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Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton apparently suffered a relapse on Monday night and was seen drinking at a bar in Dallas. His teammate Ian Kinsler is also reported to have arrived at the bar in an effort to persuade Hamilton to return to his home.
Hamilton, of course, has a long history of alcohol and substance abuse problems. These problems surfaced soon after the Tampa Bay Devil Rays made him the number one pick in the 1999 MLB Draft and was suspended on multiple occasions. His problems were such that he was unable to play professional baseball from 2003 through late in the 2006 season. But after Hamilton became a born again Christian and renewed his baseball activities, the Cincinnati Reds took a chance on him when they acquired him in the Rule 5 Draft (via the Chicago Cubs) prior to the 2007 season.
After hitting 19 homeruns with the Reds in 2007, Hamilton was traded to the Texas Rangers for pitcher Edinson Volquez. Hamilton had a breakout season with the Rangers in 2008 hitting .304 with 32 homeruns and league leading 130 RBI. The highlight of the 2008 season was the Homerun Derby the night before the All-Star Game when Hamilton had the Yankee Stadium faithful chanting his name after hitting homerun after homerun. Because of Hamilton’s standout performance, hardly anyone remembers that Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins actually won the Derby that year.
In January 2009, Hamilton would suffer a relapse in Arizona (although this was not disclosed until many months later) after going more than three years without consuming alcohol and drugs. After an injury plagued 2009 season, Hamilton won the American League MVP in 2010 hitting hitting .359 (good enough to win the AL batting crown), 32 homeruns and 100 RBI as the Rangers made their first World Series appearance. His numbers fell off slightly in 2011 hitting .298 with 25 homeruns and 94 RBI. Of course, the Rangers went to the World Series again and his 10th inning homerun off Cardinals closer Jason Motte in Game 6 could have clinched it for the Rangers but Lance Berkman and David Freese had other ideas.
There are several factors which may have contributed to Hamilton’s relapse apart from the fact that he is an addict. First, one can only imagine the guilt he feels over the death of firefighter Shannon Stone, who fell to his death at Rangers Ballpark last July after Hamilton tossed him a ball in the stands which he intended to give to his son, Cooper. Although Hamilton has forged a close relationship with the Stone family, I am sure Hamilton will always feel some level of guilt even though he and everyone else understands it was an accident.
Second, Hamilton’s support network is in a state of flux. Although Hamilton’s teammates have been supportive of him up to and including making a point of celebrating their post-season triumphs with ginger ale, Hamilton was closer to Johnny Narron than anyone else. Indeed, it was Narron who was instrumental in getting Hamilton back into baseball and every day Hamilton has been in a big league uniform, Narron has been at his side. Although he has served both the Reds and the Rangers an assistant hitting coach, his primary job was keeping Hamilton on the straight and narrow as an “accountability partner.”
However, back in November, Narron was hired as the hitting coach for the Milwaukee Brewers. Hamilton’s father-in-law initially agreed to take Narron’s place but has since reconsidered. Given the severity of Hamilton’s condition, he needs someone to watch his back. The Rangers need to hire either someone already close to Hamilton or hire someone who has been through what he’s been through (i.e. Bob Welch, Dave Parker, Tim Raines).
Finally, there is Hamilton’s future with the Rangers itself as he becomes a free agent after the 2012 season. Hamilton and the Rangers had been in discussions to extend his contract but the relapse might very well put that process on hold. Even if you put Hamilton’s two relapses to the side, he is very injury prone despite his productivity. Since 2007, Hamilton has been on the DL five times. This is not likely to get better for Hamilton who turns 31 in May. But Hamilton’s tendency to get hurt might not bode well for his future with the Rangers. Of course, this will also be factors for the other 29 MLB teams that may wish to pursue him after this season.
But if I were to venture to guess, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hamilton ended up reuniting with Narron (along with his brother Jerry) in Milwaukee in 2013, even if the team’s name conjures an alcoholic beverage. The absence of Prince Fielder’s lefthanded bat might be enough for the Brewers to take a chance on Hamilton.
This isn’t Hamilton’s first relapse and it probably won’t be his last. Then there’s the question of how Hamilton will handle his addiction after his baseball career is over which might be sooner rather than later. On the other hand, as many people who go to AA meetings will tell you, “One day at a time.” On Monday, Hamilton had a bad day and can’t change that fact. All he can do, with a little help, is get through today and begin again tomorrow.
UPDATE: This afternoon, Hamilton held a press conference and said he had “a weak moment” and ended up consuming “three or four” alcoholic beverages. Hamilton also noted that he contacted Ian Kinsler and asked him to join him for company and added that Kinsler was not aware he had been drinking.
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