NO SPORT IS held to a higher standard when it comes to the use of banned drugs than baseball. The Hall of Fame balloting has become a monthlong annual debate about the Steroid Era, though its tiresome shouting leans less toward Lincoln-Douglas and more toward Povich-Springer.
Good for baseball: The outrage when players make poor choices is a compliment to the game. Baseball fans care about the game and its history, as well as sportsmanship and the health of its players.
One of those players, Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton, reportedly met with new commissioner Rob Manfred and MLB officials in New York City last week after he notified them that he had violated not only the sport's drug policy but also the conditions of his 2006 reinstatement to baseball as set forth by then commissioner Bud Selig. Hamilton did not play from '03 through '05 because of addictions to cocaine, crack and alcohol. He was suspended multiple times then, including for the entire '04 and '05 seasons.
This time you can save your outrage. Hamilton, 33, needs neither chastising nor the full wrath of Manfred. He needs help.
If a man is the sum of his choices, Hamilton must be held accountable for the poor ones he made when he was 20 years old. Injured, away from his parents for the first time and flush with a $3.9 million bonus from being the first pick of the 1999 draft, Hamilton walked into a Bradenton, Fla., tattoo parlor in the spring of 2001 and fell down hell's rabbit hole. The crowd there introduced him to strip clubs, alcohol and cocaine.
Somewhere down that rabbit hole, choice surrendered to addiction. Hamilton made eight trips to six rehab facilities in four years, only to be clawed back by addiction's grip.
In October 2005, Hamilton showed up at his grandmother's doorstep one morning strung out on crack and 50 pounds underweight.
Hamilton cleaned up enough to be reinstated the next summer by Selig. Despite having played only 26 minor league games over a five-year period, during the next six seasons (2007--12) Hamilton staged the greatest show in Home Run Derby history in '08 (at Yankee Stadium); won an MVP in '10; hit an extra-inning home run in the '11 World Series that, until a St. Louis rally, put Texas within three outs of its first world championship; hit four home runs in a game in '12; and, at the height of his popularity that season, had more people buy his jersey than any player except Derek Jeter.
That player—the one who invoked comparisons with Mickey Mantle—is long gone. Over the past two years, among the 119 men who made 1,000 plate appearances, Hamilton ranked tied for 70th in OPS (.741), 88th in batting average (.255), tied for 92nd in OBP (.316) and 108th in hits (233). Those seasons coincided with the start of a five-year, $125 million contract he signed with the Angels in December 2012.
Due to conditions of his 2006 reinstatement, Hamilton's discipline rests in the hands of Manfred, who baseball sources say will strike a balance between compassion and punishment. Hamilton would seem to be in line for a severe suspension because of his multiple infractions from '02 through '05, but baseball sources said Manfred will weigh in Hamilton's favor his nine years of passing drug tests, his volunteering of his infraction and the structure baseball provides him.
Hamilton, who underwent right-shoulder surgery on Feb. 4, most likely will begin serving a suspension on Opening Day, even though he is expected to be physically unable to play until May. PED cheats Edinson Volquez and Freddy Galvis previously served suspensions while on the disabled list, creating the farce of a "punishment" by missing games they wouldn't have been playing in anyway.
In such cases, as with most times when drugs taint the game, outrage was warranted—but not here. With Hamilton, the number of games he must miss and when his chastisement begins are but necessary details to one of the most pitiable baseball stories ever told.
Faces in the Crowd
The Case for
Points scored by Xavier Rathan-Mayes of Florida State in the final 4:38 of an 81--77 loss at Miami on Feb. 25. Rathan-Mayes, who had scored only five points when his barrage started, hit eight straight shots from the field, including six three-pointers, and eight free throws.
Value of the NASCAR ride belonging to Travis Kvapil that was stolen with his trailer before last weekend's race in Atlanta. The car was found 21 hours later unharmed, but by then Kvapil had been forced to miss the QuikTrip 500, which was won by Jimmie Johnson.
AMOUNT OF MONEY, IN ROYALTIES, BRAVES PITCHING COACH ROGER MCDOWELL GETS EVERY TIME THE 1991 EPISODE OF SEINFELD IN WHICH HE APPEARED AIRS. MCDOWELL, A FORMER METS PITCHER, PLAYED HIMSELF ON THE SITCOM.
Score rolled by Hakim Emmanuel, 38, of Stoughton, Mass., on Feb. 25. According to the U.S. Bowling Congress, it was just the 27th time a bowler had rolled a 900, or three consecutive perfect games. Emmanuel made 36 strikes in a row at Westgate Lanes in Brockton, Mass.
KELVIN KUO/USA TODAY SPORTS
MITCHELL LAYTON/GETTY IMAGES (RATHAN-MAYES)
COURTESY TEAM XTREME RACING (CAR)
J. MERIC/GETTY IMAGES (MCDOWELL)
GETTY IMAGES (PINS)