Josh Hamilton reveals “mystery issue” is chewing tobacco


Josh Hamilton has yet to reveal the nature of the mystery issue he’s repeatedly made cryptic comments about for the past week, but Jon Heyman of reports that the former MVP’s inability to quit chewing tobacco is the source.

Hamilton unsuccessfully tried to quit last year and then went public with a follow-up effort last month, but apparently it didn’t take.

Considering how open he’s been about the chewing tobacco habit in the past it seems a little odd that he’d be so cryptic about the situation this time around, particularly since his comments led to speculation about a variety of potential off-field issues and caused both manager Ron Washington and general manager Jon Daniels to address the situation.

Here’s the initial Hamilton comments that started all the rumors and speculation last week:

I’ve been shown a lot of things over the past week. There’s disobedience and there’s obedience to God. I’ve been being disobedient. It may be a small thing to you, but it’s a big thing to him. There’s consequences. It’s like a father and a kid. There are disciplines. You guys can chew on that and think about it.

I suppose “you guys can chew on that” was a hint. Or maybe not. And then last night Hamilton declined to reveal any details, saying “people are not going to understand” and “it’s nobody’s business.”

Hamilton has been in an extended slump at the plate, going from the best player in baseball early this season to hitting just .201 with 59 strikeouts and a .674 OPS in 49 games since June 1 and .178 since July 1. He’s shown some signs of life recently, going 2-for-5 with four RBIs last night and 6-for-19 (.316) with three extra-base hits in his last four games.

UPDATE: Hamilton issued the following statement:

Due to the speculation that occurred from my recent comments, I felt it was important to clarify what the “issue” was to which I was referring–both personally and professionally. The issue is “discipline.” Professionally, it’s been plate discipline. Personally, it’s been being obedient to the Lord in quitting chewing tobacco. I was hesitant to address the tobacco once again, because it’s an area that I’ve struggled with trying to quit in the past. I wanted to have some time of success “under my belt” before addressing again publicly, but feel I haven’t been given that option with all of the speculating out there as to what the “mystery issue” was. But there you have it. Discipline. Hebrews 12:4-5 and John 3:30.

2018 Preview: Oakland Athletics

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Oakland Athletics.

The A’s have finished last in the AL West for three straight years. If you believe the folks at Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus and anyone else who makes projections, they’ll either finish in last again or come within a game or two of it. There’s not a lot of suspense to my prediction here — I’ll end up picking them to finish fifth — but the prediction is not really what a preview is about. It’s about the shape of the team and what we can expect in broad brushes.

While I can’t foretell greatness for the 2018 Oakland Athletics, I can’t say the broad brushes are bad. At least if you grade on a curve. It won’t be a good team, but they’ll be worth watching because they have a lot of good, fun and interesting players who are likely to be on that next good Oakland A’s team in the way Stephen Vogt and Brett Lawrie were not.

Their lineup is pretty spiffy for a second division team. Khris Davis, Matt Joyce and new acquisition Jonathan Lucroy are known commodities both inside and outside A’s fandom, but people who don’t pay much attention to the goings on in Oakland may not be fully aware of just how good and promising Matt Olson and Matt Chapman are. Olson hit 24 homers in 59 games last year. That’s not a sustainable pace — the league will figure him out to — but even regression from that will be fantastic. Chapman hit 14 in half a season and played superior defense at third base. He also struck out 92 times in half a season but who’s counting? [editor: everyone counts everything in baseball]. Hey, look, dingers! Yonder Alonso and Ryon Healey are gone from last year’s crew and Stephen Piscotty is new in town. Marcus Semien is a decent bat for a shortstop. All-in-all that’s a lineup that will play, and play very, very well if Chapman and Olson are what they’ve shown themselves to be thus far.

At the risk of criminal understatement, allow me to observe that the starting pitching is not as promising. Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman are at the top of the rotation. On good teams they’d be in the middle or the back. The rest of their rotation options — Daniel Mengden, Andrew Triggs, Paul Blackburn, who will miss the start of the regular season with a sore forearm — are less-than-impressive. They just signed Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson from the scrap heap hoping, I guess, to recreate some of that, uh, 2010 magic? 2010 was a long time ago!

Jharel Cotton would’ve been in the mix but he’s now out for the year for Tommy John surgery. A.J. Puk, the A’s top prospect would be a nice midseason upgrade, but he’s hurt. Not seriously, but the A’s will probably be more careful with him now than they would’ve been, which still would’ve been careful. All-in-all, there was a lack of quality arms to begin with, but with the injuries mounting, starting pitching could be a trash fire for the A’s.

The bullpen has a new look with newcomers Ryan Buchter, Yusmeiro Petit and Emilio Pagan joining 2017 in-season additions Blake Treinen and Chris Hatcher. That’s a pretty good and pretty interesting group which was going to see a lot of innings as it was in our new bullpenning era, but now that the rotation looks shaky as hell, they’ll see even more. If you’re curious about the limits of leaning on a bullpen, postseason-style are, Oakland will be running a pretty fun experiment to that end in 2018.

I look at this club’s bats — especially the young guys upon whom its so very easy to project so much promise and optimism, because I’m a sucker for hitting prospects — and think that they can outperform those statsy projections and be better than the Rangers and Mariners. Then I think about how the upside — UPSIDE! — for the rotation is 380 innings from Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson and I sorta wanna cry.

If the A’s get some breaks and some unexpectedly good (or average) pitching performances, they could certainly finish above the cellar. Perhaps well above the cellar. For now, though, I’m guessing that they’ll be in 80-win territory at best and finish last in a division that does not have any teams totally punting, making for a competitive and, subsequently, tough year.

Prediction: Fifth place, AL West