The disease is not one you’re born with (although studies do show it can be hereditary). The disease is not something you contract. It’s something that develops out of a seemingly innocuous situation. It develops from just one sip. Alcoholism can start in many different ways. Depression, celebration, and anger can lead to excessive drinking. That may be all it takes. For Josh Hamilton, his addiction began early in his Major League career. His story is well-known and I will not rehash it here. His recent relapse on the other hand, I will address.
I do not disagree with the sad fact that this slip-up on Hamilton’s part will likely cost him millions in future contracts. Baseball is a business, and risk verse reward must be weighed in every investment. Baseball players are investments from the business side of the game. But in reality, they are people. Hamilton’s relapse, while most admit is sad and affects the man not just the game, is being treated more like a potential bad investment to come. It’s what the game has come to, and we must discuss such things. We must write about how much Hamilton could lose in salary. We must write about the potential to lose endorsement deals. We must write about how a person’s mistake, a mistake that has shattered his life once again, translates to the business of baseball. What we fail to do, in our ever-present judgment, is look at the man.
I had the opportunity to interview Dirk Hayhurst. He is a former Major League player, but most notably, he is the author of The Bullpen Gospels and Out of My League. He is known for the candor he exhibits it in his writing and in how he views the game. Hayhurst, in that candor made me realize just how much we take the people for granted that play this game we all love. The numbers, the business of baseball, often blinds us to the people who actually take the field and put themselves out there for all to see. This is not to suggest we feel sorry for these players. They will be the first to admit they make a lot of money to play a game. But they do so to entertain us, and we pay them. I don’t suggest we stop analyzing players, performances, and contracts. That type of analysis is important to the sport, and what we write is entertainment in and of itself. However, we all need to take a moment, at times, to remember baseball players are as flawed as we are.
Josh Hamilton is a man living in constant recovery. His disease will never go away, no matter how much the bottle of beer behind the counter tells him it has. He will fight these relapses the rest of his life. That’s the truth for an alcoholic. There is no cure save for abstinence, and the thing we all know about abstinence is that it takes perfection to maintain. People aren’t perfect. Baseball players aren’t perfect.
To suggest Josh Hamilton is a risk, that he may fall back to his ways in Tampa, denies all the gains he has made in his life. John Paul Morosi of Fox Sports, a fantastic writer and great analyst suggests that the incredible, uplifting moments in Hamilton’s career are now forgotten.
Now his home run in Game 6 of the World Series — the one that should have clinched the title — is a distant memory. The familiar and uncomfortable questions are back. Is he reliable? Will he remain healthy? Can he stay sober?
Moments like Hamilton’s Game 6 home run can only be forgotten if we choose to forget them. If we choose to forget that this is a man with flaws like each of us, and instead we choose to focus on the shortcomings of a baseball player whom we all hold to a higher standard for some reason, then Morosi is right. But I refuse to do so. I look back and relish in that moment. On the grandest of stages, a man who has battled so much in his life was rewarded with one single moment that every young boy dreams of. He overcame some of life’s toughest adversity to hit a home run that should be re-played for years to come. Before that, he stepped up during the Home Run Derby of 2010 and blasted a record number of home runs to the fans’ utter delight.
These are the moments I choose to remember. His flaws can be overcome. With the support of his family, his teammates, doctors, and fans, Josh Hamilton can once again overcome this momentary lapse in judgement. And if it happens again, maybe we lift him up. Maybe we offer support from a far and allow his friends and family to offer support up close. Rather than break him down with jokes, discussions about risks of signing him, and condemnations, perhaps we can offer a little perspective in a world so totally devoid of such things. We are all flawed. We all struggle with demons. Hamilton’s are public knowledge, and he must face that everyday.
If he relapses again, which is very possible, Josh Hamilton owes us all nothing. He doesn’t owe an apology. He will give one just as he did now and just as he did in 2009, but he doesn’t owe one. He only owes such things to himself, his family, and his friends.