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.

The Rays are considering reliever Tyler Clippard

New York Mets pitcher Tyler Clippard throws during the eighth inning of Game 4 of the National League baseball championship series against the Chicago Cubs Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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On Thursday, we learned that the Diamondbacks were still considering free agent reliever Tyler Clippard. You can add the Rays to the list as well, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

The Rays traded lefty reliever Jake McGee to the Rockies in exchange for outfielder Corey Dickerson in late January, so Clippard would be able to slot right in behind closer Brad Boxberger. Clippard, 30, compiled a 2.92 ERA with 64 strikeouts and 31 walks over 71 innings in a season split between the Athletics and Mets. The strikeout rate was at its lowest since the right-hander become a full-time reliever in 2009, and his walk rate was at its highest since 2010, which may be a factor in his still being a free agent in February.

Report: Juan Uribe is too expensive for the Giants

New York Mets' Juan Uribe follows the flight of his solo home run off Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Chris Rusin in the third inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that, while the Giants are interested in free agent Juan Uribe, the utilityman’s asking price is too high for the club. Despite having a capable starter at every position, the Giants are a bit thin on depth and Uribe would be a nice fit given his versatility.

Uribe, 36, spent last season with the Dodgers, Braves, and Mets. He hit a combined .253/.320/.417 with 14 home runs and 43 RBI over 397 plate appearances. In his only postseason plate appearance for the Mets, he hit an RBI single in Game 3 of the World Series against the Royals.

Uribe has mostly played third base in recent seasons, but also has plenty of experience at second base and shortstop.

A study showed “grit” isn’t always a great attribute

Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper slides into third with a three RBI triple during the third inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Friday, April 25, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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This popped up in my Twitter feed and I felt it had some applicability to baseball. This past October, Olga Khazan of The Atlantic highlighted a study in which researchers from the University of Southern California and Northeastern University performed three separate but related experiments to determine how “gritty” their subjects were.

One experiment had them solve anagrams. The second, a computer game. Finally, the third test had them solve math problems. Those who were deemed “grittier” attempted to solve fewer anagrams, which means they were sticking too long with difficult words rather than skipping and moving onto easier ones. The “grittier” crowd worked harder when losing at the computer game, but worked only as hard as the less-gritty when winning. With the math problems, the subjects when stuck were given a choice to take $1 and quit or keep going for a potential reward of $2 but $0 if they failed. The study showed that the “grittier” people weren’t any more productive but were more willing to risk the $1 for the doubled prize.

“Grit” is also a common colloquialism in baseball circles, used to refer to players who always run out a routine ground ball or pop-up. Other common characteristics include a willingness to dive for fly balls, slide into players to break up double plays, and to stick up for their teammates when there’s a disagreement between members of two teams. Often, those deemed “gritty” are in many other ways subpar players, but their perceived “grit” gives them value.

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is a rare superstar player who has earned the “grit” descriptor. There are many examples showing why he has earned it, but the most famous incident occurred on May 13, 2013 at Dodger Stadium. Harper turned his back to the field to chase an A.J. Ellis fly ball but went face-first into the wall, suffering abrasions on his face and a jammed left shoulder. This was during a game the Nationals were comfortably winning 6-0 in the sixth inning. At the time, the Nationals were 95 percent favorites to win the game, according to FanGraphs. Is the risk of suffering an injury — which could keep Harper out only a game or two, or cause him to miss the rest of the season — worth potentially turning a double or triple into an out?

Famously, Philadelphia fans and talking heads got on outfielder Bobby Abreu’s case in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s because he appeared gun-shy when approaching the outfield fence on fly balls. He was under a lot of pressure to sacrifice his body for the supposed good of the team, and developed a reputation as “soft”. As a more recent example, former Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins caught flack from fans when he didn’t run out a routine pop-up against the Mets on August 30, 2012. Then-manager Charlie Manuel benched the veteran. At the time, the Phillies were 62-69 and 17.5 games back of first place in the NL East and 8.5 games behind the second Wild Card. Freak injuries can happen, as Rollins’ teammate Ryan Howard showed when making the final out of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals. Is that non-zero injury risk worth the tiny chance that the infielder drops the pop-up and Rollins gets a single (or, in rarer cases, a double) in a game that is essentially meaningless?

The aforementioned study shows that maybe Abreu and Rollins had it right after all. Statistically, a freak injury that occurs on a “hustle” play is bound to happen. Maybe that’s what it will take to stop expecting athletes to put their bodies on the line for no realistic gain.

Zach Britton settles with the Orioles for $6.75 million

Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Zach Britton delivers a pitch against the Boston Red Sox in the ninth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Boston. The Orioles won 6-4. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
AP Photo/Steven Senne
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The Orioles and closer Zach Britton avoided an arbitration hearing, agreeing to a $6.75 million salary for the 2016 season, Jon Heyman reports. The club has now handled all of its remaining arbitration cases and won’t have to go to a hearing with any players.

Britton, in his second of four years of arbitration eligibility, filed for $7.9 million while the Orioles countered at $5.6 million. $6.75 million is exactly the midpoint between the two submitted figures.

The 28-year-old lefty saved 36 games in 40 chances last season for the O’s while putting up a 1.92 ERA with a 79/14 K/BB ratio over 65 2/3 innings.