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Fall From Grace: Matt Bush

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In June of 2004, then Padres Gm Kevin Towers had an important decision to make.  The team was currently fighting its way to respectability in their gorgeous new ball park in downtown San Diego, but they had business to take care of.  Courtesy of 98 losses in 2003, the Padres had the number one pick in the 2004 June Amateur Draft.  John Moores, the team owner, and Kevin Towers had to choose between a bevy of talented and highly sought after players in the year’s draft.  Some of those players included Jered Weaver, Stephen Drew, Phil Hughes, Justin Verlander, and Matt Bush.  Eight years later, the Tigers’ have an ace who just swept through the AL Cy Young AND MVP voting, Jered Weaver is dominating with the Angels, Phil Hughes is wearing pinstripes proudly, and Stephen Drew has become one of the best young shortstops in the game for the division rival Diamondbacks.  So what happened with the Padres and their pick, their number one overall selection?  They chose Matt Bush, and now with ties to San Diego long since cut, Bush may find himself out of the game for a long time.

Bush was a promising player.  So much so that San Diego, confident in their pitching with their new pitcher’s park passed up Weaver, Hughes, and Verlander in hopes of getting Bush to be their shortstop of the future (he became a pitcher later on).  They ignored many of the pre-draft rankings done by site’s like Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America.  The Gunslinger, as Kevin Towers was known, went with his gut.  Before diving into Bush’s story, below are the pre-draft rankings (top-30) for 2004 from perhaps the most respected amateur talent analysts in the games, Baseball America:

You’ll note, Matt Bush was rated 8th overall.  That’s a pretty high ranking considering the margin of error involved in ranking prospects (especially high school prospects).  Justin Verlander was ranked ahead of Bush, Jered Weaver was ranked ahead of Bush, and Stephen Drew was ranked ahead of Bush.  To be fair, Baseball America also ranked Homer Bailey, Philip Humber, Chris Nelson, and Jeff Nieman ahead of Justin Verlander, so it’s not a perfect science.

Another aspect of the Bush drafting was the Padres financial position at the time (not that it has changed much).  They did not have the kind of money to throw at a prospect demanding Scott Boras-type money for a signing bonus.  According to the San Diego Union Tribune in 2004, “We’re already hearing that [Towers] retreated from [Scott Boras] clients Weaver and [Stephen Drew] because of the money thing.”

The Padres had a much better shot at Bush than anyone else in terms of signing bonus, so Kevin Towers pulled the trigger, like he so-often did in his career as the Padres GM.  Bush received a $3.15 million signing bonus.  Contrast that to the signing bonuses of Scott Boras clients Jered Weaver and Stephen Drew – $4 million and $4.5 million respectively.  Those signing bonuses weren’t much more, and thus started a string of incidents that proved Towers and the Padres made the wrong call.  Drafting out of financial fear is not always the smartest move.  It led the Padres to make a financial investment in a  troubled young man who would see more than his fair share of struggles with alcohol and the law.

Setting aside Bush’s trouble with the law for a moment, his performance on the diamond failed to impress many in the organization.  In rookie league play in 2004, Bush hit .181/.302/.236.  Playing for Eugene that same year, he hit .222/.276/.296.  In all, his time at the plate was underwhelming.  Bush’s career minor league slash-line is .219/.294/.276.  While with the Padres still, the team, knowing how well Bush could perform as a pitcher, converted him from shortstop to pitcher.

To date, Bush has just 71.2 innings of minor league pitching under his belt.  In that time, he has a 4.14 ERA.  However, he has an incredible K/9 ratio of 14.2.  Bush was shooing promise and earning the trust of the Rays organization until his most recent incident yesterday.

For the Padres though, Bush was a flop both athletically and personally.  His struggles with alcohol have been well-documented, but it’s important to run through his history.

Bush, not even a month removed from the draft, and not even having set foot on a professional field to play, was arrested on June 19, 2004 after a fight at a night club in Arizona.  The Padres suspended him three days later.  In the summer of 2008, Bush got into another fight near a bar in Peoria, and again, alcohol was involved.  In February of 2009, Matt Bush, was involved in a drunken altercation. He was investigated for assault involving players from the local lacrosse team in El Cajon.  The Padres had enough and cut ties with Bush.  They designated him for assignment and traded him to the Blue Jays.  He was quickly cut by the Blue Jays and returned home to San Diego.  But Bush was not done with his drunken rampage in the San Diego area.  On June 28, 2009, Matt Bush was arrested for DUI and vandalism after he threw objects at passing cars in his drunken stupor, then tried to drive away.

Many thought the February 2009 incident would be Bush’s last as a professional baseball player.  They thought his career would be over.  It wasn’t.  Then, once more, many thought the June, 2009 incident would signal the end to his playing days.  It didn’t.  Now, after yet another DUI arrest as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays organization, people are questioning whether Matt Bush will play baseball ever again.  Yesterday evening, Matt Bush allegedly under the influence, struck a 72-year old man on a motorcycle.  He then fled the scene of the accident and was later arrested.  The accident left the motorcyclist in serious condition.

Bush likely won’t, and should not be allowed to, escape this situation with a simple fine and no jail time.  He has a disease, one that no matter how much he wishes it away, is not going away on its own.  He very may well return to baseball and be given yet another chance, but Bush himself needs to make a decision.  Is baseball the best place for him?  Is he going to get the help he needs and avoid the temptations that are ever-present with professional ball players?  Will time away from the game allow him to get his life back on track and get sober?  More questions will surely arise from this incident than answers, but Matt Bush has crossed a line.  There comes a point where no matter how difficult the disease of alcoholism is to overcome, people around this young man must cut him off.  Second chances are not the answer.  Recovery is the answer.

Now, after countless second chances, Bush has put a 72-year old Florida man in the hospital, and he tried to run from that incident rather than render aid to the man.  This story could be about the Padres and a misfire in the 2004 draft.  But it’s not.  It’s a about a young man wrestling with demons and being enabled by those around him.  It’s another sad story of alcoholism in baseball.

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Tags: Jered Weaver Justin Verlander Matt Bush San Diego Padres Stephen Drew Tampa Bay Rays

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