File photo of Texas Rangers' outfielder Josh Hamilton waiting to hit during workouts in preparation for Major League Baseball's World Series in San Francisco

Should the Rangers bring up Josh Hamilton’s substance abuse history if they go to arbitration?


Unless they settle with either a one-year deal or a big lockup package, Josh Hamilton and the Rangers are slated to head to an arbitration hearing sometime soon.  From that an interesting question emerges: how hard do the Rangers hit him — if they hit him at all — with his substance abuse history?

The immediate answer that comes to mind may be “none at all! How rude that would be!”  I get that, and as I’ll write below, I agree that they ultimately shouldn’t go there.  But arbitration is litigation and the litigation process is such that it’s really, really difficult to pull one’s punches.  And not just because of rudeness concerns, but because of precedent.

An arbitration doesn’t just set the current player’s salary. It’s used as a baseline for later players with similar production and similar service time who head into the process themselves. If one team eases up on Josh Hamilton, other teams heading into arbitration with their Hamiltonian super stars will have a tougher hill to climb in order to prevail.  In a way, then, the integrity of the process requires that the parties fight their hardest case possible.

And it’s not hard to see how Hamilton’s history could, theoretically, be used against him.  Not on moral grounds, per se, but because his drug use took away from many important development years. Hamilton has had an injury history.  If the Rangers want to argue that that history gives them pause, could they not — and should they not — point to Hamilton’s abnormal development as a player as a potential reason for concern?  Could they not also point to his brief and highly-publicized relapse in 2009 as an added risk factor with respect to future playing time?  Another relapse and — bam! — he’s in rehab. I’m not saying that they should do that, just that they could.

MLB Trade Rumors spoke with someone today who cautioned the Rangers on that front:

The Rangers could bring up Hamilton’s injury history and past substance abuse, but they would have to do so subtly, says Michael Vlessides, a veteran arbitration consultant.  “It’s the fine line between how much do you pick on the guy who’s the MVP. If you do it too much, you can lose a lot of credibility” Vlessides said. Beating MVPs in arbitration hearings isn’t easy, but the Pirates beat Barry Bonds after he won his first MVP in 1990 and again the following offseason.

I’ll go one better and say that trashing an MVP is not just a bad thing to do for credibility purposes, but that it’s a bad thing to do with Josh Hamilton and his drug history specifically for strategic purposes.

Why would Hamilton’s history be a detriment to his value?  Sure, it may be for many other players, but Hamilton is a unique case. That relapse notwithstanding, he’s turned his story into something of a fairytale. It’s triumph-over-adversity stuff, and if anything it has made him a much more popular player than he otherwise would be.  There’s value in that. Actual financial value to the Rangers that could make bringing the subject up worse for them than if they leave it alone.

Personally, I’d have a hard time seeing the Rangers go there. They’re not a dumb organization. Since Nolan Ryan took over, they seem to go out of their way to avoid ruffling their own players’ feathers, and I see no reason why they’d start with Hamilton.

But I also suspect that they know what Hamilton is all about, both as a player and as a phenomenon.  It’s not easy for baseball to bring totally new fans into the fold. People who wouldn’t otherwise pay attention.  If anyone has brought those kinds of fans into the game in the past couple of years, it’s Josh Hamilton, and I presume the Rangers are well aware of this.

Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga to throw out first pitches in Games 1 and 2

CLEVELAND - OCTOBER 05:  Kenny Lofton #7 of the Cleveland Indians runs to first base against the New York Yankees during Game Two of the American League Divisional Series at Jacobs Field on October 5, 2007 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Major League Baseball just announced the details for the ceremonial and off-field stuff in connection with Games 1 and 2 of the World Series. The one most people were wondering about was the ceremonial first pitch. Sorry, Charlie Sheen fans. Sorry fans of “Major League” in general. Two real baseball stars are handing first pitch duties: Kenny Lofton before Game 1, Carlos Baerga for Game 2.

Lofton needs no introduction. He should be a Hall of Famer but is criminally overlooked, perhaps because he bounced around to a lot of different clubs. He made his name in Cleveland, however, doing three separate tours with the Indians, leading the AL in stolen bases for five straight years early in his career and putting up a line of .300/.375/.426 in ten seasons on the shores of Lake Erie.

Baerga played for the Tribe between 1990 and 1996 and was, for a time, quite the superstar, even if people don’t talk about him much anymore. His career fell off pretty quickly in that way that often happens for second basemen and/or stars who end up on the Mets, but there was a time when he was perhaps the biggest star on some excellent Indians teams. People had “will Carlos Baerga be a Hall of Famer?” conversations and stuff. The mid-90s were a special time.

Beyond the first pitches, the National Anthem will be sung by Rachel Platten before Game 1 and by the group Locash before Game 2. As I am an old man out of touch with most things, I have no idea who they are, but I am sure their fans are passionate and their renditions of the Anthem will be fine and non-controversial. Fox, MLB and the folks at major record labels are pretty good about that sort of thing and everyone will be especially vigilant in light of what happened with that Canadian tenors group at the All-Star Game. If nothing else, I bet you pick up the check for the Anthem performance after the song, and not before these days.

I guess the White Sox don’t count

CHICAGO - APRIL 04: General Manager Ken Williams of the Chicago White Sox shows off his World Series Championship ring during ceremonies prior to the start of a game against the Cleveland Indians on April 4, 2006 at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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I realize everyone is super excited about the Cubs being in the World Series for the first time since 1945, with the chance to win it for the first time since 1908. But you’d think folks would remember that it’s just the Cubs — and not Chicago as a whole — who have been away from the Fall Classic for so long.

I know their recent struggles makes it seem like a long, long time ago, but the White Sox won the World Series in 2005. They were in the World Series in 1959 too. You wouldn’t know that, though, if you looked at some prominent media outlets:





I understand the impulse to tell the “a whole city is coming together!” story every time stuff like this happens, but there are a lot of White Sox fans in Chicago. A good number of them don’t give a crap about the Cubs. Many even resent them for being the glory franchise in the city in the eyes of many. They certainly don’t feel like there’s a championship drought afoot, and I imagine they’re somewhat cranky about having their team’s glory plastered over like this.