Suspending Josh Hamilton for a year would be obscene


As Drew noted a bit ago, Bill Shaikin and Mike DiGiovanna reported that a four-person panel appointed by Major League Baseball is trying to figure out how Josh Hamilton should be handled as a result of his recent relapse. There are a couple of lawyers on this panel, and at least part of the panel’s deliberations involve a legal interpretation of Hamilton’s actions. One of those interpretations, Shaikin and DiGiovanna note, could classify Hamilton as a four-time offender of baseball’s drug rules and could result in him being suspended for as long as a year.

This is madness.

Last week I argued that Hamilton’s drug addiction is a disease, not a bad act by a bad man, and as such should not be treated punitively. That argument was based on what I know about addiction and treatment. That’s not a lot, actually, as I have no expertise in that arena. I just have read a lot and trust professionals who seem to know what they’re talking about. I am, however, well-versed in matters of law, process and punishment, and I can say, with the utmost certainty, that what this MLB panel is reported to be considering is nothing short of obscene.

At its very core, punishment is designed to serve one of three goals or, possibly, some combination of the three:

  • Deterrence: Taking actions which would persuade someone not to do something as a means of preventing that act from happening;
  • Incapacitation: Physically or practically restraining someone from committing an offense again as a means of protecting the public; and
  • Retribution: Punishment in the form of vengeance. A pound of flesh, if you will, as satisfaction for a transgression.

Which of these three purposes would suspending Josh Hamilton — let alone suspending him for a year — serve?

Certainly not deterrence, as the concept of deterrence, by definition, deals with rational actors who can make the choice to not engage in a proscribed behavior. The PED suspensions, for example, serve a deterrence purpose. Addicts, however, are not, by definition, choosing their actions rationally, rendering deterrence inoperative when it comes to to addictive drugs.

Certainly not incapacitation. The only victim of Josh Hamilton’s actions is Josh Hamilton and his family. Baseball is not harmed by Josh Hamilton snorting coke. It is harmed by someone gambling on the game, for example, so the primary basis for punishment of gambling is to literally keep a player or manager who has gambled on baseball away, thereby incapacitating him from affecting outcomes. But this does not apply to Josh Hamilton.

Retribution? Please. The idea of taking a pound of flesh from Hamilton is beyond the pale. This is a man who is suffering and who could be in the process of destroying his life, family and career. Who on Earth is Major League Baseball to come in and say now it needs to see him suffer a bit more? Such an idea is unconscionable.

So, with the traditional basis for punishment standing inapplicable to Josh Hamilton’s situation, what possible basis is there for punishing him at all?

Josh Hamilton is sick. He needs help. It’s possible that the best way for him to be helped is for him to be away from the game for a time. If so — and that’s not at all a given — his time away from the game should be determined by doctors, mental health and substance abuse professionals, Josh Hamilton, his family, to some degree his employer and everyone else who has an actual stake in Josh Hamilton’s life and health. It should not be a punitive measure and should not, by damn sight, be determined by a punitive process.

Oh, and one final thing: Coming off of Alex Rodriguez’s 162-game suspension, a lengthy Josh Hamilton suspension would create the second example of a player who just so happens to have a gigantic contract that is not, financially, a great deal for the team, being subjected to a long, unexpected and unprecedented suspension. It’s bad optics, folks. And it might make some folks wonder if there isn’t a motive, separate and apart from the offender and the offense, for such treatment.

Follow @craigcalcaterra

Crowd honors Jose Bautista in his last Blue Jays home game

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jose Bautista ran onto the field on Sunday afternoon, alone, in what was likely his last hurrah as a Blue Jays player. The 36-year-old outfielder signed a one-year, $18 million contract with the club prior to the 2017 season and is not expected to get his $17 million option picked up for 2018. During Sunday’s series finale, he got a fond farewell befitting a decade-long career as one of Toronto’s most prolific hitters, drawing standing ovations every time he stepped up to the plate.

