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.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 16: Starting pitcher J.A. Happ #33 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch in the seventh inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on June 16, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
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Did you know J.A. Happ is in the thick of the American League Cy Young Award race? Of all the contenders, he may be the biggest surprise, even ahead of Drew Pomeranz. Happ leads the league with 17 wins and only has three losses to go with it. He’s holding a 3.05 ERA and a 133/44 K/BB ratio in 150 1/3 innings.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Happ was struggling to stay in a starting rotation. In 2011, his first full season with the Astros, he finished with a 5.35 ERA. In 2012, he put up a 4.79 ERA with the ‘stros and Blue Jays. The next year? 4.56 followed by 4.22, both with the Jays. Then, with the Mariners, he continued the mediocrity with a 4.64 ERA before he was traded to the Pirates.

Under the tutelage of Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage, Happ turned his career around. In 11 starts in Pittsburgh, the lefty had a microscopic 1.85 ERA. That came with significant improvements in his strikeout and walk rates. Even the ERA retrodictors like FIP and xFIP, which had so often agreed with his uninspiring ERA’s, agreed that he had thrown like an elite hurler. So that’s how we arrived at J.A. Happ, Cy Young Award contender.

Among AL starters, Happ is fifth-best in ERA behind Cole Hamels, Jose Quintana, Aaron Sanchez, and Steven Wright. However, his 17-3 record is equaled only by Rick Porcello. As there are still a significant number of voters in the Baseball Writers Association of America who consider won-lost record, Happ is sitting in a good position and will be even better if he can cross the coveted 20-win threshold. He’ll get a bit of a boost as well if he can help the Jays return to the postseason for a second consecutive season.

Happ’s Jays will host the hapless — and Happ-less — Angels on Thursday evening. He’ll take on veteran Jered Weaver in a 7:07 PM EDT start.

The rest of Thursday’s action…

Baltimore Orioles (Ubaldo Jimenez) @ Washington Nationals (Max Scherzer), 7:05 PM EDT

Kansas City Royals (Edinson Volquez) @ Miami Marlins (Tom Koehler), 7:10 PM EDT

New York Mets (Seth Lugo) @ St. Louis Cardinals (Adam Wainwright), 7:15 PM EDT

Cleveland Indians (Josh Tomlin) @ Texas Rangers (Cole Hamels), 8:05 PM EDT

Pittsburgh Pirates (Chad Kuhl) @ Milwaukee Brewers (Wily Peralta), 8:10 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (James Paxton) @ Chicago White Sox (Anthony Ranaudo), 8:10 PM EDT

Atlanta Braves (Matt Wisler) @ Arizona Diamondbacks (Robbie Ray), 9:40 PM EDT

San Francisco Giants (Matt Moore) @ Los Angeles Dodgers (Ross Stripling), 10:10 PM EDT

Let’s play the “how long has it been since the Cubs won the World Series?” game!

1908 Cubs
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It started with a no-good St. Louis Cardinals fan being a troublemaker. That no-good Cardinals fan was Drew Silva, who began things innocently enough, noting that, despite their dominance this season, any team can theoretically beat the Chicago Cubs in a short series because that’s just how baseball goes:

Cubs fans started giving him guff for that, so Drew gave some back:

And with that it was on like Donkey Kong (a super old video game which was not invented for another 73 years after the Cubs last won the World Series). I tweeted this:

And with that, my followers went crazy. Here’s a sampling of some of the best ones:

And, for that matter . . .

Too soon. Unlike the last Cubs World Series title.

Like I said, this was just a sampling. I’ve retweeted a ton more on my timeline and those I didn’t retweet can be seen in the replies here. My favorite one may have been “literally the invention of sliced bread,” which debuted in 1912, but I can’t find that tweet.

Please, Cubs fans, have a sense of humor about this. You have a wonderful ballpark that is not named after a third tier mortgage company, a grand history that is fantastic even if it hasn’t featured any championships and a future that is as bright or brighter than any other team out there. Maybe even come up with some of your own in the comments! History is fun! As is self-deprecation! What I’m saying is don’t be salty about this sort of thing. Salty is a bad look.

In other news, the Morton Salt Company was incorporated in 1910, two years after the Cubs last World Series victory.