Hey look, it’s the inevitable “is Josh Hamilton getting off easy because he’s white?” column!

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I was surprised we didn’t see this within a couple of days of the Josh Hamilton story breaking, but I’m glad it’s here all the same. Not because I think it’s worth a damn — it’s not! — but because no story about a scandal involving an athlete feels complete without it.

Take it away Mac Engel who, after noting that Josh Hamilton isn’t having effigies of him burned in the streets says …:

Now the tricky part—would you feel the same way if Josh Hamilton was not a white dude?

Would Josh Hamilton have been asked, let alone agreed, to make his first TV interview since his now famous relapse on Glenn Beck TV—as he did on Wednesday afternoon—if he weren’t white?

The race card may be an easy out for a column, but here we sit in the middle of Black History Month and there is no better time to ask an uncomfortable question: Does Josh Hamilton inspire, generate sympathy and are people largely accepting and supportive simply because of the color of his skin, and to heck with the content of his character?

It’s a tired argument because it assumes all manner of things about the nature of punishment. There’s actual punishment, of which he should receive none because, no matter what his past is, it’s not illegal for him to have had some beers.

There’s also public opinion punishment, which I don’t think anyone can have a firm grasp on, in terms of either its nature among those who hold it or the person whose opinion is being opined upon. At least not now.  And of course there are the feelings of the person in question. Maybe Hamilton is going through hell and we just don’t know about it nor can we, be he black or white.

But I do know this much: Josh Hamilton’s manager, Ron Washington — who, as you probably know, is black — tested positive for cocaine a couple of years ago.  And he kept his job. And got no small amount of support from everyone with the Rangers and in the baseball community at large. He then won awards, pennants and got a contract extension.

Why? Because (a) he’s a good man who people like; (b) he was contrite and vowed to do better in the future; and (c) he did, in fact, do better and validated everyone who cut him some slack.

So, call me crazy, but yes, I think that Josh Hamilton — who is also someone who is well-liked and has shown contrition and has promised to do better — would likely get the same shake if he were black.

Mike Piazza presided over the destruction of a 100-year-old soccer team

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Mike Piazza was elected to the Hall of Fame in January of 2016 and inducted in July of 2016. In between those dates he purchased an Italian soccer team, A.C. Reggiana 1919, a member of Italy’s third division. In June of that year he was greeted as a savior in Reggio Emilia, the small Italian town in which the team played. He was the big American sports star who was going to restore the venerable club to its past and rightful place of glory.

There were suggestions by last March that things weren’t going well, but know we know that in less than two years it all fell apart. Piazza and his wife Alicia presided over a hot mess of a business, losing millions of dollars and, this past June, they abruptly liquidated the club. It is now defunct — one year short of its centennial — and a semipro team is playing in its place, trying to acquire the naming rights from Piazza as it wends its way though bankruptcy.

Today at The Athletic, Robert Andrew Powell has a fascinating — no, make that outrageously entertaining — story of how that all went down from the perspective of the Piazzas. Mostly Alicia Piazza who ran the team in its second year when Mike realized he was in over his head. She is . . . something. Her quotes alone are worth the price of admission. For example:

Alicia, who refers to Mike’s ownership dream as “his midlife crisis,” offered up a counter argument.

“Who the f**k ever heard of Reggio Emilia?” she asked. “It’s not Venice. It’s not Rome. My girlfriend said, and you can quote this—and this really depressed me. She said, ‘Honey, you bought into Pittsburgh.’ Like, it wasn’t the New York Yankees. It wasn’t the Mets. It wasn’t the Dodgers. You bought Pittsburgh!”

In their Miami living room, Mike tried to interject but she stopped him.

“And imagine what that feels like, after spending 10 million euros. You bought Pittsburgh!”

At this point it may be worth remembering that Piazza is from Pennsylvania. Eastern Pennsylvania to be sure, but still.

Shockingly, it didn’t end all that well for the Piazzas in Reggio Emilia:

One week later, the Piazzas returned to Reggio Emilia, and were spotted at the team offices. More than a hundred ultras marched into the office parking lot, chanting and demanding answers. Carabinieri—national police aligned with the military—showed up for the Piazzas’ safety. The police advised the Americans to avoid the front door of the complex and exit through the back. Mike assured them it wouldn’t be necessary—he had always enjoyed a good relationship with the fans.

The carabinieri informed him that the relationship had changed. The Piazzas slipped out the back door, under police escort.

The must-read of the week. Maybe the month. Hell, maybe the year. The only thing I can imagine topping it is if someone can tell this story from the perspective of the people in Reggio Emilia. I’m guessing their take is a bit different than the Piazzas.