The Blue Jays came out swinging against the Yankees, building an eight-run lead on Teoscar Hernandez’s first-inning home run and a smattering of hits and productive outs from Darwin Barney, Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson and Kendrys Morales. Bautista supplemented the drive with his own RBI single in the fourth inning, plating Hernandez on an 0-2 fastball from reliever Bryan Mitchell.

Later in the inning, he nearly scored a second run on a Kendrys Morales two-RBI single, but was caught at the plate on the relay by Starlin Castro.

It’s an encouraging end to what has overwhelmingly been a disappointing season for the Toronto slugger. Entering Sunday’s finale, he slashed .201/.309/.365 with a franchise single-season record 161 strikeouts in 658 plate appearances, numbers that somewhat obscure the six straight All-Star nominations, four MVP bids and 54-homer campaign he once enjoyed with the team. Even a bounce-back performance in 2018 likely wouldn’t command a $17 million salary, but there’s no denying his impact on the Blue Jays’ last 10 years, from his signature bat flip to his tie-breaking home run in the 2015 ALDS.

The Blue Jays currently lead the Yankees 9-2 in the top of the sixth inning. Expect a few more standing O’s before the end of the game.

Why more baseball players don’t kneel

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Bruce Maxwell was the first baseball player to kneel for the National Anthem. There may be others who do so, but I don’t suspect many will. Indeed, I’m pretty confident that the protests we’re seeing in the NFL today, and will see more of once basketball season begins, will not become a major thing in baseball.

Some will say it’s because baseball or baseball players are more patriotic or something, but I don’t think that’s it. Yes, baseball is a lot whiter and has a lot of conservative players who would never think to protest during the National Anthem or, for that matter, protest anything at all, but I suspect there are many who saw what Colin Kaepernick and other football players have done — or who have listened to what Steph Curry and LeBron James have said — and agreed with it. Yet I do not think many, if any of them will themselves protest.

Why? I think it mostly comes down to baseball’s culture of conformity.

Almost everyone in baseball comes through a hierarchy. Even the big names. Even if you are the consensus number one pick, you do your time in the minors. Once there, conformity and humility is drilled into you. This happens both affirmatively, in the form of coaches telling you to act in a certain way and passively, by virtue of all players being in similar, humbling circumstances. Bus rides, cheap hotels, etc. In that world, even if you are ten times better and ten times richer than your teammates, you fall in with the crowd because doing otherwise would be socially disruptive.

The very socialization of a baseball player is dependent upon them learning to talk, walk and carry themselves like all those who came before. No one is given special treatment. In the rare cases they are, it’s head-turning. Bryce Harper was a more or less normal minor leaguer, but since he got their earlier by bypassing his final years of high school, he was thrown at and challenged in ways no other minor league stars are. It does not take much for a guy to be singled out for punishment or mockery and even the superstars like Harper are not on solid professional ground as long as they’re still in the minors. Indeed, between a player’s education, as it were, in the minors and their pre-free agency residency in the majors, it can be a decade or more before a unique personality or a true showman is able to shine through, and by then few are willing. They’ve been conditioned by that point.

Even budding superstars can be roundly criticized for the tiniest of perceived transgressions or the most modest displays of individuality. Think about all of the “controversies” we have about the proper way to celebrate a home run or run the bases. If that’s a cause for singling out and, potentially, benching or being traded or being given a shorter leash, imagine the guts a baseball player has to have in order to do something like take a knee during the National Anthem. A guy with multiple MVP Awards would likely be in an uncomfortable spotlight over such a thing, so imagine how brave someone like Bruce Maxwell, who has barely 100 games under his belt, has to be to have done it.

CC Sabathia, a 17-year veteran, spoke out yesterday, but I suspect he won’t kneel for the National Anthem when he lines up with his teammates before the Wild Card game next week. Other ballplayers will likely wade into the fray in the coming days. But I suspect baseball’s very nature — it’s very culture — will keep ballplayers from following in the footsteps of the many NFL players who took a knee today.