I’m sure a team has handled something worse than the Angels have handled Josh Hamilton’s relapse, but it’s not coming to mind at the moment.
Hamilton, a recovering drug addict with the unusual skill of being able to hit a baseball into the middle of the Pacific Ocean, has been traded from the Angels back to the Texas Rangers for basically nothing. The Angels will pay for the honor of not having to deal with him, in the apparent hope that he completely falls apart as a human being and becomes a destructive force on his new team.
If that seems a little cold, it should. Like most sports teams, the Angels talk a big game about how their organization is a family, but like few teams, they turned their back on an adopted family member quickly and brutally.
In February, Hamilton self-reported a drug relapse to his team and Major League Baseball. He’s had relapses in the past, and his initial bout with substance abuse nearly destroyed his career before it even began — he famously missed nearly three seasons before resurfacing with the Cincinnati Reds in 2007 and ascending to fame with the Rangers in 2008.
The fall-out from Hamilton’s most recent admitted relapse, and an arbitrator’s ruling earlier this month that he hadn’t run afoul of baseball’s drug policy, was embarrassing from the Angels’ standpoint. General manager Jerry DiPoto issued a statement that seemed to show the Angels fighting their own player, and President John Carpino said that the ruling, “defies logic that Josh’s reported behavior is not a violation of his drug program.” It’s all insensitive to the situation, and turns a blind eye to the fact that the Angels signed Hamilton while well-aware of his struggles with drug use in the past.
His play hasn’t lived up to the five year, $125 million contract he signed before the 2013 season, but that alone would make him just the most recent in a long line of players to sign a contract a team would like back. The Angels clearly wanted to use his relapse as a way to save some money on the deal, and when that fell through, they washed their hands of the whole thing, paying him to play for a division rival rather than deal with him.
If Hamilton crumbles and becomes a negative influence back in Texas, the Angels win. I didn’t really have an emotional stake in either team, but the way the Angels have handled this is stomach-turning. To openly root for Josh Hamilton to fail as a human being, for him to be such a vile influence as to relapse and destroy his life, is inconceivable.
From the outside, it’s easy to lose touch with the fact that baseball players are people. They’re glorified and commodified and well-compensated. Their image is plastered on billboards and TVs and on baseball cards. They and their image can be bought and sold, or in Hamilton’s case, given away to a team that obviously better understands his situation.
But they’re people, like anyone else. There are horrid people in this world, and there are addicts. Sometimes, there’s overlap between the two groups, sometimes not. However Hamilton performs on a baseball field, I’m rooting for him to find his way through addiction and to keep trying the best he can. Family or not, it’s the same vibe I’d try to give anyone else.