josh hamilton getty

Josh Hamilton’s sobriety is not a black and white issue

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I am far from being any kind of expert on addiction. The vast majority of you would say the same about yourselves if asked in a vacuum.  Yet when a famous ballplayer like Josh Hamilton falls off the wagon like he did on Monday night, so many of us seem to have so many strong opinions about it. Opinions that go beyond our mere reaction to the news.

Opinions about Josh Hamilton’s character. His “weakness.”  His motivations. His heart.  About the nature of addiction.  Opinions like this one from Jeff Passan of Yahoo!

The worst part about Josh Hamilton’s relapse is that he didn’t care. The most famous addict in sports does not go to a bar in the town where he is best known without full knowledge that his exploits will become public in a matter of hours … The particulars – was he drunk, why did he drink and was he really letting women at the bar grab his butt? – don’t matter as much as the act. With addicts they never do. Sobriety is black and white. Black won Monday.

Passan posted that late last night.  It set off a wave of criticism on Twitter which, to his credit, Passan confronted in an attempt to defend his column.

I think I understand what Passan was trying to get at here — I think he was trying to express the sheer gravity of Hamilton’s acts in stark terms and was doing so not long after the news broke, so there was some emotional reaction to it all —  but I can’t shake the notion that the overall sentiment as expressed in the lead especially and throughout the column as a whole is presumptuous and wrong.

It’s easy for those of us who do not have experience with addiction to frame this as a black and white issue and think of it as Josh Hamilton making a bad choice. But from what I understand from those who know more about this, the essential nature of alcoholism is that, subjectively speaking, the person doesn’t have a choice. Or doesn’t feel like they’re making one at the time. It’s a compulsion. Reason is cast to the wind. It’s the very thing that separates a person who can handle alcohol from one who can’t.

To be clear, this doesn’t excuse the act. The act rains down consequences and those must be dealt with, whatever they are. The addict cannot be allowed to simply say “hey, I’m an addict, not my fault!”  and force everyone else to deal with it. They have to work to regain the trust they lost. They have to redouble their efforts at sobriety. If their transgression was bad enough, they have to accept what comes their way as a result, be it the loss of a job, their friends or their family or whatever else it may be.

But I don’t think it’s at all accurate — or particularly useful — for us to frame this as a morality play. I think it’s understandable that many do it because Josh Hamilton was thrust into being a role model of some kind due to his initial conquering of addiction, and whenever someone is elevated like that it’s easy to see everything that happens later as either a reaffirmation of his greatness in that regard or as a tragic fall.  But I don’t think the long road an addict walks fits that model very well.

The only opinion I can muster here — the only one I think it possible for someone who isn’t Josh Hamilton or someone close to his situation to reasonably hold — is sadness. Projecting one’s healthier state of mind with respect to alcohol and its consequences onto an unhealthy person like Hamilton’s is missing the point entirely.

Rick Ankiel drank vodka before a start to deal with the yips

9 Apr 2000: Rick Ankiel #66 of the St. Louis Cardinals winds back to pitch the ball during the game against the Milwaukee Brweers at the Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. The Cardinals defeated the Brewers 11-2. Mandatory Credit: Elsa Hasch  /Allsport
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The story of Rick Ankiel is well known by now. He was a phenom pitcher who burst onto the scene with the Cardinals in 1999 and into the 2000 season as one of the top young talents in the game. Then, in the 2000 playoffs, he melted down. He got the yips. Whatever you want to call it, he lost the ability to throw strikes and his pitching career was soon over. He came back, however, against all odds, and remade his career as a solid outfielder.

It’s inspirational and incredible. But there is a lot more to the story that we’ve ever known. We will soon, however, as Ankiel is coming out with a book. Today he took to the airwaves and shared some about it. Including some amazing stuff:

On drinking in his first start after the famous meltdown in Game One of the 2000 National League division series against the Braves:

“Before that game…I’m scared to death. I know I have no chance. Feeling the pressure of all that, right before the game I get a bottle of vodka. I just started drinking vodka. Low and behold, it kind of tamed the monster, and I was able to do what I wanted. I’m sitting on the bench feeling crazy I have to drink vodka to pitch through this. It worked for that game. (I had never drank before a game before). It was one of those things like the yipps, the monster, the disease…it didn’t fight fair so I felt like I wasn’t going to fight fair either.”

Imagine spending your whole life getting to the pinnacle of your career. Then imagine it immediately disintegrating. And then imagine having to go out and do it again in front of millions. It’s almost impossible for anyone to contemplate and, as such, it’s hard to judge almost anything Ankiel did in response to that when he was 21 years-old. That Ankiel got through that and made a career for himself is absolutely amazing. It’s a testament to his drive and determination.

 

Justin Turner talks “Easy D”

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Justin Turner #10 of the Los Angeles Dodgers warms up prior to game six of the National League Championship Series against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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A couple of weeks ago our president wrote one of his more . . . vexing tweets. He was talking about immigration when he whipped out the phrase . . . “Easy D”:

No one was quite sure what he meant by Easy D. Was it the older brother of N.W.A.’s founder? The third sequel to that Emma Stone movie from a few years back? So many questions!

Baseball Twitter had fun with it, though, with a lot of people wondering how they could work it in casually to their commentary:

It wasn’t a scout who did it, but twelve days after that, a player obliged Mr. McCullough:

I have no more idea what Turner was talking about with that than Trump was. We’ll have to wait for the full story in the L.A. Times. But I am going to assume Turner was doing McCullough a solid with that one rather than commenting on the president’s tweet. Either way, I’m glad he made the effort.

And before you ask: yes, it’s a slow news day.