The Melk Men used cosplay to express their fandom in a way that wasn’t all that different from how Trekkies dress like Klingons at “Star Trek” conventions--only the Melk Men’s idol was one of flesh, blood and shortcomings. Trekkies never have to worry about if Michael Dorn was taking acting enhancing drugs, but Melky’s art takes place in real time. His actions may not only keep the Giants from getting to the postseason this year, but will also taint the team if they do. We now left wondering if Melky—a player who existed as much in cyberspace as he did on the playing field--would’ve been an All-Star without the added testosterone, although we probably already know the answer.
Bob Calhoun is the author of the punk wrestling memoir "Beer, Blood & Cornmeal: Seven Years of Incredibly Strange Wrestling" (2008, ECW Press). He is currently working on a book on conventions and tradeshows. You can follow him on twitter at @bob_calhoun.