When Josh Hamilton joined the Angels, discovering his new home park was a pitcher’s park for the most part, and finding pitchers otherwise began exploiting his willingness to chase out of the strike zone, life became difficult enough on the field. It became impossible, though, when the Angels’ management decided his reward for copping to an off-season substance relapse, on Super Bowl Sunday, without being compelled to do so by a drug test or an arrest or another factor beyond his own conscience, should be his head on a plate.
They won’t get his head on a plate, necessarily. But the Angels apparently will be rid of Hamilton, with owner Arte Moreno willing to pay the Rangers all but $15 million of the $85 million still owed Hamilton on the deal he signed after the 2012 season. Maybe more. And the Rangers, from whom Hamilton departed as a free agent on somewhat less than agreeable terms, are more than willing to have Hamilton back.
Hamilton as an Angel struggled with injuries and plate inconsistencies. And you had to be alarmed about a formidable hitter suddenly leaving himself vulnerable on two-strike counts, when several analytics have shown he’d been pitched about the same as an Angel as he was at his Rangers peak but he’d been chasing away from the zone on those counts far more often. Still, he’d been useful enough when healthy, and a chase tendency can always be corrected.
The injuries and the drainage that comes from fighting what becomes a lifelong battle against substance abuse takes its toll, alas. Hamilton has been out of Texas for just two seasons plus but he looks four years older and perhaps a little more. The offense-challenged Rangers may well consider that they’re getting more than their money’s worth, all $15 million of it, if Hamilton proves to be even two wins above a replacement-level player for the final three seasons of his deal, allowing for the X factor of when Hamilton—coming back from a shoulder injury—can start playing again this year.
But it still leaves the Angels—whose front office may or may not have leaked the Hamilton relapse in the first place—with the terrible taste of an organisation that looks for all the world to see like a parent who just doesn’t get his child.
The kind of brain damaged parent whose child makes an honest mistake at school, under some sort of pressure, and cops to it without trying to hide it. The kind of brain damaged parent who disagrees when the school decides punishment isn’t warranted. The kind of brain damaged parent who greets the child coming home with a ferocious spanking and a month-long grounding. Sending his child the message that making a human mistake is bad enough without being honest about it.
You don’t have to applaud Josh Hamilton’s substance abuse issues to acknowledge that, from the moment baseball government decided his forthrightness should not merit any sort of suspension, the Angels have, essentially, punished him far worse than they might have for, oh, starting a brawl or three on the field, or jousting with an umpire, or even being caught in bed with somebody else’s wife.
He’s done neither since donning Angel fatigues, of course, but Hamilton’s actual married life may or may not have played a hand in his relapse. Stories have abounded that he’d had an argument with his wife around the time of Super Bowl Sunday, and he’s since filed for divorce and put his sumptuous home up for sale. In one sense, the Angels look like they ran Hamilton out of town because his marriage fell on the rocks; Hamilton’s wife claims to have been blindsided by the divorce filing, but the filing refers to “conflicts.”
Earlier this month Moreno told reporters words that were taken to mean that if he had his way Hamilton would never be seen in an Angel uniform again. Days before the word of the Ranger deal broke there were reports Angels manager Mike Scioscia spoke to Hamilton—who was rehabbing his shoulder at a friend’s Texas ranch—while the team was in Houston for a set with the Astros. And, that Scioscia wasn’t entirely sure when Hamilton would return to play but a plan was forming to move him to the Angels’ extended spring training camp in Arizona, perhaps as soon as before the end of the week just ended.
“What’s best for Josh is what’s best for us,” Scioscia told the Los Angeles Times. “That’s where the focus is.” Hamilton’s Angels teammates certainly took that attitude, too. They had his back for the most part—pitcher C.J. Wilson, a former Texas teammate, in particular—at the same time their bosses looked to be scrambling to find a way, any way, to get him the hell out. They saw him as what he was, a playfully mischievious type of fellow with a serious problem he fights every day.
Maybe what’s best for Hamilton is a return to Texas, where he throve—and where he was monitored under a well-crafted program that the Angels themselves were once said to have drawn upon for their own monitoring program for him. Maybe he won’t be the player he once was anymore, though a few Rangers such as Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus have said they’ll take him back with whatever he’s got left to give. Maybe southern California just wasn’t made for Hamilton or Hamilton for southern California.
But there’s no maybe about how bad the Angels’ administration looks in the way they’ve now handled Hamilton. For falling backward in a battle that lasts for life, in which it’s a surprise if the battler doesn’t fall backward now and then, Hamilton was spanked worse than if he’d merely misbehaved—and then disowned.