Josh Hamilton Situation Provides No Winners
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Josh Hamilton will not be suspended for his admission of illicit drug use.
The case, settled by an independent arbitrator, is a win for the Major League Baseball’s Players Association and a loss of new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and the Angels.
The reality, however, is more complex.
Hamilton, to his credit, self-reported his drug use in person to baseball officials in February in person at MLB’s New York Headquarters. In a complicated procedure, involving appointing a tie-breaking fifth vote, two attorneys appointed by MLB and MLBPA each could not decide whether Hamilton’s admission constituted a failure of the sports drug policy.
Hamilton, if you remember, missed four full seasons in the minors serving suspensions and getting his life in order after admitting cocaine use. After getting his personal house in order, the first pick of the 1999 MLB Draft, was traded by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to the Cincinnati Reds, where he finally appeared in the majors, before being traded to the Texas Rangers where Hamilton achieved the stardom so many scouts thought he had.
The decision not to suspend Hamilton puts MLB in the difficult position of being able to suspend players half a season for failing a PED test, Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Ervin Santana received word of his suspension Friday, while Hamilton will serve no sanction. For a league trying to keep a good public image, this is not the result they wanted. Cocaine abuse and addiction is more dangerous to the health of a player. When given the chance to send a message this behavior will not be tolerated, essentially they had their hands tied.
For the Angels, the problem is twofold. The $23 million in salary owed Hamilton this year will now be paid in full. If he had been suspended, he would not have been paid while on the Restricted List. Now saddled with an albatross contract for a player not aging well, some of the frustration you read from Orange County is buyer’s remorse. The bigger problem for the club, however, is trust. No matter how contrite Hamilton was in coming forward, how can the Angels be sure their investment will not suffer another relapse.
When you are talking the millions of dollars involved here, you have to consider Hamilton, or any player, an investment risk. With three years and more than $80 million still owed to the outfielder, the Angels have every right to be upset over such a breach of trust. All contracts are guaranteed and they are on the hook.
Then you have Hamilton himself. He failed.
He failed his sport, his team, his teammates and, most importantly, himself. This does not mean the man is worthy of love and all the support he needs to battle a part of his life that has cost him so much. He is not a pariah, but a flawed human being with a problem that goes beyond the scope of what his employer can do. In most walks of life, he would be fired and given the chance to put his life back together in private before returning to his vocation.
Professional sport does not allow that kind of privacy. The career is too short and the money, the simplest reason that such addictions can progress, is virtually endless.
In the end, there is no right answer whether Hamilton should have been suspended. A bum shoulder and lack of full-speed practice will keep him from starting the season anyway. He is not in game shape. If given the stark reality to be forced to spend another year away from the sport he loves might have made the difference to making better decisions under duress, now we will not know.
Instead, all the parties involved will have to answer uncomfortable questions beyond carefully crafted press releases. MLB will need assurances that future acts can be punished. The Angels will face questions about their seemingly harsh statement regarding one of their own players and why the club spent so much on a risky player to begin with.
Those pale in comparison to what Hamilton sees every morning in the bathroom mirror. In the end, only he can fight the demons within himself. For his sake and his family, here is hoping he does.