By now, you probably know that Josh Hamilton suffered a relapse in his struggle with alcoholism. Hamilton has a history of alcohol and drug abuse. Unlike many off-field problems that we hear about professional baseball players, Hamilton’s issues clearly and transparently affected his on-field performance. He missed all of 2003-2005 due to alcohol and drug abuse.
I think we should give Hamilton some benefit of the doubt on this. In Hamilton’s personal life, his relapse is a very serious issue. He has likely already had extensive conversations with his family and friends, and has quite a bit of support from his baseball family as well. In his professional life, it remains to be seen if this relapse matters. Hamilton has struggled with this problem before, falling off the wagon in 2009. He won the MVP a year later.
I strongly believe that we, as fans, should not care about a player’s personal life in any way, shape, or form unless it has a direct causal relationship with on field performance. Even in that case, I believe we should heavily weigh on the side of giving players the benefit of the doubt. We learn only a few public details about what is going on behind the scenes in their lives, and any reality is going to be much more nuanced and complicated than our brief glimpse into it. Any causality we derive from that glimpse tends to be highly uncertain, resulting in far too much speculation.
As long as fans are interested in Hamilton’s personal life, reporters will ask him about it. To his credit, Hamilton has quickly and publicly answered all questions about the incident. However, I can’t imagine that this kind of attention helps him fight his disease. With his free agency and potential mega contract looming, I fully expect every mini-slump or nagging injury he suffers in 2012 to jumpstart questions about alcoholism, free agency, and teams being willing to give him a massive contract. This constant pressure is probably not something that Hamilton needs, and at least has the potential to create a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Let Josh Hamilton take the field and play before passing judgment. He’s a truly gifted player, and I doubt that, from what we’ve heard a least, this will change that. I believe that major league clubs will, in the end, pay for his performance on the field. He might not receive the mega contract that some people have thrown around, but that is probably going to be more due to his inability to play 155+ games on the field every season, not his battle with a disease. Instead of reporters and fans constantly peppering him with questions, let’s give Hamilton the opportunity to speak with his bat.
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