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.