Josh Hamilton’s slugging statistics are simply staggering. In 997 MLB games, he has:
- 192 home runs
- 676 RBIs
- 1091 hits
- an on-base percentage of .352
- a slugging percentage of .519
- a career batting average of .292
He once hit four home runs in a game. He is also an alcoholic and an addict.
Recently, the Los Angeles Angels returned Hamilton and his five-year, $125 million contract to his former team, the Texas Rangers. By all accounts, Hamilton’s tenure with the Angels was a complete bust. This is in stark contrast to 2010 when Hamilton’s jersey was one of the top-ten best selling jerseys. Young fans routinely besieged the slugger for his autograph. He was also highly regarded for his candor regarding his substance abuse. Most young fans will gravitate to a player who puts up impressive numbers but Hamilton’s willingness to discuss his addiction made him more approachable and down-to-earth..
Even the good get traded
Trade rumors have dogged Hamilton over the past few years. He has consistently underperformed. In the 2014 postseason, in three games, Hamilton failed to get a hit. He missed a significant number of games due to injury and was rehabbing a shoulder injury when he informed the league that he had relapsed again.
In a news conference following his trade to the Rangers, Hamilton said he was happy to be returning to Texas.
“I’ve had a lot of good memories here,” Hamilton said at a Globe Life Stadium press conference. “They’ve always treated me great. Looking back on it, if I could change the past, I would.” Later in the conference, Hamilton said of Angels’ owner Arte Moreno, who professed disappointment with Hamilton and his latest relapse, “He knew what the deal was when he signed me. Hands down,” Hamilton said. “He knew what he was getting, what the risks were. Under the [joint drug agreement], it is what it is.”
The agreement Hamilton referenced is MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. It is a 64-page document divided into 13 sections. These sections cover everything from oversight, to an exhaustive list of prohibited substances; from drug testing to discipline to appeals. A keyword search of the online and PDF versions of the document returned no results for relapse. Nor — as far as layman’s ability to translate legalese goes — was there mention in any subsection, paragraph, or sentence, of special consideration accorded known addicts or alcoholics.
Drug and alcohol addiction is insidious. Most addicts and alcoholics relapse at some point in their recovery. When celebrities relapse, they do so publicly. These relapses are invariably followed by a well-publicized trip to an equally renowned celebrity rehab center followed by a spokesperson asking for prayers, understanding and privacy during this difficult time. Chronic celebrity relapsers, such as Lindsay Lohan, quickly incur the public’s ire not because they fail but because the public perception is they’re not doing enough to succeed. Celebrities have money and resources normal people don’t. In Hamilton’s case, the lucrative contract made people question his commitment to his sobriety. In short, “How could someone with that much money relapse? What problems could he possibly have that would cause him to use?”
Baseball’s mythical heroes
Baseball has a long tradition of players connecting to young fans. From Babe Ruth telling a kid in a hospital he’d hit him a home run to Cal Ripken’s victory trot around Camden Yards after he broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak, baseball, more than any other sport, brings players and fans together not just in proximity but also spiritually. Sports fans are fans of statistics and no other sport piles up stats like baseball. 162 games, 18 plus players, every pitch, hit, and play tallied and categorized. Players like Ted Williams who hit a home run on his final at bat or Nolan Ryan who had over 5000 strikeouts become gods. For fans, especially young fans, Hamilton’s relapse isn’t simply about an addict succumbing to his addiction. It’s about a fall from grace.
When the Rangers won the American League Pennant, they celebrated with sparkling cider because they respected Hamilton’s honesty and his struggles to stay sober. This summer, after Hamilton told the league he relapsed, some of his Angels teammates questioned his integrity. That incredulity rippled through his supporters. It’s one thing to admit an addiction; it’s entirely another to give into it repeatedly.
Hamilton’s cavalier attitude about his relapse and his responsibility has angered fans. It’s entirely possible that Hamilton has simply chosen to forego the groveling mea culpa route and get on with his life. But whether he acknowledges it or not, Hamilton is a role model and his comments about Moreno send a dismal message to young people, that individuals are powerless in the face of addiction. The Angels signed Hamilton to an enormous contract based on two conditions: he would hit and he would stay sober. All players go through slumps and most players get injured. Hamilton is no exception. But where he let down his fans is lack of culpability for his relapse. By saying that the Angels knew what they were getting when they signed him, Hamilton, in essence, set up a contingency plan for his failure. The message this sends to young people is addiction can and will take down even the best and there is nothing we can do about it. It is the wrong message to send.
White River Academy is a residential boarding school located at the rim of the Great Basin in Utah. Our school focuses on helping young men ages 12 to 17 to overcome substance abuse and behavioral problems. Our treatment methods, curriculum, philosophy and commitment to improving the lives of our students, make White River one of the preeminent specialized boarding schools in the country.