I have seen a lot of things in my 25-years of watching, reading about, and generally consuming as much information as I can about the game of baseball. Yesterday, I saw something I had never seen before, something that the sports world had never seen before. Yesterday, a professional sports team openly disagreed with a decision concerning player discipline.
Hold on, doesn’t that type of thing happen every year?
Well, not exactly. Yesterday, Major League Baseball announced that Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim, of course!), outfielder Josh Hamilton would not be suspended for a self-reported cocaine relapse. An independent arbitrator ruled that Hamilton’s relapse did not violate MLB’s Joint Drug Agreement. The league issued a statement calling for change to the JDA.
MLB issued the following statement today regarding Los Angeles Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton: pic.twitter.com/FSDjHF4TyZ
— MLB Communications (@MLB_PR) April 3, 2015
It is baseball’s prerogative to address deficiencies in its own drug testing program. I see no fault with the league’s statement or handling of the entire case. The Commissioner sought to discipline a repeat drug offender who is on the tightest of leashes. I do not think anyone would disagree that some sort of punishment would be justifiable.
After the announcement that Hamilton would not be suspended, it became increasingly evident that the Angels organization had been salivating at the possibility of voiding all or part of the remaining $83 million Hamilton is owed over the next three years.
Here are two winning statements from the mouths of Angels brass yesterday.
— Eric Kay (@EKayAngels) April 3, 2015
Team president John Carpino followed that official statement up with a real doozy of his own.
#Angels pres John Carpino: “It defies logic that Josh’s reported behavior is not a violation of his drug program.”
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) April 3, 2015
That is quite the ringing endorsement. First, the GM, then the team president publicly tear into their own player. The Angels knew what they were getting into with Hamilton when they signed him. His past trials and tribulations with drugs and alcohol have been reported ad nauseum. Of course, those indiscretions would be a bit easier to stomach had Hamilton showed any sign of being able to live up to the five year, $125 million contract he signed with the Angels prior to the 2013 season.
I do not give the Angels credit for trying to make some sweeping social statement on the hazards and dangers of drugs in society. No, rather, they are a franchise up against the luxury tax who saw Hamilton’s battle with addiction as a nice way out of a bad contract. Am I being cynical? No, I don’t think so.
Hamilton has hit only .255 with 31 home runs and 123 RBI in 240 games with the Angels. Consider his final season with Texas — 43 home runs and 128 RBI. The Angels have buyer’s remorse. Sad as it may be, the best thing for Arte Moreno’s franchise would have been a disciplinary outcome forcing Hamilton out of the game of baseball.
Some have gone so far as to question whether or not the Angels themselves were the source of the leak which alerted the media to Hamilton’s meeting with Commissioner Manfred in New York. Ken Rosenthal published a piece yesterday with very strong words concerning the Angels behavior throughout the entire process. This was meant to be a confidential disciplinary process, but the Angels went so far as to confirm Hamilton’s meeting in New York. Here is some of what the always excellent Rosenthal had to say about Hamilton and the Angels.
So, who was responsible for the leaks?
As a reporter, I know that information comes from everywhere, and not always obvious sources. The Angels, however, are the one entity that stood to benefit if Hamilton was suspended and forfeited a portion of his $23 million salary in 2015. He also is guaranteed $30 million in both 2016 and ’17, and considering his declining performance in recent seasons, the Angels surely would love to escape that obligation as well.
The initial report on Hamilton from the Los Angeles Times said he was meeting with baseball about a disciplinary issue and that the team was bracing for possible penalties. Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto confirmed that Hamilton was in New York but said nothing else. A scramble then ensued to report why the meeting took place, and both CBSSports.com and New York Daily News reported that his relapse involved cocaine.
I’m not sure the Angels acted properly in confirming Hamilton’s initial meeting in New York. And the club went public again Friday, saying in a statement, “The Angels have serious concerns about Josh’s conduct, health and behavior and we are disappointed that he has broken an important commitment which he has made to himself, his family, his teammates and our fans.”
It is clear which side of the debate Rosenthal is on. He pulled no punches in calling out the organization. Rosenthal is an industry pro. He has sources in high places that this humble blogger could never dream of accessing, and it is clear that whatever he has heard regarding the Angels’ behavior did not sit well.
The Angels acted improperly throughout the entire ordeal, driven on by the off-chance that they would be able to wiggle off the hook for $83 million. Thanks to the Angels’ actions early on in the process, a feeding frenzy ensued. Hamilton was charged, tried, and executed in the court of public opinion months before the arbitrator handed down his ruling.
That apparently was not good enough for the Angels, and they felt the need to stoke the flames burning beneath their player yet again. It is an oft-repeated adage that money brings out the worst in people, and that has clearly been the case with the Angels front office. I harbor no ill will towards them for wanting out of Hamilton’s contract. There is not a general manager in the game of baseball that does not have a contract on his roster he wishes would vanish into thin air.
There was no way, shape, or form in which this latest chapter in Josh Hamilton’s battle with addiction would end pretty. Through their words and actions, the Los Angeles Angels lifted up the curtain to the inner workings of the business of baseball. They had hoped to twist the league’s policy on illegal drugs for an eight-figure rebate on a sports car that turned out to be a lemon.
Things like this will happen in baseball, and we were treated to a similar display two years ago when the Yankees left Alex Rodriguez twisting in the wind as they publicly sided with the league during the Biogenesis saga. To their credit, the Yankees have moved past the matter, and appear at peace with A-Rod’s return to the field.
A public apology is due to Hamilton from Moreno, DiPoto, and Carpino. Do not expect one. Yesterday’s statements cannot be retracted, and bridges have been burned — scratch that, napalmed — beyond repair. Business is business in baseball, but the words of the Angels’ executives show a clear disregard for Hamilton’s health as a human being, and for that the Angels should be sorry.