02/03/12 2:40 PM EST
Hamilton's case shows difficulty of addiction
Rangers will support him but must question long-term commitment
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
In the wake of his admission of another relapse, Hamilton will again receive the support and encouragement of the Texas Rangers. In the end, though, the battle is his.
That's the thing people do not understand about his life. He's largely alone, whether by choice or by circumstances. He's distant by nature, as if he can never really drop his guard, never really trust himself with others.
Baseball teams live together for at least seven months a year. Players travel together, eat together, laugh together. But Hamilton is seen on the road dining with his supervisor while a group of teammates are a few feet away. If alcohol is being consumed, he can't be part of the group.
When the Rangers celebrate a division championship, they do so with ginger ale instead of champagne out of deference to Hamilton.
He's accompanied to and from the ballpark. He's allowed to carry a small amount of money. For the past several years, Rangers staffer Johnny Narron accompanied Hamilton everywhere during the season, eating meals with him, doling out money, constantly keeping an eye on him.
Since Narron left to become the Brewers' hitting coach, the Rangers -- and Hamilton -- have been trying to come up with a new arrangement. His father-in-law took the job briefly, but then decided otherwise.
At least Hamilton has the structure of a baseball season -- and an escort -- to guide him from the beginning of the regular season through the last game. During the offseason, it would be almost impossible to monitor him 24 hours a day, and it was during this time that the relapse reportedly occurred.
Former NBA star John Lucas has devoted most of his life to battling addiction and helping others do the same. He does not believe that someone should have two chances or three or a dozen. People who draw lines in the sand simply don't understand the nature of the disease.
That why the Rangers will offer Hamilton every helping hand they can. He has long ago acknowledged he can't fight addiction alone.
All of this is the part of the story on which we can all agree. We're all rooting for Hamilton and want to see him succeed.
He's a man of enormous physical gifts and appears to have put every fiber of his being into staying sober. He seems to have a good heart.
Here's the other part of the story, the part of the story in which the very real-world business of running a baseball team collides with the things we want for Josh Hamilton.
He can be a free agent after the season and will bring some nice credentials to the table. He's only 30 years old, was the American League's Most Valuable Player in 2010 and has made the All-Star team four years in a row.
He'll make $13.75 million this season in the second year of a two-year, $24 million contract extension signed after his first year in Texas. In recent weeks, the Rangers have said that getting him signed to a new deal was one of their top priorities as Spring Training approaches.
Some wondered if Hamilton's new contract played a role in the Rangers not making a stronger push to sign Prince Fielder. It would be a stretch to fit both of their salaries into their budget.
They also wondered how signing Fielder with Hamilton still unsigned would impact their clubhouse and Hamilton himself. For his part, Hamilton said that if the new deal wasn't done by the beginning of Spring Training, he'd put off negotiations until after the season.
And then just when we seemed headed for a nice little wrestling match, Hamilton was seen consuming alcohol in a bar. So now the Rangers have something else to consider, something that has been lurking between the surface of the discussions for weeks.
Can they trust their best player? Would it be smart to sign him to a long-term deal? He has relapsed twice in three years. His slips haven't hurt the team, but it's something that must be considered.
There was already the matter of the wear and tear on his 30-year-old body. He has missed 70 games the past two seasons. He has gotten worn down late in the season, batting .234 in the postseason. He homered once in 70 postseason at-bats in 2011.
It's one thing for the Rangers to support him and to help him live a productive life. Everyone benefits. But it's another thing for them to invest in the future, to invest five years or more. He's probably not worth that kind of gamble.
Here's hoping they reach an understanding and a deal that makes both sides happy. His career and personal renaissance has been one of baseball's sweetest stories in recent years. He and the Rangers have been good for one another. There should be more chapters to this story.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.