Friday, February 3, 2012

What To Say About Josh Hamilton?

By The Common Man

I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out what to say about Josh Hamilton. It’s been exceptionally difficult. All I feel is sadness for the man and for his family. That’s, apparently, not what I should be feeling.

I think Jeff Passan wants me to be angry at Hamilton for not caring enough about his sobriety, or maybe angry at the concept of addiction. But Passan’s writing is so muddled that it’s impossible to tell if he’s got an actual point to make about Hamilton’s behavior or not. Mostly, it’s about Hamilton’s failure on Monday night. (Update:  In the interest of fairness, Jeff and I talked on Twitter and he said the following: "The column's point was about the difficulty bordering on impossibility of sobriety and how it tripped up Hamilton. That even the strongest man or woman can be waylaid, and that it's not wrong to lose that care. It's addiction's worst symptom."  I still feel like his point was muddled, but I appreciate the sentiment he was going for.)

I know that Randy Galloway wants me to be angry at the MLBPA, because it has inspired Josh Hamilton not to re-sign with the Rangers, who apparently really care about him as a person or something, for less than market value. The Rangers, who have nurtured Hamilton and kept him away from his demons, except for those two times, always have had his back according to Galloway and that nasty union wants just cares about how much money the former MVP will make.

I know that commenters want me to be angry at the media for even bringing this up. Josh Hamilton is a grown-ass man, they write, and has a right to a drink if he wants one. Others are turned off by this very human story, and believe it’s a matter only relevant for Hamilton and his family. Ignore it, they say.

I’m sorry, but I can’t be angry at anybody about this. For one thing, no matter how much fans would like the media to turn away, it IS a baseball story. Hamilton’s an impending free agent. His team has invested a lot of money in him, and is counting on his production. They have done so with the understanding that employing Hamilton comes with risk. Now we see that that risk is very real, and we hope that Hamilton pulls himself back from the brink.

It’s also a baseball story because so many baseball fans have invested themselves, financially and emotionally, in Hamilton’s recovery. Maybe that’s not fair to Hamilton, who possibly would like to just play ball and be left alone. But baseball thrives on the enthusiasm of the fans, so it cultivates this fandom of both teams and players. So when a ballplayer struggles to maintain his sobriety, especially when his inability to do so has implications for his team, it is our business. Or at least the business of Rangers fans.

That said, we don’t have be finger-wagging moralists about it either. Hamilton, better than all of us, understands how his behavior was wrong and how he has hurt his family. No one understands his addiction, and what it does to him, better than he does. He has to deal with the emotional and professional fallout of his decisions, both on Monday and in his life in general. And I suspect he has to do that every damn day. That sounds inexplicably difficult, and I’m grateful that that’s never been a problem for me.

Even so, as much as I want to be angry at Passan for his empty column recounting the effects that Hamilton’s stumble will have on him, and the reasons for it, I’m mostly just disappointed. Passan has demonstrated many times that he’s a great writer, like this tremendous story about how the Red Sox organization employed and empowered a pedophile to rape clubhouse attendants and batboys for decades. But Jeff really misses the boat here by suggesting that Josh Hamilton “did not care” about his behavior. Or that there are “incriminating photos” waiting to be released. Passan brings a very human tragedy down to the level of tabloid muckery. I don’t think he means to. I think he felt the need to write about it and ignored the fact that he didn’t really have a point, except that he felt the need to continually bash us over the head with the reminder that Josh Hamilton is an addict. Yes, we know.

I’m even more disappointed in Galloway, who uses Hamilton’s relapse as an excuse to make a political point about loyalty on the backs of the MLBPA, whose job is not to babysit players during the offseason. By the way, that’s not the job of the Rangers either, and it’s telling that Hamilton’s two public episodes have both been while baseball is on hiatus. Galloway believes that Hamilton owes the Rangers organization big time for their patience and their assistance. So rather than focus on what’s best for Hamilton and his family at this time, Galloway would like Hamilton to agree to return to the Rangers for less money and fewer years, please. It’s impossible to be mad at someone who thinks that’s a viable, responsible opinion for an adult to have. You just have to shake your head sadly and walk away.

Indeed, there’s nothing about this whole thing that doesn’t make me morose. I don’t know what made Josh Hamilton turn to drugs and booze as a young man. And I don’t understand the compulsion that drives him to revisit that prison. But he’s clearly a person in pain. And because of that, I feel terrible for him, especially as I look down the road.

Baseball is a stabilizing force in a lot of players’ lives. It regulates their mood, gives them an outlet, and helps to govern how and when they interact with their families. Thus, it’s not surprising that so many professional athletes get divorced soon after retiring. Baseball structures their lives, and when that is gone, players have a massive vacuum where all that time and effort used to be. Like all athletes, at some point in future, Josh Hamilton isn’t going to have the structure and security of baseball looking out for him anymore. He’s going to have a lot of free time on his hands. And that should make all of us worried for Hamilton and for his family. And that along with a sincere hope that Hamilton rights his ship and is even more successful as he recovers from this relapse, are really the only things worth saying at the moment. But I guess those sentiments don’t get page views.


Travis Reitsma said...

Excellent piece. I agree with you that Passan is usually a very good writer, but I think he, like many people, completely misunderstand addiction and mental illness. Galloway is just...oi vey

Shawn said...

Well said, and all true.

Anonymous said...

Far too often writers focus on the business end or that these guys actuall OWE us something. They're human and they make mistakes as well. You hit the nail on the head...we should be more concerned and supportive of Josh Hamilton the human being, less critical of him as the Rangers outfielder.

AvengingJM said...

Hamilton is one of the few players I make an effort to go out of my way and see play.

I hope he gets himself better for his family. And, selfishly, because he sure is fun to watch.

Good post.

David Peck said...

Excellent perspective. Thank you. You're right. It is a baseball story because his addiction nearly derailed his career and any relapse has an impact on his team. This may cost him in contract discussions down the road but that's a consequence not a requirement that he should sign a lesser contract right now as penance for some "sin" against the Rangers.

Blaming the MLBPA is just as foolish. It's not their job to babysit their members. They can look for ways to help guys like Josh, Miguel Cabrera, etc but there's nothing in their charter that says they should be monitoring them 24/7/365. These are grown men.

I really like and respect Josh. Yesterday's news gave me the chance to sit down with my baseball player 11 yr old son and talk about behaviors, consequences and why we should pray for Josh. I feel bad for Josh and his family. They know they face a lifelong battle. I hope and pray he can find the way to avoid future relapses. I believe there is hope for that.

Will said...

Great work as usual, but I can't help myself from comparing this to the Boston Red Sox drinking in the clubhouse. It's just such a grey area in sports.